What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Lexus ES 350 is essentially unchanged.
Surveying the scene in the entry-level luxury sedan segment, one could be forgiven for assuming that sportiness is the name of the game. There are sport-tuned suspensions, sport modes for transmissions and sport appearance packages providing eye candy such as fancier wheels and spoilers. But what about average luxury sedan buyers -- you know, people who value their cars mostly as respites from the daily grind? Are they being elbowed out in the rush to register faster slalom speeds and higher G-forces on the skid pad?
The truth is, while sportiness may be sexy these days, luxuriousness still brings home the bacon. A case in point is the 2009 Lexus ES 350. Here's a sedan that has no pretensions about being athletic, yet shoppers continually make it one of the best-selling luxury sedans around. It's the anti-sport sedan, and apparently that suits many well-heeled drivers just fine.
The ES 350's core virtues are readily apparent. A classy-looking cabin stocked with soft leather and high-quality materials greets every occupant, and road imperfections always seem a few layers of isolation away. As for ambient noise, this Lexus is quieter than thousands of pounds of moving metal have any right to be. The superb corporate six-cylinder -- pumping out 272 horsepower in this application -- never sounds taxed, yet it moves the ES out with impressive alacrity. In short, the ES 350 is all about coddling its guests, which is a pretty appealing proposition after a long day at the office.
As far as weaknesses go, the ES 350 wears them on its sleeve. Looking for a back roads dance partner? The softly sprung ES doesn't tango. Want to keep the price down? Better avoid those pricey option packages. And if you desire an exclusive luxury sedan that's not based on a plebian family hauler, the ES just won't do, as it's an extensively revised Toyota Camry at heart.
Otherwise, the 2009 Lexus ES 350 is hard to beat as an entry-level luxury offering. Still, there are rivals worth looking at -- the Hyundai Genesis sedan offers rear-wheel drive and a choice of V6 or V8 power plants for roughly ES money. And if you'd like some sporting flavor in your luxury sedan, there's Acura's redesigned TL as well as Infiniti's G35. Nonetheless, Lexus deserves credit for the ES 350's winning formula. It's an extremely comfortable, finely finished entry-level luxury sedan, and that should be enough to keep it near the top of numerous shopping lists.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Lexus ES 350 is an entry-level luxury sedan that comes in one well-equipped trim level. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, 10-way power front seats, real wood accents, keyless entry/ignition, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer, dual-zone automatic climate control, one-touch up/down windows all around and an eight-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.
Numerous additional accoutrements are offered via a number of available (and usually pricey) packages. Highlights include chrome wheels, park assist, leather seating, heated/ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, front seats with memory, adaptive xenon HID headlights, a navigation system (with voice activation and a rearview camera), a premium 14-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio and video system, satellite radio and a power rear sunshade.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Lexus ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out a turbine-smooth 272 hp and 254 pound-feet of torque. This power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. In performance testing, this tandem spirits the ES 350 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are above average, at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control and a full array of airbags (including dual front knee, front-seat side and full-length side curtain) are all standard on the 2009 Lexus ES 350. Rear-seat side airbags and a pre-collision system are optional. The latter option comes into play when an impending collision is sensed (via the components used for the optional adaptive cruise control system), which automatically tightens the seatbelts and applies full-power braking when the driver presses the pedal.
In government crash tests, the ES 350 scored five stars (the highest score possible) in the frontal-impact category for both driver and passenger. In side-impact tests, the Lexus scored five stars for front-occupant protection and four for rear-occupant protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, the ES 350 netted top-notch "Good" ratings.
Interior Design and Special Features
Since sportiness isn't part of the equation, the ES 350's engineers had plenty of time to devote to making the cabin as luxurious as possible. For the most part, they've succeeded in grand style, as the ES has one of the most comfortable and inviting interiors south of $40,000. Materials quality is absolutely top-shelf, as is build quality. Moreover, the optional ventilated seats are among the best we've experienced. The ES 350 also offers a roomy backseat and a 14.7-cubic-foot trunk with a cargo pass-through.
The 2009 Lexus ES 350 provides an isolated, pillow-soft ride, and most buyers won't drive the ES aggressively enough to be disappointed with its unathletic handling. Road, wind and engine noise are negligible -- the ES is one of the quietest cars we've ever tested at freeway cruising speeds, which is all the more impressive given that it's one of Lexus' most affordable offerings.