By Derek Price
Reliability, roominess and silence. Those aren’t sexy attributes, but they’re three good reasons to look at the Lexus ES 350.
With a starting price around $39,000, the ES has no shortage of strong competitors, some of which are faster, sleeker or come with flashier tech gadgets in the cabin. Few of them can match the all-around, back-to-the-basics luxury of this mid-size Lexus, though, which is why it’s a perennial best seller.
It’s smooth, quiet and spacious. It drives the way a lot of people think a luxury car should, without any pretensions of sparring with BMW for a sportiness prize.
Well, perhaps with the exception of its styling.
The ES wears the same exaggerated, ridiculously bold front grille as the rest of Lexus’ contemporary lineup. It looks like it wants to eat you alive from the outside, but it’s actually quite docile and friendly once you step inside its cabin, which feels like a shrine to inoffensiveness.
As much as the ES’s body aims to raise your pulse, its driving feel aims to lower it.
On the highway, it’s best described as serene (although obnoxious BMW fans would call it “numb”), as its marshmallow creme suspension makes even the roughest patches of pavement feel like polished glass.
In fact, I can’t think of any other mid-size car, and very few full-size ones, that do as good a job as the ES at delivering a silky ride.
Still, it feels surprisingly controlled in corners. There’s a noticeable amount of body roll — something that comes with the territory in smooth-riding cars — but it never feels like it wallows.
While it would never be confused with a sports sedan, power is more than adequate from its 3.5-liter V6. It makes 268 horsepower, enough to surprise me all too frequently by chirping the front tires under acceleration during my week-long test. The ES’s sensory deprivation cabin eliminated the sounds and feelings of power, not the power itself.
While it’s hard to find any glaring faults in this car, it shares one small thing that bugs me every time I drive a new Lexus: the digital interface.
Lexus is stubbornly sticking by its joystick-like Remote Touch controller that is distracting at worst and gimmicky at best. I’ve long wished Lexus would drop it in favor of a well-designed, simpler touch-screen system.
Also, just as stubbornly, Lexus still doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in this car. Those smartphone connection systems are becoming common even in cheap Chevys and Volkswagens, so I don’t understand why they’re not available in a Lexus with an as-tested price close to $50,000.
I hope that someday soon every car company on the planet will concede that Google and Apple are better at connecting smartphones than their in-house engineers are. Let the tech companies handle tech and the car companies handle cars, I say.
Aside from being a good, solid, comfortable luxury car, the ES has one huge selling point in its corner: its reputation.
Lexus as a whole is known for making reliable, trouble-free cars, and much of that reputation is built on its sedan sales leader, the ES. It has a long track record of dependability.
Lexus should also be commended for making its Safety System+ package standard equipment for 2017. While a similar safety suite is optional on many competitors, it’s included even on the base models of the ES so they all come with Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Lexus ES350 ($38,900). Options: Blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert ($500), 18-inch wheels ($880), premium audio navigation package ($2,590), one-touch power trunk ($400), intuitive parking assist ($500), ultra luxury package ($3,500), heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel ($450). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $49,210
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 193.3 in.
Width: 71.7 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (268 hp, 248 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 21 city, 30 highway
Why buy it?
It combines the quiet, smooth ride of a traditional luxury car with the bold look of a contemporary Lexus.