The Lexus ES 350, the fifth generation of the model that spurred the growth of the entry luxury segment, continues to blur the line between "entry luxury" and "prestige-luxury" in many ways. The ES 350 carries into 2009 adding a new color to its palette, the vibrant Matador Red Mica replaces Royal Ruby Metallic.
The ES 350's aluminum 3.5-liter V6 produces 272 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 254 lb.-ft. peak torque at 4,700 rpm. The chain-driven camshafts employ Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (Dual VVT-i) for optimal performance and efficiency at all engine speeds. VVT-i also improves fuel efficiency and helps lower exhaust emissions. A stainless-steel dual-exhaust system reduces backpressure at high rpm to enhance performance.
The six-speed automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) provides a sequential manual shift feature for a more involved driving experience when desired. Shifting strategy adapts to driver input, with rapid kick-down response.
The ES 350 owes its smooth, quiet ride in large part to a rigid unibody structure that allows suspension to be tuned for optimal compliance. The MacPherson strut front suspension and the dual-link MacPherson strut rear suspension give the ES 350 responsive handling agility while endowing it with the ultra-smooth ride quality – one of the many facets of the car that contributes to blurring that line between entry luxury and prestige luxury.
Contributing to the quiet cabin is the low 0.28 coefficient of drag (Cd) that helps minimize wind noise while also helping to maximize highway fuel efficiency. Standard 17 x 7-inch aluminum alloy wheels carry 215/55R17 all-season or summer tires. A full-size spare wheel/tire is available, a rarity in any segment.
The four-wheel disc brake system uses 11.65-in. ventilated front discs and 11.06-in. solid rear discs. Standard Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with traction control system integrates Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), and the Brake Assist feature. VSC helps control loss of lateral traction while cornering by using throttle intervention and/or applying individual wheel braking to help control any discrepancy between where the driver is steering and where the vehicle is heading. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking, and if the driver has not stepped firmly enough on the brake pedal to activate the ABS, it then applies increased braking force until pedal pressure is released.
Passive safety technology begins with a reinforced front- and rear-structure passenger compartment. Seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters are used for the front and rear outboard seats. In addition to the dual-stage front airbags and front seat-mounted side airbags, the Lexus Supplemental Restraint System includes side-curtain airbags that extend from the A-pillar to C-pillar and a knee airbag for both the driver and front passenger.
Available rear-seat side airbags bring the total number of airbags to 10. The advanced dual-stage front airbags are designed to deploy at one of two speeds, according to impact force. The driver's front airbag also includes an extra low stage designed to deploy based, in part, on the seat's position on its track. The front-passenger airbag is a twin-chamber design.
The optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) in the ES 350 can help reduce collision damage. The package includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which uses millimeter-wave radar to measure and help maintain a set distance from a vehicle traveling ahead. PCS relies on the radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car, and a PCS computer with vehicle speed, steering angle and yaw-rate inputs helps to determine whether a collision is unavoidable.
In such a situation, PCS preemptively retracts front seat belts and pre-initializes Brake Assist so that increased braking will be applied the instant the driver forcibly depresses the pedal. The "Active Braking" feature can automatically apply the brakes up to a deceleration rate of 0.3 g if the driver fails to react to system warnings.
The ES 350 emphasizes visibility in its safety and convenience approach. A rear back-up camera, part of the available navigation package, projects a color image of what its lens can detect behind the vehicle onto the seven-inch navigation screen whenever reverse gear is engaged. The optional Intuitive Park Assist (IPA) system uses ultrasonic sensors to detect objects close to the car's front and rear bumpers, alerting the driver and showing distance to objects in the multi-information display within the combination meter.
The optional dual-swivel Lexus Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) helps illuminate a turn or curve as the driver steers into it. A medium-to-high speed mode (over 19 mph) allows both the right and left front headlamp bulbs to swivel toward the direction of the turn at the same time, enhancing system effectiveness.
Lexus' craftsmanship and attention to detail provide true luxury by design in the ES 350. The ES series has long set the bar for standard and optional equipment offered in this segment. As just one example, a one-touch tilt/slide power glass moonroof is standard for the ES 350, as compared to being an extra-cost option in some competitors.
A dual-zone automatic climate control system and 10-way power front seats (with available memory) and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel highlight front cabin comfort. The supportive seats feature standard high-quality fabric, with leather-trim seating – in a choice of three colors – included in the optional Premium, Premium Plus and Ultra Luxury Packages.
Where some brands seem to be making some user technology difficult to learn and use, Lexus has been doing the opposite. A prime example is the ES 350's standard multi-information display. Located in the combination meter, the multi-information display is easy to see and operate. Its main feature is a trip computer that provides outside temperature, driving range, fuel consumption and average speed. The display also includes an oil maintenance reminder and system warnings, all grouped in one convenient location.
Additional features are added to the multi-information display depending on selected options. When the ES 350 is equipped with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, the display can show a car icon with the selected following distance. When equipped with Intuitive Park Assist (IPA), the display can show a car icon with the location and distance of objects detected behind the car.
A trait shared with other Lexus models, convenience extends to the smallest details in the ES 350, from illuminated front cup holders to an interior LED soft-lighting system. A water-repellant surface on the front side windows helps to bead rainwater. The SmartAccess keyless entry and push-to-start ignition system allows the driver to enter and start the car without the need to remove the access fob from pocket or purse. The leather-trimmed steering wheel integrates easy-to-use controls for the audio system, trip computer, and multi-information display. The steering wheel adds a voice control switch for the available navigation system when so equipped.
The standard auto-dimming rearview mirror features an integrated digital compass, heated exterior mirrors help melt away morning fog or frost, a sliding center console enhances the feeling of roominess, and an illuminated entry system lights interior cabin foot wells and the exterior with puddle lamps. The standard HomeLink® transmitter can control compatible garage-door openers and home-security devices.
The ES 350 allows the driver to custom-tailor a number of vehicle preferences with owner-selected personal settings, including lighting, power windows and moonroof, tilt steering wheel, and door lock control. The standard Lexus Premium Audio system includes an in-dash, six-disc CD changer and an input jack for an MP3/WMA player or iPod®. Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL) maintains consistent sound levels for this eight-speaker system at varying vehicle speeds.
The optional Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound Audio System is available in conjunction with the DVD touch-screen navigation system. This leading-edge design uses 10 channels of amplification with 300 watts total output at 0.1 percent Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). The system plays through 14 speakers in a 7.1-channel surround sound speaker architecture.
The Mark Levinson system plays conventional CDs and DVDs, and MP3-formatted CDs. DVD movies can be viewed on the optional navigation system's color seven-inch touch screen when the parking brake is engaged.
An optional panorama glass roof extends over the entire passenger cabin, providing a fixed skylight for the rear seat area and a sliding sunroof for the front. The option includes a manual interior shade. The frameless design, with no visible gaskets, provides significantly tighter gaps than seen on similar roofs and contributes to the sleek appearance.
The Premium Package adds a number of popular amenities: driver's seat memory; Bluetooth® wireless technology; auto-dimming exterior mirrors with memory and automatic tilt-down function (when reverse gear is engaged); steering-wheel memory, and control-of-memory functions through the remote keyless entry system.
The customer can "layer" luxury in the ES 350 by adding the Premium Plus or Ultra-Luxury Packages, or by selecting from a number of standalone options. The Premium Plus package brings a power driver's seat cushion extender; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated and ventilated front seats, and front passenger seat memory.
For flagship-level luxury, the aptly named Ultra-Luxury Package combines the contents of the Premium and Premium Plus packages and builds on that foundation by adding: panorama glass roof; perforated semi-aniline leather-trimmed seating; rear-seat side airbags; power rear sunshade; the HID/AFS lighting package; navigation system with rear backup camera, and a wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob. The final touch is a distinctive exterior touch, exclusive graphite-finish alloy wheels.
The available Lexus Navigation System features voice-recognition that allows the driver to enter a destination by voice command. The high-resolution, 800 x 480 pixel display provides crisp, clean details in 32,000 colors, and maps and roads are shown with 3-D shadow effects. The navigation system offers English, Spanish and French text display options, and the user can select the language preference at system start-up.
System functions include multiple route calculation, route preview, simplified highway junction graphics, and a dual-map screen mode. The DVD map database contains more than five million points of interest. The database for Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York includes a building-footprint display feature that can show graphic representations of buildings and structures. The navigation system also integrates Bluetooth® wireless technology. When combined with a compatible phone, Bluetooth allows the driver to make hands-free phone calls through its touch-screen control panel and to transfer personal phone books to the navigation system.
The ES 350 exudes a rich, contemporary look with its own interpretation of the new Lexus L-finesse design language. A long hood, pulled-back cabin, short overhangs and short rear deck characterize the design theme. Signature low grille position, below projector bulb headlamps, with movement flowing outward, upward and away from the grille conveys a dynamic feeling. The crisp, high-shouldered cut-line along flanks adds a muscular appearance. At the rear, distinctive wrap-around taillamps and dual-exhaust with seamless tips complete the picture of elegance.
Built on a generous 109.3-inch wheelbase, the midsize ES 350 provides a roomy and inviting interior. The driver and passengers are treated to intelligent, elegant luxury, with touch points that convey quality and controls that respond fluidly. The high level of Lexus craftsmanship is immediately evident in the ES 350, with bright, clear Optitron® gauges premium wood, polished metal and leather accents that recall prestige-luxury models. Intelligently designed displays and controls help make driving comfortable and pleasurable.
All new Lexus vehicles come with a 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48-months/unlimited miles. Powertrain and restraint system coverage is provided for 72 months/70,000 miles. Corrosion perforation protection is covered for 72 months, regardless of mileage.