2009 Lexus ES 350 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 5, 2009

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 is a luxurious automobile with a cushy ride that would make Buick proud—if Buick still built cars like this.

To compile this conclusive review, the car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road tests of the 2009 Lexus ES 350. And to help you make sense where opinions differ, TheCarConnection.com's resident experts have also driven the ES 350 and add their own impressions and details.

What separates the 2009 Lexus ES 350 from the Toyota Camry are exterior styling and interior refinement. The two models share basic manufacturing elements, but Lexus owners enjoy elevated customer service.

While the ES 350's rear end is appealing and tasteful, the profile is rather conservative and featureless, save for out-of-place, aggressive headlamps. Lexus says the ES 350 was styled using the brand’s so-called L-Finesse design philosophy, but the 2009 Lexus ES 350 still looks more Toyota than Lexus.

The Lexus ES 350 comes standard with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The 272-horsepower, 254-pound-feet V-6 propels the ES to 60 mph from a stop in just 6.8 seconds while managing fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.

Review continues below

Handling on the 2009 Lexus ES is competent and predictable, but the driver isn't involved in the process. Steering is responsive but lacks feel. Lots of body roll and ample tire squeal actively discourage hard cornering. 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. While ride quality on the highway is superb, the car’s steering doesn't offer enough on-center feel, which means you're constantly making minor adjustments to keep it tracking straight.

Last year’s model finally shed its Toyota-esque interior cabin for the full and proper Lexus treatment, with soft-touch plastics, wood veneers, and quality leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob. Seating in the 2009 Lexus ES 350 is exceptionally comfortable, too; ample space and a well-shaped rear bench create a relaxing 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.

The standard equipment list for the ES is vast and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a power-adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, ritzy Optitron gauges, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry with push-button start, climate control, fog lamps, moonroof, a self-dimming mirror, a trip computer, and a six-CD changer.

Other features include a SmartAccess key fob with push-button start/stop, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power seats, and a new multi-information display. A dramatic new panoramic glass sunroof is available as well on the Lexus ES 350.

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 gets a "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and NHTSA gives it five stars for front protection, five for driver side impacts, four stars for passenger side impacts, and four stars for rollover protection. Standard safety equipment includes eight airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and stability control.

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2009 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 retains its good looks from the 2008 model, which means it is still too conservatively styled for some enthusiasts.

Styled to appeal to the masses, the ES 350 can’t please everyone and some detractors find the appearance of the 2009 model to be pedestrian.

Although the 2009 Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Camry utilize the same running gear, Edmunds points out that “the ES doesn't share a single dash panel or material with its less expensive Toyota sibling.”

The improved shape of the entry-level Lexus ES 350 has numerous critics singing its praises. The 2009 has “a classy, conservative design,” Cars.com says, while also acknowledging the vehicle’s “sharper angles and more defined body panel creases.” Motor Trend agrees, commenting that “from the nose on, the sheet metal flows into a rakish, aerodynamic body with a bit of the GS and IS sport sedans' flavor.” Automobile Magazine reports that the ES 350’s “all-new suit of sheet metal is considerably more flattering than the ES 330's bathtub-like shape.” MotherProof describes the exterior of the 2009 Lexus ES 350 as "curvy and sharp,” while Kelley Blue Book wonders if it may be "a bit too conservative."

The 350’s interior draws nary a complaint, with Edmunds waxing the most about the vehicle. “Inside the ES is a combination of indulgent shapes and textures that are as functional as they are pampering.” Cars.com reports that the controls “are easy to learn,” while Car and Driver calls out its “posh interior,” saying the five-seat cabin “has a flowing dashboard design [that] looks a bit plain when finished in black.”

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2009 Lexus ES 350

Performance

Great acceleration, efficient fuel economy, and uninspired handling are all attributes of the 2009 Lexus ES 350.

When it comes to power and handling, the editors of TheCarConnection.com find few complaints about the former, but the front-wheel-drive ES’s handling leaves room for improvement.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V-6, the 2009 ES sedan makes 272 hp. Cars.com reports the engine is coupled to a six-speed, automatic transmission and brings home an efficient 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.

V-8 configurations are optional on competing models, but Cars.com says 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, the transmission "never made a harsh shift," although "it can require lots of throttle to deliver a highway-speed downshift." ConsumerGuide also reports excellent acceleration, noting that the 2009 Lexus ES 350 "scoots from a stop with satisfying strength" and "did 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds."

Edmunds notes that “shifts can be manually controlled using the sequential-style sport shifter.” The reviewer reports slightly different figures with their sample of this year's Lexus, taking just over seven seconds to go from 0-60 mph.

As mentioned earlier, handling is not the 2009 Lexus ES 350’s best attribute. Car and Driver says that the car’s “steering is numb, body roll is abundant in hard cornering and braking performance is so-so.” Motor Trend reports that the car is “without an ounce of sporting pretension,” and 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 also observes that the brake pedal “has a soft feel, and it's difficult at times to modulate the touchy brakes in order to stop smoothly.” Edmunds did bestow the Lexus with 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.”

TheCarConnection.com’s opinion of the 2009 ES 350 is that it handles with competence and predictability but doesn't involve the driver in the experience. The steering is reasonably responsive, but lacks feel. Hard cornering is discouraged—when you push it beyond a certain point—by copious amounts of body roll. The MacPherson-strut front and rear suspensions are too soft, allowing too much roll and wallow even when driving the gentlest of country roads. The ride quality on the highway is superb, but 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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2009 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 interior is a quiet, comfortable place, complemented with top-grade interior materials.

Comfort ranks high for the 2009 Lexus ES 350, with plenty of compliments regarding the roomy cabin, overall refinement, and quiet, smooth ride.

The front seats of the 2009 Lexus ES 350 are made more comfortable with the addition of an optional seat extender and other accoutrements. According to Cars.com's reviewer, “the front seats have ten-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.” Edmunds’ test car had a “power cushion extender that increases, or decreases, the length of the seat bottom cushion underneath the thighs, allowing support for both long- and short-legged drivers.”

The front-wheel design of the ES allows a bit more roominess in back when compared to most rear-wheel-drive sport sedans. Automobile Magazine says that the Lexus ES 350’s longer wheelbase “opens up interior space a bit. Unlike those of many cars in this class, the ES 350's rear seats should elicit no complaints from passengers.” According to Cars.com, “the outer spots of the rear bench seat are comfortable enough for adults, but don't expect any extra legroom or headroom.”

The ventilated seats "are among the best we've experienced, with plenty of cool air circulating throughout," says Edmunds about the Lexus.

Both Edmunds and Cars.com praise Lexus for its choice of interior materials, with Edmunds stating that the 2009 ES four-door has "the finest quality" materials. According to Cars.com, standard materials include "real wood trim on the doors and center console." MotherProof observes that materials such as leather and wood makes occupants feel "very welcome."

Regarding ride and noise, reviewers are also almost unanimously positive. The 2009 Lexus ES four-door is "one of the quietest cars we've ever tested at freeway cruising speeds," reports Edmunds about the absorbent ride of the 350. Concurring with this assessment, Consumer Guide says 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, Consumer Guide cites "excellent isolation from road and wind noise."

TheCarConnection.com’s test drive of the 2009 Lexus ES 350 reveals a car with the trim of a proper Lexus—soft-touch plastics, wood veneers, and quality leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, too, while rear seat occupants can look forward to 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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2009 Lexus ES 350

Safety

A strong, safe environment for passengers is provided in the Lexus 2009 ES 350.

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 garners awards for safety from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The IIHS awards the ES 350 a "good" rating, while NHTSA gives it five stars for front protection, five for driver side impacts, four stars for passenger side impacts, and four stars for rollover protection.

Standard safety equipment on the 2009 Lexus ES 350 includes eight airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and stability control. Motor Trend reports that “available rear-seat side bags bring the total to ten.”

Front seat belts automatically tighten and the brake assist prepares to go into action if the Lexus proprietary Pre-Collision System determines that a collision is imminent. The system will also 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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2009 Lexus ES 350

Features

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 offers enough high-tech gadgets and features to satisfy the most hardened technophile.

Standard features on the 2009 ES 350 include “real wood trim on the doors and center console, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless access and start, and chic LED lighting,” reports Cars.com. MotherProof 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 for child seats, and a first aid/tool kit.

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

Cars.com reports other "noteworthy options," including front and rear parking sensors, a power rear sunshade, a panorama glass roof, 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," says Cars.com. 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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8.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 9.0
Features 10.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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