What's New for 2001
A glow-in-the-dark emergency trunk release handle is now located in the cargo compartment, while child seat-tether anchors have been added inside.
Starting this year, Lexus offers buyers with between $30,000 and $40,000 burning a hole in their pocket two decidedly different choices in the entry-luxury sedan arena. For those who love to drive, but not so much they'd like to shift their own gears, there is the small but stunning IS 300. For those who want what amounts to a high-quality Buick Regal with decent brand cachet, there is this Camry-based ES 300. The IS is hard-edged and muscular, while the ES is soft and pudgy around the middle. We predict that buyers of either car will likely resemble those remarks.
Fortunately, Lexus has done a much better job of masking the ES 300's lineage than Infiniti has done with the Maxima-derived I30. From the outside, you need to look deep beyond the ES 300's stylish duds to see the dowdy Toyota hiding in the structural framework. Inside, it's easier to tell that the Lexus is made of Toyota parts, thanks to shared switchgear between the two models. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, as Toyotas are generally solid, reliable, and refined. It just isn't different or better, making it harder to justify the extra premium over a loaded Camry XLE V6.
But then, you take a gander at the specifications sheet. The more powerful ES 300's smooth and silent 3.0-liter V6 produces 210 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque, thanks in part to its Variable Valve Timing with intelligence system (VVT-i). The engine is capable of making 80 percent of peak torque available at 1,600 rpm, resulting in zero-to-60 runs of 8.3 seconds, according to Lexus. A slick-shifting four-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. Standard goodies include multi-adjustable power front seats, automatic climate control, real California walnut wood trim, and a first-aid kit. A seven-speaker audio system with 195 watts of amplification is included, and a 230-watt Nakamichi sound system with an in-dash CD changer is optional. Notable available features include leather upholstery, a one-touch-open moonroof, upgraded 16-inch wheels and tires, an adaptive variable suspension system, high-intensity discharge headlights, and heat for the seats and exterior mirrors.
On the safety front, Lexus includes front and side airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, daytime running lights, and ALR/ELR, force-limiting three-point safety belts in all seating locations. Optional on ES 300 is Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), a stability control system that includes Brake Assist (a computerized controller that applies maximum braking force in panic stops quicker than the driver can). For 2001, Lexus has added a glow-in-the-dark release handle inside the trunk, as well as interior tether anchors for child safety seats.
Though the ES 300 is now the duller of the company's entry-luxury offerings in terms of raw performance, it perfectly suits those who want a comfortable, cushy cruiser that goes fast in a straight line, stops quickly, and looks good doing it.