2008 Lexus ES 350 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 is a plush, soft-handling car that would make Buick proud--if Buick still built cars like this.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road (and off-road) tests of the 2008 Lexus ES 350 to compile this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the new ES 350 to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 shares its underpinnings with Toyota's own Camry, but it sports its own exterior style and interior finishes, plus the hands-on attention that Lexus pays to its customers.
Lexus says the 2007 model has been styled using its new L-Finesse design philosophy, but the ES 350 still looks more Toyota than Lexus. In profile, the Lexus ES 350 is rather conservative and featureless, save for out-of-place, aggressive headlamps. At least the ES 350's rear end is appealing and tasteful.
A new 3.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic are fitted as standard. The 272-horsepower, 254-pound-feet V-6 is more than up to the task of propelling the ES along, whisking it to 60 mph from rest in just 6.8 seconds while managing 19/27 mpg.

The ES handles with competence and predictability but doesn't really care to involve the driver too much. The steering is reasonably responsive, though there isn't a lot of feel. Hard cornering is actively discouraged by lots of body roll and ample tire squeal. The MacPherson-strut front and rear suspensions are a little too soft for their own good, with too much roll and wallow for even the gentlest of country roads, and while the ride quality on the highway is superb, the steering doesn't offer enough on-center feel, which means you're constantly making minor adjustments to keep it on track.

Inside, the ES finally sheds its Toyota-esque cabin for the full and proper Lexus treatment, with soft-touch plastics, wood veneers, and quality leather trim on the steering and shift knob. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, too, while rear seat occupants have ample space and a well-shaped rear bench, making it a wonderfully relaxed place for four adults to while away the hours. Just crank up the optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo and simply let the miles float by.

Review continues below

Standard specification on all ES 350s is generous considering its $33,170 entry-level price. The list includes fog lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, moonroof, power-adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, ritzy Optitron gauges, climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, a self-dimming mirror, a trip computer, and a six-CD changer.

Other features include 10-way power seats, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, SmartAccess keyfob with push-button start/stop, and a new multi-information display. A dramatic new panoramic glass sunroof is available as well.

Standard safety equipment includes stability control, eight standard airbags, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. The 2008 Lexus ES 350 gets a "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the NHTSA gives it five stars for front protection, five for driver side impacts, and four stars for passenger side impacts, as well as four stars for rollover protection.

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2008 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 has better looks than before, but it’s still conservatively styled.

The 2008 Lexus ES 350's appearance appeals to many, but some reviewers found its lines a little stodgy.

Though it shares running gear with the Toyota Camry, Edmunds points out that “the ES doesn't share a single dash panel or material with its less expensive Toyota sibling.”

The shape is vastly improved over the previous entry-level sedan from Lexus; 2008’s ES four-door has “a classy, conservative design,” Cars.com says, while acknowledging its “sharper angles and more defined body panel creases.” Automobile agrees--the ES 350’s “all-new suit of sheetmetal is considerably more flattering than the ES330's bathtublike shape”—as does Motor Trend, which reports that “from the nose on, the sheetmetal flows into a rakish, aerodynamic body with a bit of the GS and IS sport sedans' flavor.” While Mother Proof describes the exterior of the 2008 Lexus ES 350 as "curvy and sharp,” Kelley Blue Book wonders if it may be "a bit too conservative."

Reviewers had few complaints about the interior. Car and Driver calls out the 2008 Lexus ES 350’s “posh interior.” The five-seat cabin “has a flowing dashboard design” that “looks a bit plain when finished in black,” Cars.com reports, but the controls “are easy to learn.” Edmunds waxes the most about the Lexus ES 350: “Inside the ES is a combination of indulgent shapes and textures that are as functional as they are pampering.”

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2008 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 has good acceleration and fuel economy, but handling is soft and uninvolving.

TheCarConnection.com finds few complaints with the 2008 Lexus ES 350 when it comes to get-up-and-go or handling.

At Lexus, 2008’s ES sedan is powered by a larger, 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 272 hp, a 54-hp improvement over last year's slightly smaller engine. Cars.com reports the engine is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission (replacing last year's five-speed) and despite its larger size and increased power, is even more fuel efficient than that of the 2007 model at 19/27 mpg.

Competing models have V-8 options, but Cars.com believes that "buyers aren't likely to find the V-6 wanting for power," and praises the performance of the transmission as well; during test drives, it "never made a harsh shift." ConsumerGuide also reports excellent acceleration, noting that the 2008 Lexus ES 350 "scoots from a stop with satisfying strength" and "did 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds." This source confirms Cars.com's evaluation of the smooth-shifting transmission, but notes that "it can require lots of throttle to deliver a highway-speed downshift."

Edmunds reports slightly different figures with their sample of this year's Lexus; 2008’s ES sedan took just over 7 seconds to go from 0-60 mph. They add that “shifts can be manually controlled using the sequential-style sport shifter.”

Handling isn’t a shining attribute of the 2008 Lexus ES 350. Motor Trend says it’s “without an ounce of sporting pretension,” and Edmunds gives it faint praise as “a perfect compromise between the couchlike driving experience of an American luxury car and the well-damped ride of a Japanese sport sedan.” Car and Driver says the Lexus ES 350’s “steering is numb, body roll is abundant in hard cornering, and braking performance is so-so.” Cars.com concurs: “With the smooth ride comes moderate body roll, and the car also tends to bob up and down a few times after traveling over a big dip in the road,” Cars.com observes, while adding the brake pedal “has a soft feel, and it's difficult at times to modulate the touchy brakes in order to stop smoothly.”

TheCarConnection.com has driven the new Lexus; 2008’s ES sedan handles with competence and predictability but doesn't really care to involve the driver too much. The steering is reasonably responsive, though there isn't a lot of feel. Hard cornering is actively discouraged by lots of body roll and ample tire squeal. The MacPherson-strut front and rear suspensions are a little too soft for their own good, with too much roll and wallow for even the gentlest of country roads, and while the ride quality on the highway is superb, the steering doesn't offer enough on-center feel, which means you're constantly making minor adjustments to keep it on track.

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2008 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 has plenty of room, and seats can be comfortable. Interior materials are top-grade.

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 gets generally high marks for comfort.

Edmunds reports a quiet, absorbent ride in this Lexus; 2008’s ES four-door is "one of the quietest cars we've ever tested at freeway cruising speeds." ConsumerGuide concurs with this assessment, agreeing that the Lexus ES 350 for this year "excels for cushioned comfort" but notes that it trails rivals for composure on bumpy roads with "bobbing and pitching" at freeway speeds. Nonetheless, ConsumerGuide reports "excellent isolation from road and wind noise."

Seat comfort in the front is aided by an optional seat extender in the 2008 Lexus ES 350. “The front seats have 10-way power adjustment, and the driver's backrest is soft and comfy, but I was sore after driving for a few hours because the bottom cushion doesn't provide enough support,” Cars.com wrote. Edmunds’ test car had a “power cushion extender which increases or decreases the length of the seat bottom cushion underneath the thighs, allowing support for both long- and short-legged drivers.” In back, the Lexus ES 350’s longer wheelbase “opens up interior space a bit,” Automobile says. “Unlike those of many cars in this class, the ES 350's rear seats should elicit no complaints from passengers.” Cars.com says, “the outer spots of the rear bench seat are comfortable enough for adults, but don't expect any extra legroom or headroom.”

Edmunds expresses a great deal of approval for the ventilated seats, reporting that they "are among the best we've experienced, with plenty of cool air circulating throughout."

Edmunds and Cars.com both praise the interior materials of the Lexus; 2008’s ES four-door has "the finest quality" materials, Edmunds says. According to Cars.com, standard materials include "real wood trim on the doors and center console." Mother Proof observes that materials such as leather and wood makes occupants feel "very welcome."

TheCarConnection.com’s test drive of the 2008 Lexus ES 350 in the Las Vegas area uncovered a car with the trim of a proper Lexus—2008’s sedan has soft-touch plastics, wood veneers, and quality leather trim on the steering and shift knob. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, too, while rear seat occupants have ample space and a well-shaped rear bench, making it a wonderfully relaxed place for four adults to while away the hours.

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2008 Lexus ES 350

Safety

The Lexus 2008 ES 350 provides a strong, safe environment for passengers.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) award top marks to the 2008 Lexus ES 350 for safety.

The 2008 Lexus ES 350 gets a "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the NHTSA gives it five stars for front protection, five for driver side impacts, and four stars for passenger side impacts, as well as four stars for rollover protection.

Standard safety equipment on the Lexus 2008 ES 350 includes stability control, eight standard airbags, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. Motor Trend reports that “available rear-seat side bags bring the total to ten.”

The Lexus proprietary Pre-Collision System will automatically tighten the front seat belts and prepare the brake assist to go into action if it determines that a collision is imminent, as well as activate the brakes without the driver if necessary, Edmunds says. Adaptive Cruise Control is also available; it uses radar to keep a safe distance between the Lexus 2008 ES 350 and the vehicle ahead in the lane.

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2008 Lexus ES 350

Features

You'll definitely be satisfied with the many high-tech gadgets and features the 2008 Lexus ES 350 has to offer.

This year's Lexus ES 350 offers many luxury features—“enough gizmos to embarrass a Best Buy salesman,” Motor Trend says.

Standard features include “real wood trim on the doors and center console, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless access and start, and chic LED lighting,” Cars.com reports. Mother Proof comments that despite its relatively high cost, "you get so much with this car that you don't necessarily get with same-priced SUVs!" Some of the "mom-friendly goodies" reported on here include a backseat skylight, LATCH connectors, and a first aid/tool kit.

Cars.com reports other "noteworthy options" include a panorama glass roof, a power rear sunshade, front and rear parking sensors, and a voice-activated navigation system with rearview camera that "makes judging the distance between the ES 350's back bumper and another car or object a breeze." Audiophiles will appreciate the "Mark Levinson Surround Sound" stereo system, and one can watch DVD movies on the navigation screen when the Lexus ES 350 is parked.

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