1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Increasingly Cheap and Cheerful

August 02, 2012

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So I'm sitting there on the San Diego Freeway in the late afternoon heat of August and it occurs to me, how much car do you really need for this sort of thing?

As I look around, every car is crawling forward at less than 20 mph while the drivers fiddle with the radio and the air conditioning. This $5,000 piece of rolling stock is pretty much exactly as good as any of the cars around me.

Actually, the Lexus is better. It was built in the first place to be a quiet, calm refuge, which is just what you want in commute traffic. More important, new brakes and new suspension bushings have transformed this car.

Usually I'm not the one to buy cheap brakes (when you need them, you really need them), but this brake setup is perfect for the freeway. The engagement is smooth and the effect is predictable, and the difference in response from the original rotors with their uneven, baked-on coating of brake pad residue is completely night and day.

Even better, the new suspension bushings help the Lexus track straight and true once the freeway opens up and speed begins to increase. I've recently driven plenty of cars with a lot less straightline stability, especially those with poorly developed electric-assist power steering.

And the final transformation in the Lexus comes with the replacement of the valve in the heating system, as the car no longer smells like an old storage locker. This car just keeps getting better and better.

It's always scary to buy a used car, since you never really know what you're going to have to spend on it from month to month. At least with a new car, you know what your car payment is going to be. Yet the Lexus ES 300 shows us that a good plan takes care of the uncertainty, and once you find and solve those big issues that probably led to previous owner's decision to sell the car in the first place, the succeeding stuff is generally affordable to address.

And best of all, a used car seems to repay your maintenance by delivering a better driving experience.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

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