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Lexus ES 350 offers true entry luxury

August 04, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

There are plenty of new vehicles that claim to offer affordable "luxury." Trouble is that there's much more to luxury than loading a car with mere features.

It's a certain feeling you get just from looking at it, sitting in it and driving it. These are qualities that certainly relate to the 2007 Lexus ES 350. The bonus is that it won't cost you your life savings to make that feeling a permanent addition to your driveway.

This newest ES continues to be derived from the latest-generation Toyota Camry, but the similarities - both physical and visceral - diverge with each successive model.

The Lexus seems infused with a lot more style than before, especially around the front fascia and rakish-looking side glass and roofline. There's also a certain seamless look to the overall structure as if the outline of the doors, hood and trunk panels were traced by a laser. No, the zoomy new sheet metal won't stop traffic, but the ES no longer appears to be traveling undercover.

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Although the finished product is similar in size to last year's ES 330, there's a significant 2-inch increase in wheelbase that provides those inside even more space. The brown walnut-accented interior also manages to look richer, evoking images of the top-banana LS-class Lexus.

To keep the pilot pleased, there's a Camry-derived 272-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 at his or her disposal. That's 54 more ponies than the previous 3.3-liter ES330, which, Lexus claims, shaves close to a half-second from the 0-to-60 mph time (now 6.8 seconds). And in a deft engineering slight-of-hand, highway fuel economy has actually increased to 30 mpg from the previous 29, while the city rating remains at 21.

The gutsier motor is connected to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission, a first for a front-wheel-drive luxury car, and allows for manual gear selection through a gated shifter. There are actually 20 percent fewer parts in the six-speed than were in the ES 330's five-speed unit.

Included in the "base" ES are features such as dual-zone climate control, power sunroof, keyless entry and starting, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power tilt/telescopic steering column, a brace of air bags and traction and stability control.

That's a reasonably impressive assortment, but the option list - the Ultra-Luxury package in particular - should really get your attention. The highlight here is an all-glass roof that consists of three panels. The first acts as an air deflector, while the mid-panel slides back over the rear pain, which is fixed in place.

Other features such as rear-seat side-impact air bags, heated and ventilated leather seats, auto-dimming outside mirrors, adaptive headlamps that swivel as the car's direction changes and a power seat cushion extender that provides more support for longer-legged drivers are also included in the Ultra-Luxury group.

A sweet-sounding 14-speaker audio package from sound engineer Mark Levinson and a voice-activated navigation system can also be fitted to the ES.

Missing from the list is last year's driver-adjustable suspension settings, which apparently wasn't a high-demand item.

With the new ES, the stated aim of Lexus management is to aggressively target makes such as Mercedes-Benz and Acura by offering the most cushiness for the least amount of money. In fact, for less than $35,000, you can drive away in a value-laden vehicle that won't leave you longing for true luxury.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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