Over the past couple years, the entire Lexus lineup has been overhauled. The little IS has become the “little engine that could”, and grown up to be a full-on sports sedan. The GS is amongst the sexiest sedans on the road right now, and even the RX has become far more exciting than its predecessor. I have always been partial towards Honda and Mazda products for their supposedly-superior driving dynamics, so as a change of pace, my editor assigned me a 2014 Lexus ES350 for the week.
Let’s get this out of the way first – the ES350 is not an enthusiast’s sports car. All-new for 2013, it’s a combination between smoothness, comfort, and efficiency. It’s a front-wheel-drive luxury sedan that’s based off the new Toyota Avalon, which I came to really like when I tested it back in the spring. Unlike a couple of its competitors (namely the aging Acura TL), it’s not available with all-wheel-drive. However, with Toyota’s press fleet management as diligent as they are, it was fitted with some beefy Yokohama IceGuard winter tires that rendered it virtually unstoppable in poor weather.
Moved along by Toyota and Lexus’ corporate 3.5L V6, the ES350 sports 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. Power is ample at any speed, and if not careful, it’s easy to get the front wheels to chirp. There isn’t nearly as much torque steer as some other powerful front-wheel-drive cars (read: Mazdaspeed3, Honda Accord Coupé); the Lexus definitely feels planted. The transmission is an electronically-controlled 6-speed unit; manual controls are available if so desired. Passing on the highway is effortless and pleasant – I have grown to rather like the engine note of this particular V6. The Drive Mode Select allows the driver to stick the car into “Sport” for some spirited driving, and back down into “Eco” for everyday, fuel-saving operation.
Being a front-wheel-drive car, the Lexus ES is prone to a little bit of understeer. I’m not exactly counting this as a downside; this serene sedan isn’t built for the Nurburgring. It is made for transporting its passengers in smooth, serene comfort, and it does that very well. Now that the ES is based on the larger Avalon rather than the midsized Camry, there is enough rear legroom for six-foot occupants to sit and travel in comfort. Plus, with Lexus leather, who wouldn’t be comfortable?
My tester was equipped with the “Leather & Navigation Package”. At $44,350, it’s exceptional value over its German rivals. It adds the Remote Touch Interface with the full navigation suite, the 8” display screen, a premium audio system, heated wood/leather steering wheel, wood trim around the cabin, and full-leather seating surfaces. Toys like sunroof, in-dash DVD, SIRI Eyes-Free technology, and a reverse camera are already standard on the ES. Given the base (already well-equipped) car starts at under $40,000, the ES is definitely aggressively priced.
The one thing that always gave me a “boring” vibe about Lexus products was the very conservative styling that was consistent right across the lineup. The previous-generation ES350 was no different. It looked like a Camry that was given an upscale refresh, and was not something that interested me in the slightest. This car however, is superbly styled. I would go as far as to say it’s considered universally attractive. The LED daytime-running-lights in the headlamps look great, the angles are definitely corporate-Lexus but give off a very good vibe, and the available wheels are all stylish and modern. My car was finished in Nebula Grey Pearl with the matching black leather interior, and it was exceptionally sharp.
Toyota and Lexus have always been aggressive with the fuel consumption across the passenger car lineup. Lexus’ CT ES, GS, LS, and RX are available in hybrid form using the technology that this automaker is known for having perfected. This ES is also available in the ES300h form, which may be a little less spirited to drive, but will save you a serious amount of money at the pumps. Nonetheless, my 3.5L V6 tester returned an average of 9.7L/100km in combined driving factoring in some serious winter temperatures – not bad in the slightest. Lexus does recommend premium fuel on this model.
There were very few things I wasn’t a huge fan of with the ES350; I ended up liking the car a lot. The seats, while being very comfortable, lack a bit of support. It’s also a bit too smooth on the highway, but then again, that’s what the vast majority of the car-buying public wants. I know quite a few businesspeople who have a corporate car allowance and seem to pay way too much money for a decently-equipped BMW 3-series or A. While those cars are decent enough in their driving dynamics, the 2014 Lexus ES350 is less money for more toys, has the reliability that this automaker is known for, and provides an incredible value for the price you pay for it.