2010 Lexus ES 350 - Click above for high-res image gallery The entry-level luxury sedan segment doesn't command the enthusiast attention of, say, the ultra-premium luxury sports sedan. But if you ask automakers to choose between the two, we'd wager that most would rather have a best-in-class $35,000 sedan than a world-beating $70,000 sports tourer. The reason? Very few fortunes are made selling a few thousand highfalutin' rocket launchers, but bottom lines can easily be bolstered or crippled based on the success or failure of a plush, high-volume cruiser. Luxury marques from Acura to Volvo have experienced varied levels of success at the low end of the luxury market, but few have enjoyed the consistent sales dominance of the Lexus ES. In the past decade, Toyota has cranked out over 600,000 copies in the U.S. alone, with another 650,000 units shipped around the world. And those sales have traditionally been overwhelmingly of the retail variety with little or no incentives. Not bad for what many consider a glorified Toyota Camry. Enthusiasts take note: Lexus didn't reach such lofty sales levels with a rear-wheel-drive architecture or pavement-punishing quantities of horsepower. The road map to success for the ES has been simple: a soft, compliant ride; a pampering interior; and unmatched quality. The fifth-generation ES350 has built nicely on those attributes with smoother power, a quieter cabin and more technology. But the competition is still striving to overtake the ES in sales, so Lexus has gone and given its top-selling sedan a mid-cycle refresh for 2010. We spent a week in a Starfire Pearl ES350 to see if it still had the goods to remain a top option in the entry-level luxury segment. %Gallery-97889% Photos by Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc. For 2010, Lexus has given the ES a bit of a rework, with a redesigned grille and lower bumper, new taillights and chrome-trimmed side moldings. On the inside, the ES received a raft of fresh standard features ranging from rain-sensing windshield wipers to rear seat-mounted side-impact airbags. On the technology front, the ES benefits from the same navigation system that resides in the dash of the new Lexus RX with upgraded VoiceBox speech recognition and Bluetooth streaming audio. These obviously aren't game-changing updates, but they're necessary to keep pace in one of the industry's most hotly contested segments. The ES' mild exterior refresh has done little to alter our tester's overall cosmetics, but the new front fascia and taillights further differentiate the ES from the meat-and-potatoes Toyota Camry. And while the design of the ES doesn't often mingle with the words "groundbreaking," "stunning" or even "sleek," we'd counter with the claim that this sedan has somewhat successfully captured the understated elegance that many Americans look for in a entry-level premium vehicle. The real barometer for success resides on the inside, where the ES has earned a solid reputation for its high-end luxury look and feel. Leather seating surfaces are buttery smooth and the touch points on the doors, …
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