But does it go?
The ES 350′s V6 – shared with a handful of Toyota and Lexus products – has become almost legendary for its refinement, if not its broad power range. Silky-smooth at idle, its lack of intrusive noise had us questioning at nearly every stop light whether it was running. Under acceleration, it emitted only the quietest, upscale growl – accompanied, unfortunately, by a fair amount of torque steer and not that much power.
The ES’ front-wheel-drive roots showed through under even the least bit of duress. The steering wheel – leather and wood-covered – tugged to the side and, especially when accelerating from a stop with the wheel cranked to one side, the stability control reared its ugly head with a flashing light in the instrument cluster. We’re not talking high-performance track runs that induce wheelspin and, subsequently, the electronic nannies; we’re talking the kind of around-town commuting between grocery stores and beauty shops (maybe we didn’t actually visit beauty shops) that most ESs will see on a regular basis. It’s a case of too much power and a too-snappy throttle. We’d like to see that power spread up into higher RPMs, where it was lacking.
When the pavement turned rough, the ride became sloppy and unrefined. The ES is a perfect example of needing less tire but more suspension; fairly low-profile tires, hardly fitting on this car, and soft shock and spring tuning meant that it crashed over small bumps and waddled over big imperfections in the road. We’d recommend that Lexus step down to a softer tire (though the Michelin Energy MXV4 SSs on our tester are hardly performance tires) and install firmer spring rates to quell some of the motions.
Not surprisingly, excessive body lean kept us from wanting to explore twisty roads – or even curvy on-ramps.
The V6′s limited power at higher RPMs meant that it required a good push of the skinny pedal to coax the six-speed automatic to downshift. On the bright side, we recorded more than 30 mpg on a 100-mile highway jaunt.
Generally speaking, the ES is a better highway cruiser than a corner carver or even a suburban commuter, though there was a bit more road noise than we’ve come to expect in a Lexus. Otherwise, directional stability was a strong point from the otherwise lifeless power steering.
Why you would buy it: You have zero interest in performance, but you’re looking for lots of luxury and space in a reasonably-priced package that also comes with Lexus’ enviable dealership experience.
Why you wouldn’t buy it: You’re fresh out of Dramamine and you live at the end of a curvy road.
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