- Creamy-smooth power
- Plush interior
- Crash performance
- Tepid styling
- Uninspired handling
The 2008 Lexus ES 350 is a plush, soft-handling car that would make Buick proud--if Buick still built cars like this.
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.
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.