2011 Lexus ES 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 30, 2011

For those who value comfort and luxury—and still want the latest technology—but don't need a sport sedan, the 2011 Lexus ES 350 is one of the best bets.

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.

Review continues below

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.

6

2011 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 is understated and very conservative, but it's classy and luxurious in every way.

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. 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—which is just chromed enough to be classy but not garish.

The interior takes a slightly different direction, becoming warmer and softer, yet brighter, though the underlying design—flowing but not curvaceous—isn't all innovative or extroverted.

7

2011 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 isn't at all tuned for curvy roads, but it accelerates well.

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.

9

2011 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

With roomy seating and a pillowy ride, the 2011 Lexus ES 350 is exceptionally comfortable.

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.

The front seats of the ES are soft yet supportive, and in back there's good space for adults—including a very generously shaped rear bench. It's wide enough, too, to hold three for shorter trips.

A couple of years ago, the ES 350 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.

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.

8

2011 Lexus ES 350

Safety

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 doesn't have a perfect crash-test record, but an impressive roster of safety features go a long way to reassure.

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 isn't quite at the top of the class with respect to crash-test ratings, but it has a good list of features.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the ES 350 achieved top 'good' scores in frontal and side impact but a low 'marginal' for rear impact. It hasn't yet been tested in the agency's new roof-strength category. The ES 350 hasn't yet been tested under a more rigorous federal testing program introduced for model-year 2011, but in the fed's previous tests, the ES 350 was good but not top-notch, attaining five-star status for frontal and side protection, though passenger side protection was rated four stars.

That said, the list of safety features in the ES 350 is very, very good—including eight airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and stability control. Rear-seat side airbags have also been added, 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.

Adaptive Cruise Control is also available; it uses radar to keep a safe distance between the Lexus ES 350 and the vehicle ahead in the lane—and it has a Pre-Collision System that will tighten seatbelts and activate the brakes without driver input, to help lessen an anticipated impact.

9

2011 Lexus ES 350

Features

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 has a very impressive set of features, some of which you usually have to pay much more to get.

Take an even cursory look at the feature list for the 2011 Lexus ES 350 and there's nothing to be disappointed about. It's extensive, to say the least, 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, rain-sensing wipers, moonroof, a self-dimming mirror, a trip computer, and a six-CD changer.

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.

6

2011 Lexus ES 350

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Lexus ES 350 ranks as one of the greener luxury-car choices—unless you're willing to step up to a hybrid.

With EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city, 27 highway, the 2011 Lexus ES 350 is one of the greener choices among luxury cars. It's more fuel-efficient than most V-6 mid-size sedans as well, though there are a few greener alternatives. The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, for instance, offers an interior nearly as large and luxurious, with fuel economy ratings that top 40 mpg.

Also of note is that for 2011 Lexus has lifted the requirement for premium fuel in the ES 350.

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7.8
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Styling 6.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 8.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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