1998 Lexus ES 300 Review
Pros & Cons
- Attractive, roomy and powerful sedan is a bargain compared to comparable BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.
- The model we tested had some build quality problems.
Edmunds' Expert Review
Lexus makes some of the world's finest automobiles. The LS400 set the benchmark for luxury-sedan excellence when it was introduced, and the rest of the world is just now catching up. The SC300 and SC400 sport coupes have likewise set the automotive world on its ear by blowing the doors off of traditional luxury sport coupes like the Cadillac Eldorado and Mercury Mark VIII in terms of refinement and elegance. The Lexus ES300, on the other hand, was always considered a weak link in the mighty Lexus chain. Many automotive publications, including this one, have called the ES300 a Lexus for those who can't afford the GS300, or a very nice Toyota Camry.
All of that changed in 1997 when the Camry and ES300 underwent significant redesigns. Thankfully Toyota decided that the Camry and ES300 should take divergent paths as far as styling and orientation were concerned. The result means that Lexus is finally blessed with an entry-level vehicle that deserves to wear the Lexus badge.
The most prominent feature of the ES300 has to be its aggressive snout, which juts forward with a large lower air dam and prominent fog lamps. The ES300's deep character lines along the hood and door panels work well, giving this car a distinguished appearance that the former model was lacking.
The interior of the ES300 is a nice place to spend time thanks to a high level of refinement and an abundance of standard equipment. Fine luxury touches such as the optional Nakamichi stereo, fine leather upholstery, attractive walnut interior trim pieces and two-position memory seats will make BMW 3-Series owners wonder why they put up with cheap plastic and a tight fit.
Changes to the 1998 ES300 include the introduction of side-impact airbags and depowered side-impact airbags to the standard equipment roster. The ES300 also gets an engine immobilizer anti-theft system and the newly optional Nakamichi sound system that audiophiles have raved about in the LS400 for so long.
Driving the ES300 is fun because of the car's ample horsepower and torque. The heavy front weight bias and soft suspension make the ES300 feel unstable while driving aggressively, but in most situations the car does fine.
It's nice to see the people at Lexus taking their entry-level car seriously. If luxury with a touch of performance are what you are looking for, consider the ES300. It's a nice car that costs less than much of the competition in the near-luxury market.