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Updating a solid seller like the Lexus ES300 is an inherently dicey proposition. On the one hand, you don't want to mess up what has been a successful and proven formula; the very affordable ($31,505 for the 2001 model) ES300 has brought many first-time buyers into the Lexus fold and kept them there — people who have subsequently moved on and up to more expensive models, such as the GS series and LS430, as the years have rolled by.
But at the same time, staying still in a business where a 24-month product cycle is becoming common is perhaps even more dangerous. Leave things as they have been for too long and the world will pass you by like a diesel locomotive run amok.
So Lexus really had no choice about refitting and re-engineering its popular entry-luxury sedan, which has been on the market in its present form for several years now.
The question is — what do you think of it?
The new car, slated for an October introduction as a 2002 model, is a sleek transformation, a J-turn from the previous, more conservatively styled ES300. The roof, for one thing, is cut low, with an almost fastback rear glass area — sort of like an early '70s Mach 1 Mustang and very sharp — while the nose, with its swept-back, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, shares its big-eyed and teeth-bared barracuda theme with the just-launched SC430 coupe.
Engineering-wise, two inches have been added to the wheelbase, so the 2002 ES300 is longer (and also roomier inside) than its predecessor. And while the '02 ES will, as before, share its basic platform with the lesser Toyota Camry (see the new Camry in this week’s Spy Shots) the '02 ES300 separates itself from its lesser kin by swaddling its owner with features and equipment neither offered nor available on the Camry.