Leveraging the might and reach of parent company Toyota’s manufacturing, design and engineering resources, it’s like Lexus has its own little global sales incubator, hatching hordes of luxury car intenders ready to trade up. And now, Lexus has Scion to get that whole “L-finesse” design vibe injected into kids’ craniums as early as possible. The result is a reputation for primo quality and ready-made buyers who start out with a Corolla, like it, go to the Camry, like it more and, in contemplating their first luxury car, have this choice to make: go for the unknown, or get the next thing in Toyota’s supply chain, the Baby Lexus.
The 2007 Lexus ES 350 ain’t anyone’s baby, not anymore, and it’s making the choice to stay in the Toyota family easier than ever. There’s nothing ‘near’ about the luxurious ES 350, nothing ‘entry’ about a luxury car that is better in virtually every way than the original 1990 Lexus LS 400 flagship and more powerful than most in its class.. Compared to the previous-generation model, the 2007 ES 350 is also bigger inside, resting as it does on a wheelbase two inches wider than before, which translates to added room front and back, and a more comfortable ride. Luxurious amenities like real wood trim, matched perfectly in grain and color, a panoramic roof, and more also helps to vault the ES 350 to the head of the class.
Class leader? Yeah – but what class? And think about this: it took all of 10 years to reach the point where Lexus now has two – count ‘em – legitimate entry-luxury sedans, the IS for thrill, and the ES 350, for chill. Call them bookends of mainstream luxury domination: the Lexus IS 350 and ES 350 go together like peas and carrots, as a famous Tom Hanks character would say, each different yet inexorably linked, a complete answer to your luxury car needs, a two-punch approach to beating down the competition: The new 2007 Lexus ES 350, for comfort. The Lexus IS 350, for carving.
It really must be good to be Lexus in the 21st century.
Given the amount of standard features and option packages that are available, buying a Lexus is not too complicated, and the 2007 ES 350 is no exception. Offered in one body style with either a moonroof (standard) or an optional panoramic roof, which stretches into the back seat, there’s also just one powertrain choice: a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. With the main ingredients simplified ES 350 shoppers can focus instead on interior amenities and safety upgrades. Inside, for example, standard features include black fabric upholstery, wood trim for the center console and doors, a metal and leather-trimmed shift knob, a power tilt/telescoping three-spoke steering wheel with audio and display controls, ten-way power adjustable front seats with two-way power lumbar, and a SmartAccess keyless locking and ignition system with push-button start/stop.
Options for the 2007 Lexus ES 350 include a leather interior, a wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, a driver’s seat bottom extender for additional thigh support, front seats that are heated and ventilated, and a power rear sunshade. Standard stereo and entertainment features include an MP3 audio input plug through the center compartment, eight speakers, a six-CD changer and Bluetooth connectivity. Options include a 300-watt, 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, a DVD player, a navigation system, an dyour choice between XM or Sirius satellite radio.
Safety features in all 2007 Lexus ES 350s include eight airbags: dual front and front knee airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, and front seat-mounted side airbags. Optional safety features include a Pre-Collision System (PCS) and an Intelligent Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS).
Option packages for the 2007 Lexus ES 350 are numerous, starting with a Premium Package that includes Bluetooth, leather, and driver memory control. There’s also the Premium Plus Package, which adds the power cushion extender, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated seats, and a full-size spare tire to the Premium Package. The Ultra Luxury Package adds the panoramic glass roof, upgraded leather, a power rear sunshade, the wood/leather steering wheel and shift knob, AFS, navigation with a backup camera, and rear seat side airbags – clearly, the Ultra Luxury Package is for those interested in purchasing a fully equipped ES. If you do purchase the Ultra Luxury Package, you can add a Safety Package with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and PCS – but we cannot applaud the requirement of the most expensive option package to get the best safety equipment money can buy
Nuts and Bolts
There’s nothing luxurious about a weak engine, or an inadequately performing car, so descriptions of the 2007 Lexus ES 350 as being all about comfort and nothing about performance is a little misleading. Certainly, this is not a performance vehicle, but there’s simply nothing weak about its 3.5-liter, 272-horsepower V6 engine, or inadequate about the advanced six-speed transmission that sends the power to the front wheels. Sure, with a redline of 6,400 rpm and a horsepower peak at 6,200 rpm, the engine runs hard at high speeds to generate maximum motive force, but there’s certainly an adequate supply of power and torque, the latter of which is rated 254 lb.-ft. at 4,700 rpm. The engine’s performance is helped by a sequential fuel injection system that improves output and efficiency, delivering a ULEV-II emissions standard and a Lexus-estimated fuel economy rating of 21 miles in the city and 30 on the highway. Our short time in the ES 350 netted a combined reading of 19 miles to the gallon. The ES 350’s six-speed transmission features sequential shift and computer-generated gear ratios, which change based on horsepower and torque output, resulting in smoother operation and greater powertrain performance. Lexus claims a 0-60 acceleration time of just 6.8 seconds, substantially quicker than the outgoing model.
The powertrain motivates a car that features a stiffened structure, a MacPherson strut front and dual-link strut rear suspension, and an electric, speed-sensing power-assisted rack and pinion steering setup. Brakes are four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Traction Control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), connected to 17-inch wheels that are clad with 215/55R17 all-season tires.
Lexus has gone hog wild on this whole “L-finesse” design theme. Now, with the debut of the 2007 ES 350, every Lexus car has received the L-finesse treatment, save the upcoming LS, with its short rear deck, dramatic hood line and long snout. It looks good, too, when applied to the extended wheelbase (two inches) of the new ES. Though the vehicle is actually close to the same length as the outgoing model, it looks longer, and the interior benefits from the increased wheelbase dimensions. The 2007 Lexus ES 350 simply looks like its more car, more fun and roomier than the last generation ES model. Still, some may be left cold by the “L-finesse” approach, feeling that it’s too rakish a design for a serious luxury model – fine for the fun-and-gun IS, but perhaps too trendy for the ES 350. Chances are, though, most buyers in this market are looking for a little bit of trendiness with their leather and wood.
There’s little doubt that ES buyers are also looking for comfort and high quality materials, and on that score the new ES 350 is a smash hit. Materials, seats and attention to detail are beyond reproach, beyond any entry, or “near” luxury tag, and well beyond the price you’ll pay for such comfort. Case in point: the real walnut wood grain trim is matched not just by color but also by grain, with each individual ES 350 wood grain set coded and matched as it goes through production. The windshield is designed by the audio pros at Yamaha to help filter out exterior noise and enhance interior vocal harmonics. And for those who do like the trendy stuff, there’s also the center console storage area, which at first seems to be a typical lift-up box but is instead a sliding unit. At the click of the front button, the compartment slides back and up, revealing its contents and making it easy to retrieve items. Once done, just push in another button on the front of the compartment and it closes with a reassuring snap.
Soft touch areas on the ES 350’s doors, dash and sides are of high quality and pleasant to the touch with no glare or reflection from the sun. Soft lighting in the cabin includes cupholder illumination and clear Optitron-style gauges. Additional standard highlights include 10-way power seats, cloth seats (two types of leather are optional) and a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel that offers a clear view of the large, easy to read instruments. As one would expect, controls are simple to use and intuitively placed throughout.
Safety and Technology
Few areas of the new 2007 Lexus ES 350 represent the high level of attention to detail than the available safety equipment and technology enhancements. Indeed, it is fairly characterized as a continuation of the Lexus drive to outfit all of its cars with the latest and greatest features available. For an entry-level luxury vehicle, in fact, the ES 350 offers some equipment not often found at its price point, making the car worth a closer look. Standard items include Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC), which automatically adjusts the throttle and brakes to control wheelspin. The ES 350 also comes standard with eight standard airbags, including knee bags for driver and front passenger, and side curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions. Seat-mounted side airbags are also standard for front seat occupants, and Lexus claims that the twin chamber design of the main front passenger airbag will result in fewer injuries from deployment.
Optional safety equipment available on the 2007 Lexus ES 350 includes a rear backup camera (part of the available navigation package), and an Intelligent Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) that swivels the headlights to illuminate around curves.
Aside from safety, much of the new technology behind the ES 350 is dedicated to improving the experience, with a Lexus-first panoramic glass roof option and an available new, graphically advanced and easy-to-use navigation system. The ES 350 is also offered with the now-familiar SmartAccess keyless entry and vehicle start system. As with all Lexus vehicles, the ES 350 can be equipped with an optional Mark Levinson entertainment system – the latest generation Levinson system – with a 300-watt audio setup playing through 14 speakers and 10 channels of amplification. The system includes a DVD video package, with viewing available on the seven-inch color front-only display screen when the car is parked.
One notable absence on the ES 350’s equipment roster is an OnStar-style telematics system. This type of communication portal has proven popular and effective for a variety of safety and day-to-day circumstances. Lexus claims that the re-adoption of its Lexus Link system is moving forward, and will happen on a car-by-car basis, meaning that the more expensive models will get it first. As it is on introduction, however, the ES 350 suffers from the lack of a telematics system, whereas many competitors – GM cars especially – offer it as standard equipment.
It was the truck that would not budge, the rig that stubbornly stayed the course, cruising along the two-lane highway at 35 mph oblivious to the cars stacking up behind it – or, rather, enjoying the show of frustrated drivers desperate to move ahead. Normally, passing would be a cinch, except that between Lake Las Vegas and Lake Mead Lake in Nevada, there are but a few good areas to execute such a move; some dashed lines last for but a second and then, wham, the opportunity would disappear and back you’d go, reading the back of the white rental box van for miles. This was no good. We only had an opportunity to evaluate the 2007 Lexus ES 350 for a few hours, and while some would say that cruising in traffic would be the best way to examine such a luxo-sedan, we wanted to see what that 272-horsepower engine had to offer.
We got our chance. As if God was listening to our muttered curses, there suddenly came a convergence of events perfect for passing: a broken center line, and no oncoming traffic. We signaled, moved out, punched the accelerator and whoosh, we were off, sprinting past the truck, to freedom and to a considerable surprise: the 2007 Lexus ES 350 acts as if it really, really, really wants to be a sporty sedan. And while it turns out that wanting and being are two entirely different things, the driving experience from behind the ES 350’s wheel is a darn sight more spry than most would expect. As we learned, the engine is nicely powered, and the power is managed capably by a lighter six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifting. The result is plenty of power when needed, capable acceleration with virtually no torque steer, smooth shifts, and little to no lag between gears.
By now, those who want the Lexus ES 350 to be a normal comfortable car are making mutters of your own about why Lexus ruined such a marvelously appointed, quiet and comfortable car. They didn’t, so rest easy. In fact, the 2007 Lexus ES 350 is perhaps more boring, eh, comfortable to drive than ever. This is a sedan that has an interior designed for napping: it’s bigger all the way around, thanks to the ES 350’s larger wheelbase; it’s quieter, which is hard to believe but true, thanks to new damping materials and a windshield design that Lexus says is crafted to enhance vocal harmonics; it flattens the road, muting bumps and covering rough asphalt, potholes and ruts while sending little disturbance to the cabin thanks to a stiff frame and capable independent suspension.
It’s not all good, however. During aggressive cornering, you can feel the sedan’s desire to understeer build up quickly, and the 215/55R17 all-season tires scream out in protest if you push it a bit too hard. This car knows its limitations more than you do, starting with aggressive cornering – for which it is not really designed. Additionally, the steering is responsive but feels very disconnected – especially at higher speeds.. You do get some sense of what’s going on down there through the seat, though you have to listen carefully.
Indeed, the 2007 Lexus ES 350’s charm lay in affordable luxury, not sport luxury, and on that count this car delivers in spades: you don’t want all that nasty feedback ruining a nice, quiet and compliant ride. When it’s time to apply the brakes, the system responds quickly and stops nicely, the four-wheel power-assisted antilock discs, grabbing, holding and bringing the sedan to a clean halt. Through the ES 350’s braking system runs all the electronic wizardry of your typical Lexus, with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Traction Control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) on alert to keep the car traveling the driver’s intended path.
What’s the difference between the Lexus IS 350 and the Lexus ES 350? Primarily, performance vs. comfort. Those who are willing to sacrifice cabin space for a high-output engine and a sporty suspension will find the IS more to their liking. Those who wish for more room, a smoother ride and a quieter cabin should focus on the ES 350.
Seeing as the 2007 Lexus ES 350 is based on the redesigned Toyota Camry, will Lexus offer a more efficient ES 350h hybrid, using the Camry’s Hybrid Synergy Drive? Not at this time. While it may make sense to market an entry-level luxury sedan to shoppers who want an environmentally-friendly vehicle, Lexus has no plans to offer any vehicle with a four-cylinder engine.
What’s the difference between the outgoing ES 330 and the all-new ES 350? The new 2007 Lexus ES 350 is improved over the outgoing ES in several areas, with a more robust powertrain, more room inside and more stylish design. The ES 350 also offers significant upgrades in features, such as a panoramic roof.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Lexus ES 350
Price Range: Not available, but expect slightly more than the 2006 sticker price of $32,300
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 272 at 6,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 254 lb.-ft. at 4,700 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with sequential shift
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,580
Est. Fuel Economy (city/highway): 21/30 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 19 mpg
Length: 191.1 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Height: 57.3 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.2/35.9 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 37.4/36.8 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 14.7 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lucerne, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lincoln Zephyr, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9-3, Saab 9-5, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60
Photos courtesy of Lexus