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In Lexus's already introverted line of vehicles, the front-wheel drive Lexus ES 350 stands as one of the most subtle vehicles—appealing to those who want a smooth, responsive, quiet, and very comfortable luxury car, with some world-class technology features inside.
Built on a platform that's shared with the Toyota Camry, the Lexus ES 350 does a lot with modest roots. While its profile is very conservative, almost plain, the ES 350's rear styling is appealing and tasteful, and very different than the Camry. Last year, the ES 350 got the equivalent of a 'sharpen,' in photo-editor-speak, with a slightly larger grille, a lot more chrome, and a slightly different headlamp design to match, while the front corners have been brought out a bit more. Most notably, new wheel designs also help freshen the look—which is just chromed enough to be classy but not garish.
Comfort and luxury are top priorities in the 2011 ES 350, which probably gives you some idea of how this sedan drives. It's in some ways the epitome of a classic luxury car—serene and soft, but not at all bouncy, with a 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.
The ES sure isn't slow; the powertrain propels the ES to 60 mph from a stop in just 6.8 seconds. Handling is competent and predictable, but the ES 350 steers with a light, detached feel and you'll feel no urge to drive it fast around corners, as there's lots of body roll and ample tire squeal. 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. That aside, the ES is an ideal Interstate cruiser.
Exceptionally comfortable front seats, ample back-seat space, and a soft ride—in addition to impressive interior materials and trims—create a cabin that's more relaxing and comfortable than many more expensive luxury sedans. 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. 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.
In addition to a robust list of standard features, there's a lot more to be added for those with tech appreciation. 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. A dramatic new panoramic glass sunroof is available as well on the Lexus ES 350.
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.
For 2011, Lexus has lifted the requirement for premium fuel in the ES 350.