Finally Saying Goodbye To Its Camry Roots



In its equivalent world of breakfast foods, the Lexus ES350 is unquestionably the pancake. While its siblings may offer more interesting textures, flavors and consistencies – a generally more exciting culinary experience – the four-door ES is designed with 'indistinct' as its middle name. Its objective is to please just about every entry-level luxury buyer once it ends up on their plate.

Even after a complete redesign for the 2013 model year, the sixth-generation Lexus ES350 emerges every bit as family-friendly and non-polarizing as its predecessors. It is the everyman's luxury sedan, offering attractive pricing and a satisfying fill of amenities and features with the sweetness of a long warranty and polished customer service to back things up.

As a result of its overall wholesomeness and demeanor, the ES350 sells like hotcakes, too. Last year, 56,158 customers took delivery, thus allowing the five-passenger sedan to continue its reign as the highest sales volume Lexus passenger car (it outsells the bigger LS nearly seven-to-one).

To learn more about the all-new ES, and take our own taste of its goodness, we recently spent a week with the midsize luxury sedan in Southern California.
2013 Lexus ES 350 side view2013 Lexus ES 350 front view2013 Lexus ES 350 rear view

The all-new ES is on a larger platform that's shared not with the Camry, but with the Toyota Avalon.

It is no secret that the Lexus ES has always shared platforms with the Toyota Camry. Even though there is nothing particular amiss with that arrangement – it has served the automaker well for more than two decades – the relationship with Toyota's volume family vehicle has forced the Lexus to consistently assume a soft and gentle demeanor reinforced by its transverse-mounted V6 and front-wheel drive powertrain. For five consecutive generations, the ES has been well accepted as a gussied-up Camry with a stronger guarantee and white-glove dealer treatment.

But things have changed rather significantly for 2013. The automaker has introduced an all-new ES model on a larger platform that's not shared directly with the Camry this time, but built on an extended version shared with the Toyota Avalon. The longer wheelbase (increased about 1.8 inches) pushes out the exterior dimensions only marginally (about an inch in overall length), but it does wonders for interior room and passenger comfort. Lexus says rear headroom is increased by 0.8 inches, knee room is increased by 2.8 inches and second row legroom is lengthened by 4.1 inches. Plus, there is even more space below the front two seats to give rear passengers much-appreciated toe room.

2013 Lexus ES 350 grille2013 Lexus ES 350 headlight2013 Lexus ES 350 wheel2013 Lexus ES 350 exhaust tip

Before diving into the styling and cabin appointments, let's take a look under the hood and at its underpinnings.

A 0-60 time of about seven seconds is more than adequate for this segment.

The engine is carried over to the new platform with only a few tweaks. The gasoline-only ES350 (Lexus is also offering a hybrid gasoline-electric variant this year) features a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 sending its power to the front wheels through an electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission. The engine is rated at 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. It isn't a rocketship, but a 0-60 time of about seven seconds is more than adequate for this segment. Thanks to revised gearing compared to last year's model (a slightly taller final drive), the EPA rates the 2013 Lexus ES350 at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway on regular unleaded fuel. That's an improvement of about 10 percent over its predecessor.

The suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts up front and dual-link MacPherson struts in the rear, while the level of damping is fixed. The steering is traditional rack-and-pinion, now with electric assist, and there are disc brakes at all four corners. Standard wheels are 17-inch alloys, but our test model was fitted with optional 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/45VR18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season tires. The curb weight of the ES350 is 3,549 pounds, with 61-percent of its mass over the front wheels.

2013 Lexus ES 350 engine

Unfortunately, it looks far too much like the GS sedan.

Last year's ES350 looks lifeless when compared side-by-side to this year's all-new sedan. Sculpted with an aggressive, almost sporty appearance, the new ES has adopted the brand's signature spindle grille up front. Overall, the presentation is good... but therein lays a problem. Unfortunately, and we pointed this out in our first drive, it looks far too much like the GS sedan – even we would be hard-pressed to tell the two apart at a distance (a spotter's guide says the front headlights of the GS are slightly more angular and the ES is missing the GS's front lower fascia brake intakes).

Our test model, wearing Deep Sea Mica paint over Parchment leather with Espresso Bird's Eye Maple wood trim, started with a base price of $36,100. Lexus had packed on its Ultra Luxury package (for another $11,180) that included just about every amenity and convenience known to the automotive industry. The comprehensive list included upgraded semi-aniline perforated leather, blind spot monitor, panorama moonroof, manual rear door window sunshades, Mark Levinson premium audio, Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Dynamic Radar cruise control, power trunk, heated steering wheel and more. With the $895 delivery fee included, our bottom line came in at $48,175.

2013 Lexus ES 350 interior2013 Lexus ES 350 front seats2013 Lexus ES 350 drive mode controls2013 Lexus ES 350 infotainment system controls

Inside the cabin, the ES also seems to mimic the GS theme. But this time, thankfully, it isn't straight plagiarism. While both have a modern angular appearance, the ES appears to be warmer and more inviting, with artfully crafted wood trim splashed strategically throughout. In terms of ergonomics, we prefer the mildly more traditional ES over the GS, as its controls are more familiar (more legible display on the climate controls) and more logical (a small wheel controls seat heating/cooling), though both the GS and ES seem to share the same basic three-spoke steering wheel (although the ES lacks paddle shifters).

Increased rear leg room is the most pronounced improvement on the 2013 model.

Overall, the passenger compartment is very comfortable. The driver and front seat occupant enjoy 10-way power-adjustable climate-controlled seats, and rear occupants will be pleased with generous legroom – everyone we toted around raved about ingress/egress, outward visibility and overall comfort (most also liked the glare-reducing manual sunshades on the doors, but kids preferred them down so they could see out). Physical appearance aside, the increased rear legroom is the most pronounced improvement on the 2013 model.

Despite its GS-like appearance, the ES350 is still the softy of the Lexus sedan family. Its mission is to provide a comfortable ride, and no amount of flogging is going to change its mind. The brakes are fine, as long as they are not overworked, and the steering is communicative, as long as one is not seeking road feel. Overall, the sedan is very comfortable – yet there is an obvious absence of driving engagement.

2013 Lexus ES 350 rear 3/4 view

To spice things up ever so slightly, the automaker has fitted its new ES350 with a Drive Mode Select feature. The system primarily alters the electronically controlled transmission, throttle mapping and climate control systems for its three modes: Normal, Eco and Sport. Consider Normal mode, the default setting, as baseline. Sport mode will quicken the throttle response (but doesn't deliver any more power) and hold the engine longer in gear, while Eco mode does just the opposite. Even though playing around with the settings was entertaining, we left everything in Normal configuration and were most content.

Despite all of the drive-enhancing improvements, don't get the impression that the ES350 has suddenly been transformed into a track rat – the luxury tuned sedan still much prefers cruising from Los Angeles to San Francisco on mellow US 101 than taking the more challenging Highway 1.

We test a fleet of vehicles each year, and nearly all have some standout quality, benchmark or idiosyncrasy that burns a memory in our conscience – the ES350 is one of the few that doesn't. Not to say it is vanilla in execution, as that is not the case. Rather, it is another one of the many attempts by Lexus to remove the driver from the annoyances and inconveniences of driving. That isn't a flaw, it is a programmed characteristic. The bottom line is that this completely redesigned luxury sedan is better than its predecessor in just about every measurement, but it is also every bit as indistinguishable.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 183 Comments
      Vinuuz
      • 1 Year Ago
      It is built for a purpose and a target segment. This would be cross shopped against Lincolns, Buicks and the Acuras, especially the FWD models (and probably not the AWD models). People buying this segment of car have their own peculiar requirements - comfort, reliability, smoothness, longevity etc and this gives loads of all that with a luxury badge of repute to boot. I personally don't see why someone would pick this over an Avalon, but badge has a value for a lot of people.
      carguy1701
      • 1 Year Ago
      "...it looks far too much like the GS sedan..." I see only a passing resemblance between the two.
      jonnybimmer
      • 1 Year Ago
      The ES has always been the nicest version of the Camry, and even though it's no longer directly connected with the Camry, it still holds that status/stigma about it. Personally, I think Lexus is doing the right thing keeping the ES as a consistent "boring" staple of the entry-level luxury since 1. Sales point out there's definitely a strong customer base for it. and 2. Lexus shouldn't go all sporty with the ES, that's what the IS is for.
      PM
      • 1 Year Ago
      Toyota/Lexus has resisted the calls for AWD on their mid-size/larger FWD based sedans. Ford is offering AWD on the Fusion and Taurus now. And then of course Audi offers Quattro, and Acura offers AWD on the TL and RL/RLX. I guess people who want an AWD ES just buy the RX anyways?
        Michael Harley
        • 1 Year Ago
        @PM
        Lexus sold 95,381 RX models last year (compared to 56,158 ES models), so your theory appears correct. - Mike
      dukeisduke
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sure, it's bland, but it does what it's supposed to do, and if you want something a little more BMW-like, you buy the IS.
      adam1keith1980
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's hard to imagine that this car is under the same brand as the new IS.
      Bobby
      • 1 Year Ago
      Personally, its not my type of car. Really doesnt fit my tastes, but hey this car works perfectly for some people. Why rip brands who make cars like this? It wasn't targeted for "enthusiasts" so don't make it like it is. Just like Nokia doesnt make Bricks for smartphone users, that's not the intended market.
      merlot066
      • 1 Year Ago
      Objective exterior styling aside (Lexus' new design looks good on the GS but it's way too much on the smaller ES and IS).. Is that interior a joke?? It looks like a cobbled-together mess that was designed by a dozen different people. Things like the drive mode selector look like a tacked-on afterthought, they still utilize blank covers where would-be switches are, the center stack has no flow between the different segments, and they are still using the same cruise control switch that was in my friend's 94 ES 300. Aside from the premium leather seats (the standard leather is nothing remarkable) I'm not getting it.
      Nonconformist
      • 1 Year Ago
      I swear, with every Toyota/Lexus review on each and every so-called "enthusiasts" website, it's like reading the same old bland, tired, dated comments that were copied and pasted from some "90s Toyota Slam Book for Dummies." I can't understand how you 'enthusiasts' try to present yourselves as all-knowing, but you all are clearly extraordinarily ignorant, ill-informed, and totally clueless. Not to mention, you all come across as foolish teenagers who are the rejects of your high schools. An "enthusiast" is someone who has not only an extreme interest in a subject, but also they have an appreciation for all things involved in that subject. You all proudly proclaim to be "auto enthusiasts," but you slam any and every car that is not a supercharged RWD two-seater with 650+ HP with 12-cylinders and a 10-speed transmission. Oh, and especially if said car isn't American or German-made. That's not what an enthusiast is. And enthusiast will appreciate any well-crafted car that does what it's designed to do, whether it's a Lamborghini Gallardo Aventador or a Toyota Prius. You all don't seem to realize how foolish and moronic you all sound with your comments. You all judge EVERY car like it's supposed to be ran at the Daytona 500. You can't appreciate, respect, or judge a car for what it's intended to do. The ES has NEVER been a sports car, and it's never tried to be. Now, had Toyota marketed the Lexus ES as the 'ultimate driving machine,' 99% of the negative comments would be totally validated. However, Toyota has NEVER marketed this car as such a vehicle, and it was never intended to be such a vehicle. It's supposed to be a very solid, entry-level luxury sedan that is plush, refined, and will get someone who's willing to shell out a little bit of extra money... from point A to point B with comfort and ease. THOSE are the only metrics the ES should be judged on. What you guys (kids) do, is tantamount to someone criticizing a Learjet for not performing like a military F-16 fighter jet. Yes, they may have similar dimensions, but the aircraft have two completely different missions. Any troll moron bringing up horsepower, handling, cornering, or sportiness—when it comes to the ES—is completely invalidated by default, as you have nothing but a moot point. Just because the ES may be the same size as a BMW 3 or 5 Series or it may cost as much as an Audi A4, doesn't mean that it automatically competes with those vehicles. Why is this something that needs to be explained to you wannabe know-it-all's??? This should be obvious. Toyota/Lexus did fall short on some of the features on this vehicle, but overall, it's a very attractive offering without any true competition. And whatever little bit of competition the vehicle does have, the general public doesn't usually hold those cars to anywhere near the same regard, as the ES or Lexus as a whole. If you want "sporty" and something geared towards a "SPORTS enthusiast," Lexus offers the IS and GS.
        Helix
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Nonconformist
        Most of the commenters on Autoblog are idiots.
        audisp0rta4
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Nonconformist
        Holy hell that was a LONG response. Now that you've gotten that off your shoulders, I will say that I agree with you wholeheartedly. I like to consider myself pretty neutral, but even I have been quick to dismiss a car that doesn't stir my soul in the from time to time. I think that's a natural reaction of an enthusiast though. We are passionate, so opinions will fly from time to time. Most of the people on here are downright ridiculous though, and deserve whatever flack you dish out on them.
          A P
          • 1 Year Ago
          @audisp0rta4
          +1000 I would love to see the age breakdown on AB....writers AND posters. There are so many German-car-loving lemmings that automatically think that anything from the Fatherland must be superior because they have read the same drivel in car magazines. Those same magazines that take in HUGE amounts of ad money from German car makers. Now the new generation of editors brought up in the 90s think that everything that does not have 300hp is "slow".
        SeanR
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Nonconformist
        wordy, but correct.
        saabninefive
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Nonconformist
        Very good definition of enthusiast!
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      A Lacrosse is better.
        NightFlight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        Is that why they are flying off of the lots? The only time I see a Lacrosse is when it is on a rental lot.
          alistair.dillingham
          • 1 Year Ago
          @NightFlight
          exactly. The novelty of the exterior styling wore off fast. Buick has huge inventories and low sales for months, if not years, now.
        alistair.dillingham
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        Only a damned fool would believe this ludicrous statement. Toyotas are higher quality, better fit and finish, and far more reliable BUICKS. Where is the advantage of the Lacrosse? DO they offer $10,000 cash back?
          Martin Edmonds
          • 1 Year Ago
          @alistair.dillingham
          Buicks are proven to be reliable and are quality products. Not sure where you think the opposite takes place.
          alistair.dillingham
          • 1 Year Ago
          @alistair.dillingham
          Buicks were only more reliable compared to other GM crap, NOT to the stellar reliability of Toyotas. The old ladies that own Buicks are happy that they start every morning, they don't have high expectations, so they usually report high satisfaction indices. But if you actually review these cars in detail, they are far from quality or reliable cars. I know, a close associate had a park Avenue, a ridiculously expensive POS when new, and it was utter junk reliability and quality wise.
        jtav2002
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        Meh, nothing wrong with the Lacrosse, but I'd certainly take the ES over a Lacrosse. Nothing is wrong with Buick, but they're not necessarily doing anything to blow you out of the water either. Current Lacrosse is much better than the previous but still just solid. Regal isn't bad. They really dropped the ball with the GS. I think it looks GREAT but they should have just kept the AWD and turbo V6.
        Patrick
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        By Lacrosse do you mean the Regal GS?
        clquake
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Avinash Machado
        Only if you're 75 years old and can't see all that well.
      A P
      • 1 Year Ago
      You had the car for a week and that is all you had to say about it? More like you sat in it for a hour then wrote this drivel. Not a word about the Mark Levinson stereo, or anything else? Whoops I forgot this is not a German car and Stuttgart would be angry at anything other than a minimal review.
        FIDTRO
        • 1 Year Ago
        @A P
        Shhhh! Don't post so negatively about Germany and make such a scene about it. They're coming to get you now!
      ebn.hahn
      • 1 Year Ago
      It is Still Based on a TOYOTA DB!!!!