- Comfortable, quiet ride
- Luxurious interior
- Strong but muted powertrain
- The Lexus dealership experience
- Top-of-the-class safety
- Bland exterior
- Doesn't have much personality
- Lack of driving feedback
Comfort-minded buyers who room for four in a sensibly-sized sedan—and still want the latest technology—won't be able to do much better than the 2010 Lexus ES 350.
The front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 350 has long been the most subtle car in Lexus' already hardly overt lineup—appealing to those who want a smooth, responsive, quiet, and very comfortable luxury car, with some world-class technology features inside. What separates the 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. For 2010, the ES 350 gets a number of changes, but it doesn't deviate one bit from its formula—all the while delivering the performance to satisfy all but real enthusiasts.
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. Although it's still quite bland on the outside, the 2010 ES 350 gets the equivalent of a 'sharpen,' in photo-editor-speak. A new grille looks a bit larger, with a lot more chrome and a slightly different headlamp design to match, while the front corners have been brought out a bit more. New fog lamps and a wide, thin lower air dam complete the new and slightly different look in front, while the tail lamp design has been modified to suit the front details. Alongside, metallic trim for the side sills bridges the wheel wells, and new wheel designs also help freshen the look. The interior takes a slightly different direction, becoming warmer and softer, yet brighter, though the overall look is also very conservative.
Nothing has changed about the way the ES 350 drives, and that's a good thing. Based on previous experiences with the ES, it's still serene and soft, but not at all bouncy, with the torquey and well-muted 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 churning through the six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive expeditiously and responsively but without undue fanfare. It 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. Handling is competent and predictable, but the driver isn't involved in the process. The steering is responsive but lacks any recognizable feel of the road surface; that, combined with lots of body roll and ample tire squeal actively discourage hard cornering. 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. The 2010 Lexus ES 350 has exceptionally comfortable front seats, and in back ample space and a well-shaped rear bench create a relaxing place for two more adults. Trims and upholstery in the ES 350 have now been given a big upgrade versus last year, erasing any questions about whether the ES interior is much better than the top-of-the-line Camry. Contrast-stitched leather upholstery is now standard, with double stitching included with an Ultra Luxury Package, and richer-looking wood and bright-chrome trims add accents at the center stack and just above the glovebox. There's also a good deal more metallic-look trim throughout the interior and walnut and maple wood trims have been added, while leathers are supple and enveloping, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces all around. All the while, the interior is nearly silent and the ride pillowy, though the suspension is arguably a little too soft and wallowy for some country roads.
Safety is one of many good reasons to choose the 2010 ES 350; it gets a "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in frontal and side protection (though it's "marginal" in the seat-based rear impact test), 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. Rear-seat side airbags have also been added for 2010, bringing the ES 350's airbag count up to 10. All ES models additionally get the Safety Connect system, which uses cellphone technology and GPS transceivers to provide Automatic Crash Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, emergency assistance (through an SOS button), and Roadside Assistance services. A 24-hour call center aids roadside assistance.
The standard equipment list for the 2010 Lexus ES 350 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. Center-console storage has been improved and rain-sensing wipers are newly standard this year. 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 nav system has now been updated to the latest version, with Bluetooth audio now part of the package, along with Bluetooth hands-free features, a USB port, and XM satellite radio. The Lexus Enform suite of services is newly available on the ES, adding several satellite-radio subscription services, including Destination Assist, which enables operator-assisted destination entry; the Web site-driven eDestination; and a host of information services. Top options are rolled into the Ultra Luxury Package, including Intuitive Park Assist, perforated leather with heated and ventilated front seats, a panorama glass roof, a power rear sunshade, and HID headlamps with AFS to help in dark corners.