2008 ES 350 New Car Test Drive
The Lexus ES 350 is a mid-size sedan that celebrates smoothness, quietude and sophistication. The Lexus ES doesn't suffer the hard ride of a German sports sedan. You can safely sip a cappuccino on the way to work. The ride is smooth, the engine is smooth, the six-speed automatic is flawless, everything is quiet.
The ES 350 is quick and responsive, benefitting from a newly developed 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. Lexus says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, a solid performance. Yet the ES 350 is also certified to the Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II (ULEV II) standard.
The ES 350 was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year and there are only minor revisions for 2008, such as new personal reading lamps for rear-seat riders.
The Lexus ES series has come a long way. When Toyota launched its premium Lexus brand in late 1989, its entry-level model was the ES 250, with a thinly disguised Camry chassis and powertrain under a mildly upgraded body and interior. With each succeeding generation, the ES has better met the needs of the entry-luxury segment, with more room, more space, more power, and more standard equipment. And more safety features.
Lexus presents the ES and IS as a one-two challenge to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G35 and M35, Audi A6, Saab 9-3, Volvo S60, and a host of domestics in this popular class. The ES is designed to emphasize ride quality and smoothness, while the IS is oriented around sharp handling and is designed to be a driver's car. The ES uses front-wheel drive, while the IS is rear-wheel drive. We like both, depending on the mood and the task at hand.
The 2008 Lexus ES 350 ($33,820) comes as one model. It comes with high-grade fabric upholstery, 10-way power front seats; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; power glass sunroof; eight-speaker AM/FM/6CD, satellite compatibility, and MP3/iPod input jack; programmable SmartAccess keyless entry; and all the other amenities one would expect for the price. Tires are P215/55 all-season radials on 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels.
The Premium Package ($1,280) adds leather seating, rear-seat side-impact airbags, Bluetooth wireless technology, auto-dimming exterior mirrors with automatic tilt-down, and a memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel and exterior mirrors controlled through the SmartAccess system. The Premium Plus package ($2,480) includes the contents of the Premium Package and adds a power driver's seat cushion extender, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, and front passenger seat memory. The Ultra-Luxury Package ($5,380) combines the contents of the Premium and Premium Plus packages, and adds a panorama glass roof, perforated leather seating, power rear sunshade, adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with HID headlamps, navigation with rear backup camera, wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, and 10-spoke graphite-finish alloy wheels.
Options include park assist ($500), a power rear sunshade ($210), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), full-size spare tire ($205), wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($350), rear side-impact airbags ($250), Bluetooth audio ($300), and HID/AFS lighting ($815). Buyers may also choose navigation by itself ($2,650), or with a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system with six-CD changer ($4,250); both include Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera.
The Pebble Beach Edition is a package ($4,710) featuring a semi-aniline leather interior, a wood and leather steering wheel, and Liquid Graphite-finish wheels. Exclusive badging and floor mats display The Lone Cypress logo of California's Pebble Beach Resorts. Other standard equipment will be roughly equivalent to the Premium Plus package. Additionally, three Personalization Program accessory packages exclusive to the Pebble Beach edition will allow owners to add a set of matched luggage, Callaway golf equipment, or Viking cooking gear. Exterior colors will be limited to an exclusive Truffle Mica, or the standard-issue silver pearl or black. The Pebble Beach Edition is a limited run of 6,000 ES 350s.
Safety features that come standard on the ES 350 include dual front airbags, dual front knee airbags, front side-impact airbags (for torso protection), curtain airbags (for head protection), electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and a tire-pressure monitor. A two-chamber passenger airbag is designed to stop the passenger's upper body and torso with minimal facial contact and neck stress on deployment.
The optional Pre-Collision System ($2,600) includes a radar-based cruise control that automatically maintains a preset distance between the ES 350 and the car ahead. If the system senses an imminent collision, it retracts all the outboard seatbelts and initializes the brake system for full panic-braking power. (But it doesn't close the windows and the sunroof like the similar system from Mercedes-Benz).