Lexus ES 350: Driving Impressions – There's no denying that tastes change with age. Take cars, for example. For first-time drivers, fresh from the DMV with their license to Freedom Highway, the ride of choice is heavily influenced by how cute or cool it is, its color, possibly how fast or loud it is, or maybe how many watts the sound system puts out. Others are satisfied with a box that rolls on its own and keeps them out the rain. We eventually graduate into the working world with its regular paycheck, and subsequently trade up for a newer vehicle, typically more reliable and powerful, or at least appearing more presentable in the company parking lot. As the years go on, our left legs grow tired of manipulating the clutch in rush hour traffic and the rigid sports-coupe suspension is a bit much for the new parent who has been up all night. That's when we seek out cars such as the 2007 Lexus ES 350. It's attractive enough to draw some looks, spacious enough for a small family traveling to the in-laws, and its immensely comfortable cabin provides a welcome respite after a trying day at work. The $33,865 base price puts the ES 350 in the affordable ball park (for entry-luxury), and though the soft suspension won't allow for any auto-crossing, the 272-horsepower engine hauls tail when the driver wants to school some high school kids in their punked-out Civics.
That injection of power is part of front-wheel-drive ES 350's redesign for 2007. Gone is last year's 218-horsepower 3.3 liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission combo, replaced by a 3.5-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 with variable-valve timing and a ULEV emissions rating. This new powerplant offers up 272 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 254 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm and is mated to a six-speed manually-interactive automatic transmission. Its 3,580-lb. curb weight reflects a weight gain of about 100 pounds, though EPA-rated highway fuel economy has actually increased to 30 mpg, while a city rating of 21 mpg remains unchanged. Our week-long test on the roads of southern California yielded 20.9 mpg.
In addition to the more powerful engine, the 2007 Lexus ES 350 boasts a longer wheelbase, lower ground clearance, and slight increases in shoulder room despite a marginal loss in overall width. A suspension system consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in the rear works in concert with a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering assembly, as well as stability and traction control systems, to help the driver maintain control. Behind 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 215/55 Michelin Energy MXV4 tires are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, bolstered by electronic brake force distribution and electronic brake assistance technology.
Inside, the 2007 Lexus ES 350, available in one trim only, plays host to a long list of standard equipment. The $33,865 base price includes a $695 destination charge and represents an increase of only $850 over the 2006 model, despite numerous improvements. Among the ES 350's creature comforts are a power sunroof, genuine burl walnut interior trim, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with secondary controls, power cloth seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Of course, as an entry-level luxury vehicle, there are also items like an ignition button, a premium sound system with a six-disc CD changer and MP3 player, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a trip computer with a tire pressure monitor. Safety items include front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and front knee airbags. Rear side airbags are found on the options list, as is a Pre-Collision System with Adaptive Cruise Control Package which includes active pretensioners, active electronic brake assistance, and intelligent cruise control. Also offered are a Bluetooth Audio package, heated and cooled front seats, a power rear sunshade, an upgraded audio system with navigation, and multiple premium and luxury packages that feature leather upholstery, power seats with additional adjustment and memory settings, rain-sensing wipers, and more.
Four packages were featured on our 2007 Lexus ES 350 test car, and when added to the base price and $695 destination charge, brought the total tally to $46,045. That's about $12,000 above the base price, in exchange for which we enjoyed an electronic parking aid system ($500); the Pre-Collision System package ($2,250); a Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package with Bluetooth compatibility, voice-activated controls, a rear camera, 14-speaker surround sound, and a six-disc CD changer ($4,050); and finally, an Ultra Luxury Package that added perforated leather upholstery, memory settings, a wood and leather steering wheel, a rear glass roof panel, rear side airbags, 17-inch Graphite alloy wheels, and more ($5,380).