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).
Those whose right feet grow heavy with the sight of every red-to-green light will notice that the redesigned ES 350 offers no deficiencies in the torque-steer department, enabling the front tires to squeal easily from a stop, especially when they're turned a bit.
Given these comments, one could correctly assume that we drove this Lexus pretty hard, yet despite our testing of its limits, the ES 350 still returned an average fuel economy rating of 20.9 mpg.
At slower speeds in typical daily driving, bumps are well absorbed and the ride is comfortable. It's only when fishing for limits, which few ES 350 owners are likely to often consider, that things get unsettled. This softly-sprung sedan offers a ride that is smooth and somewhat isolated from the road on which it travels, a pointed cheered by thousands of workday commuters everywhere. That being said, drivers desiring a Lexus that's capable of fostering a more intimate relationship wit the blacktop would be better served by the Lexus IS.
Braking, courtesy of the four-wheel antilock disc setup, is effective, though we did notice more pedal travel than expected on sudden stops.
Lexus designers have done a good, if not perfect job of blending that desirable shape with decent outward visibility. Aiding in the effort are large exterior rearview mirrors, and though the low roof line and high belt line combine to limit their height, the side windows extend far back toward the pillar for an improved view. Unfortunately, the sharp angle of the rear window limits its usefulness, a point accentuated by rear outboard headrests that fail to fully retract (though the center headrest does). Also, the B-pillars are a touch on the wide side and can thus hamper over-the-shoulder views when looking to merge left.
Fun to Drive
Padded surfaces on the door sills, center and door armrests, and center console provide a soft resting place for arms and knees, the latter being afforded plenty of space thanks a dash placed far forward. Headroom is also ample, even with standard sun roof.
Our tester also included an expansive glass panel with a retractable shade, serving to open up the sky to rear passengers without seriously impacting headroom.
Loading up the ES 350 is easy. The trunk opens wide with hinges that covered with plastic and won't fold down onto cargo. The liftover height is about mid-thigh for someone standing five-feet-eight-inches tall, so there's no heavy heaving as when trying to load a 4WD SUV. A locking rear seat pass through allows for the trunk lid to be closed while transporting skis or any objects too long to fit in sideways, and two chrome tie downs act as fastening points for keeping cargo secure. An integrated handle on the inside of the trunk lid allows for easy closing.
On the flip side, the exterior of our 2007 Lexus ES 350 test car was darn near perfect. All of the body and fascia panels lined up well and were joined by fairly tight and consistent gaps. The only detraction was the spacing between the passenger side front and rear windows – it was a little wider at the top.
Interior plastics, at least those that are most likely to be touched, are slightly rubberized or soft. These can be found on the door panels and the lower center console. Hard plastics are limited, found only on the door sills and lower sections of the seats and dash. Above it all is a mesh headliner with matching fabric on the pillars and front and rear sunroof shades.
Outside, the 2007 ES 350 represents a significant improvement over its predecessor, exhibiting more character thanks to its reshaped tail, powerful raised hood, and sleek roof line. Sitting atop it all is a standard sunroof and an optional glass panel that brings the outside in for rear passengers.
Elsewhere in the ES 350's cabin is a average glovebox, small pockets on the front doors but not the rear, pockets on the back of each front seat, and four cupholders, two of which are in the rear fold-down armrest.
Thanks to its touch screen, the ES 350's navigation system was generally a breeze to use. Clearly-marked buttons for destination and map made for easy operation, and the display was bright enough so as to not wash out in daylight. Due to its combining of simplicity with functionality, many shoppers will likely prefer this system over others like the still-confusing iDrive setup found in BMWs.
There are clearly marked buttons for adjusting the dual zone's temperature settings up or down, and there are obvious buttons for automatic climate control, recirculation, and off (you'd be surprised how often this one gets skipped or overdesigned). Adjusting the fan speed, a seemingly simple and common task, requires a bit more effort on models equipped with the navigation system, as was our tester. In this case, one has to tap the Climate button next to the center display to enter bring climate control settings up onto the touch screen, after which they can adjust the fan speed. It need not be that complicated.
Price of Test Vehicle: $46,045 (including a $695 destination charge)
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
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,580
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 21/30 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 20.9 mpg
Length: 191.1 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Height: 57.1 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.2/35.9 inches
Head room (front/rear): 37.4/36.8 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 14.7 cubic feet
BMW 3 Series
So you have a little spare dough and want to impress the boss with a mature, movin' on up vehicle purchase. You've lined up a nice 3 Series, you know – a conservative car guy's car, not flashy but a real hell raiser on the highway. Ah – but then there's the mate, who whines about the hard ride of the BMW, thinks it's boring and hates – really hates – the interior.
You know what's next.
You're headed for Lexus Town, bubba. The good news is that you may wind up with a win-win situation on your hands if you pick the Lexus ES 350. Sure, it rolls like a plastic boat in a bathtub when you push it, but that 272-horsepower six-cylinder engine gives out plenty of power, the styling is hot and the interior is a nice place to sit for extended periods of time. And let's face it – you've been thinking lately that you'd like a little comfort on the ride home. Shoot, you can't remember the last time you took that canyon road anyway, darn boss always making you work late. And while the ES 350 will never thrill you, it will please you, last you a good long time and feel good when you sit inside and crank up the Maiden. Based on that ideal, our ES 350 tester delivered the goods, making day-to-day driving a pleasure. The interior was especially well done, with comfortable seats that were easy to adjust and enough isolation from the road – via noise and bumps – that you feel like you're driving a more expensive sedan. And that's the bad news – you are. While the sticker price of the ES 350 is competitive, even a good value for the car you get, adding a few options can really zoom the final price tag. Our car was priced at more than $40,000. Shoot – does anyone think buying an ES for 40k or more is a good deal?
Lexus ES 350 – Christian Wardlaw's Opinion:
Traditional luxury car buyers are going to love the new 2007 Lexus ES 350. This car is stylish inside and out, features plenty of creature comforts, is powered by a strong and fuel efficient V6 engine, and shifts sublimely. The driving experience is neither sporty nor plush, yet the ES 350 is utterly capable at any speed its target buyers are likely to travel, and features powerful brakes that respond to inputs with finesse. As expected, comfort is king thanks to soft leather, plenty of room front and back, a large trunk, and impressive outward visibility except for the view through the steeply raked rear window. No worries there; our test car had parking sensors and a reversing camera. Luxury is also found in the Lexus ES 350's details; the wood trim is lustrous, the gauges glow brightly, and everything you see and touch looks and feels refined. Still, I detected hints of cost cutting in the dry leather on the steering wheel, the thin padding on the door armrests, the creaking of the center console, the slight whine of the powertrain, and the suspension noise over rough pavement. Personally, the Lexus ES 350 isn't my kind of car. It gives up pretty early when pushed in turns, and isn't entertaining to drive. Plus, I couldn't get the right mix of seat adjustment, resulting in a driving position that was either too low with good thigh support, or pleasingly high but flat. Regardless, I would have no qualms about recommending the 2007 Lexus ES 350 to anyone who wants to get from Point A to Point B in style. People who enjoy driving will want to consider something else.
Lexus ES 350 – Mandy Ison's Opinion:
The Lexus ES 350's 'keyless' fob is bulky, and for those without a purse, requires storage in a cup holder or bin while driving. Do I really need one more item I can forget in the car? That being said, this luxury sedan is one handsome vehicle, with a sophisticated exterior and interior design which screams class and competence. Add the fact that there's an airbag for virtually every body part and passenger, and the Lexus ES 350 becomes the safety conscious car of choice. Adjustable in almost as many directions as a gyroscope, the driver's seat provides a clear view over the steering wheel. Comfortable elbow niches, logically placed controls on the driver side door and center stack, as well as cool factors like the amazingly panoramic sunroof add to the feeling of solid workmanship and quiet affluence. The backseat is spacious but the lack of a flip down center console or 12-volt outlets here or in the trunk is strikingly stingy for a car of its class. Though the Lexus ES 350 has plenty of pep when getting up to highway speeds and handled well on busy city streets, the car feels wide and a little cumbersome while merging into congested lanes. For all the car's stellar qualities, the cozy and silently plush driving experience, while impressive, was also a tad boring. However, "exciting" isn't the thrust of this luxury sedan's mojo. Reliability, comfort, and excellence are.
Photos by Ron Perry