Used 1997 Lexus ES 300 Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

The entry-level Lexus has been totally redesigned this year, growing in nearly every dimension. Lexus manages to eke out more power from the ES 300's 3.0-liter V6 engine. No longer just a dressed-up Camry, the ES 300 has finally come into its own.

Vehicle overview

Lexus makes some of the world's finest automobiles. The LS400 set the benchmark for luxury sedans when it was introduced, and the rest of the world is just now catching up. In fact, the totally redesigned Infiniti Q45, a very fine automobile, was compared in our favorite enthusiast magazine to a first generation LS400. The implication was that to even reach that standard required enormous effort.

The ES300, on the other hand, was considered a weak link in the mighty Lexus chain. Many automotive publications, including this one, called the ES300 a "Lexus for those who can't afford a real Lexus", or a "very nice Toyota Camry". This was not meant as an insult to the Camry, but there really wasn't much to distinguish the two vehicles.

Until this year. Both the Camry and the ES300 have been totally redesigned for 1997. Thankfully, they take divergent paths when it comes to sheetmetal and styling. The result for Lexus, is that they finally have an ES300 that doesn't look out of place when parked between and SC400 and GS300; it's actually part of the family.

The ES300's signature styling can be seen in its aggressive snout, with a low air dam that has integrated fog lamps. The ES300's character lines, on the hood and along the sides, work well with this car's increased size; giving the ES300 a presence that the former model was lacking.

The interior of the ES300 is improved by more standard features and greater space. Luxury touches like the optional in-dash CD changer, two-position memory seats, power lumbar support, and handsome burled wood apliques will make BMW 328i owners wonder why they put up with Spartan plastic and a cramped fit. The ES300 has neither.

Horsepower and torque are both improved in this year's ES300. The engine is strong, but this is not the type of car that people buy for serious sport driving. The suspension is a bit soft, despite the computer-controlled active damping suspension, and the heavy front weight bias makes the car too slow in the corners. Nevertheless, people who like goosing the go-pedal every now and then will not be disappointed.

It's nice to see the people at Lexus taking their entry-level car seriously. Now, we can too. If luxury and a bit of performance are what you are looking for, consider the ES300. It's a nice car, and it costs less than last year's model.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.