2001 Lexus ES 300 Photo
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The whole concept of "luxury car" has become somewhat hazy. It encompasses vehicles ranging from... Read more »
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The whole concept of "luxury car" has become somewhat hazy. It encompasses vehicles ranging from the low $30,000s to $80,000 and up. So marketing gurus came up with the idea of "entry luxury" to differentiate the lower cost luxury cars from the high-end ones.

But what's the substantive difference -- in terms of what makes a luxury car feel or behave "luxuriously" -- between, say, the $31,505 Lexus ES300 sedan and sleds costing twice that sum?

In many ways, the differences are not so vast as the price difference might suggest -- at least, in terms of material things, such as standard equipment and trim level. Even the cheapest 2001 model-year economy cars have or offer power windows, locks and air conditioning, cruise control and good radios. And it used to be (as recently as the late 1980s) that only top-tier luxury cars had or offered such things as automatic climate control, real wood trim, high-output, multi-speaker audio systems, traction control, engines with variable valve timing -- and the tight build quality of a hand-built object d' art put together by a team of old world craftsmen.

All that and…

Well, the 2001 Lexus ES300 has all these things, or decently close approximations, included in its base price. And it can be ordered with an adjustable suspension integrated with a Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) stability system, six-disc in-dash Nakamichi CD-player, high quality leather trim, among other such goodies. As such, it is every bit a real luxury car, "entry level" or not.

The main difference between it and its pricier brethren, Lexus and otherwise, comes down to such things as the size of the standard engine and the amount of horsepower. The 2001 ES has a 210-hp 3.0-liter V-6; the "premium" luxo cars in the $50,000 and up range typically have 300-plus-horsepower V-8s.

However, many luxury car buyers simply want a responsive, smooth and quiet engine -- not a gas-guzzling, big bore tire-fryer that compresses the spine as you slip-slide away from a traffic light. Looked at another way, the Lexus ES300's V-6 has about as much power as the 3.2-liter V-6 (215 hp) used in the Mercedes E320 and the 3.0-liter six (220 hp) used in the BMW 530i -- both of which are more expensive cars, but which the Lexus nevertheless compares to pretty well, when you look at the stats.

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