The Lexus ES 350 has been completely redesigned for 2013. It has been joined by the ES 300h hybrid model.
Lexus ES 350 Video Review
The Lexus ES has always been a car whose loyal owners simply trade in one for another when it's time to buy another car. Each generation has been designed to a familiar formula of ample midsize proportions, solid reliability, simple controls, a comfy ride and enough luxury features and ambience to justify its price over the mechanically related Toyota Camry. Well, the 2013 Lexus ES 350 represents a new generation. Does it carry on the family line?
There are no worries here, because the new ES 350 maintains that familiar formula. Even its exterior styling is an evolution of the previous car. Lexus has adopted some styling cues from the new GS, but the ES's silhouette is instantly familiar. The interior is a more radical departure, however, as the anonymous design of the old car has been replaced with a far more modern and visually interesting one. The controls are a little more complicated than before -- especially with the love-it or hate-it Remote Touch electronics interface -- but that's simply a result of the increased number of electronics features that must be controlled.
Mechanically, the new ES 350 is once again related to the latest Toyota Camry, but is now closer in size to the also-related Toyota Avalon. All three cars share various engine and other mechanical similarities, but the differences are sufficient enough to disprove the common refrain that the ES 350 is just a Camry with a Lexus badge. More importantly, the ES 350 boasts a more structurally rigid body than before as well as suspension and steering changes. This makes it feel more buttoned-down and solid, while also more responsive to driver inputs. The ES 350 has always been both appreciated and admonished for the isolated way it goes about its business, and we doubt that will change. However, the new car makes the driver feel a little more in control -- especially when the new Sport mode is engaged -- and that should always be considered a good thing.
In total, the 2013 Lexus ES 350 should continue to please its loyal customer base while being updated enough to remain relevant in this competitive entry-level luxury sedan segment. The old car was getting very stale, and those willing to look around a bit were likely to find the Buick LaCrosse and Hyundai Genesis provided a similar formula with plenty of advantages -- price being the primary one. The new-for-2013 ES 350 has caught up in most respects, but those aforementioned competitors and the equally new Lincoln MKZ should still be considered. Whether you're on your sixth ES or a first-time shopper, choosing one isn't the easy proposition it once was.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that seats five people.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, LED running lamps, foglamps, a sunroof, heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way adjustable lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, vinyl upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Safety Connect emergency communications, Bluetooth phone connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Lexus Display Audio package adds a large central screen, the Remote Touch electronics interface, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and HD radio with iTunes tagging. The Navigation package includes all of the above items plus a navigation system, voice control, real-time traffic and weather, and the Lexus Enform suite of Internet-based apps. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system can be added to the Navigation package.
To the Display Audio and Navigation packages you can add the Premium package, which adds a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, real wood trim and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. Or, you could add the Luxury package, which includes all of the Premium items plus xenon headlamps, parking sensors, extended leather trim, heated and ventilated seats, and a power rear sunshade. The Ultra Luxury package goes one step further by adding a panoramic sunroof, a power-closing trunk, automatic wipers, a 10-way power driver seat, passenger seat memory functions, manual rear door sunshades, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting and the Mark Levinson system. This package requires the choice of either special 17- or 18-inch wheels.
Stand-alone options include adaptive cruise control (includes the pre-collision system), a blind-spot warning system, a lane-departure warning system, a power-closing trunk, parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, heated front seats (with the standard vinyl upholstery), a heated steering wheel and a power rear sunshade.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard. In Edmunds performance testing, the ES 350 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is on par with its competitors. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
Every 2013 Lexus ES 350 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Also included is Lexus Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assist button.
Optional equipment includes parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system and a blind-spot monitor that includes a rear cross-traffic alert system. The optional adaptive cruise control includes the pre-collision system, which primes the seatbelts and brakes when it senses an impending collision.
In Edmunds brake testing, the ES came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet, which is average.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the ES the highest possible rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests. It received the worst rating of "Poor" in the Institute's new small overlap front crash test, but few cars have been subjected to this test, and a majority received similarly poor ratings.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2013 Lexus ES 350's cabin is a far more modern, stylish environment than that of past models. There's still wood trim on hand, but it's more subtly applied and looks more like the genuine article. The analog clock in the center of the dash is a classy touch that breaks up the otherwise high-tech environment. Of course, the quality of materials depends on whether you opt for one of the luxury packages, but build quality is excellent in typical Lexus fashion.
The climate controls are still quite simple to use, but those for the audio system have become more complicated due to the increased number of available media types. When you opt for the Display Audio or Navigation package, you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, which is essentially a mouselike device that controls a cursor on a large centrally located screen. We've found this interface to be useful, but the ultra-sensitive nature of the controller can take some getting used to, and we recommend playing around with it before taking an ES 350 home.
Space is ample all around, with the ES 350 coming closer to the Avalon in size than the Camry to which it has traditionally been compared. Backseat legroom, in particular, is very impressive, but taller occupants will find their heads touching the roof in ES 350s equipped with the optional panoramic sunroof. The trunk offers 15.2 cubic feet of space, which is average for a midsize car.
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 delivers a refined driving experience that's bolstered by a V6 engine that's smooth and responsive. No one will ever deem the new ES sporty, but few people will expect it to be. Instead, this year's more precise steering response and feel is a welcome improvement that everyone should appreciate. The ES's Sport mode further sharpens steering and throttle response, but the resulting driving experience feels like it would be a normal mode in many other cars. The actual "Normal" mode would be a comfort setting.
At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent, mostly devoid of wind, road or engine noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are now better absorbed than before, but don't expect complete isolation or the floating sensations many assume the ES exhibits.
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