1996 Lexus ES 300: Death Valley Road Trip
January 4, 2013
The 1996 Lexus ES 300 is an extremely reliable car. What's most reliable is that it is always down in the garage waiting to be driven. I was supposed to take a vacation road trip to Death Valley in one of our new cars but I was bumped, and wound up in the ES. No problem. We're old friends.
My two sons and I headed out and drove north through driving snow to the little town of Lone Pine, Calif., some 230 miles away. The next morning I came out to find the ES covered in a layer of ice crystals. I fired it up, turned on the defroster and rear window heater and went back inside for a second cup of coffee. When we left for Death Valley, all the glass was clear and the interior was toasty, but our hopes for good fuel economy were destroyed.
In Death Valley, we crept up a 2.5-mile washboard dirt road to the Titus Canyon trailhead. From there we bushwhacked to beautiful Fall Canyon, an easy climb to a "dryfall" (opposite of a waterfall, I guess).
Back in the ES, it was a relief to be back on pavement. We filled up, to the tune of $5.08 a gallon, and headed back home. The late afternoon sun cast beautiful shadows on the rocks around us. The visibility from the greenhouse of the ES is especially good thanks to a skinny C-pillar and the low belt line. Among the car's other strong traits is an exceptionally large trunk which allowed us to just throw in all our junk — no careful packing necessary.
On the open road, the old Lexus is a great cruiser. Don't ask it to turn suddenly or handle unexpected bumps, dips or potholes. It complains when those conditions occur. But turn it loose on a straight open road, and the V6 churns away with no complaints. All told, we added another 723 miles to the rich heritage that is the ES 300.
The second morning I came out to find no ice crystals but a driver's side door that wouldn't open. Couple this with a sudden rattle in the door panel and we probably have a loose or broken part. Maybe we shouldn't have driven on that dirt road after all. We'll repair that back in the big city, along with several other pesky issues.
Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 152,786 miles