2012 Lexus ES 350 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 16, 2012

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is a great pick for those who want a lavish interior and the latest in-car tech, but place a priority on comfort over cornering performance.

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 stands as perhaps the most conservative vehicle in the luxury brand’s lineup—and really, one of the most conservative sedans on the market. With its smooth and quiet, yet responsive, feel—combined with a lavishly trimmed interior, an impressive feature set, and a price that’s affordable (for luxury shoppers), the ES 350 is one of the best choices for those who want to maximize comfort and luxury but don’t want a car that’s especially flashy or edgy-feeling.

Understated is probably the best way to sum up the ES 350’s design and styling. With modest roots—the Camry platform—the ES has a profile that’s conventional, almost plain. With a little more chrome and some careful finessing of the details inside and out, Lexus sharpened this sedan a couple of years ago, but overall even though it’s not sharp-edged, particularly rakish, or daring, the ES 350 looks very much like a luxury good.

Given that emphasis, it should come as no surprise that performance takes second stage to comfort—except in straight-line acceleration, where it doesn't interfere. It's in some ways the epitome of a classic luxury car—serene and soft, but not at all bouncy, with a powertrain that moves you along quickly but almost silently. The strong, 272-horsepower V-6 (which no longer requires premium fuel) is surprisingly responsive and satisfying in combination with the six-speed automatic transmission, and it can dash to 60 mph 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. The steering's also a bit too light on center, which means you'll be making frequent adjustments on the highway.

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That aside, the ES is an ideal Interstate cruiser—superbly isolated, and cushy without being too bouncy or wallowy. Seats aren't as supportive as you'll find in some German rivals (or from Cadillac, for that matter), but there's ample back-seat space. Factor in the impressive interior materials and trims—with walnut and maple wood trims, and supple and enveloping leather upholstery—and you have a true luxury-car interior good enough to impress discerning clients. Contrast-stitched leather upholstery is now standard, while the double-stitching, richer-looking wood and bright-chrome trims you get in the Ultra Luxury Package add some of the ambiance of the pricier LS.

As you might assume, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 comes with all the comfort-oriented luxury conveniences that shoppers might expect here. With the Ultra Luxury Package you also get perforated leather with heated and ventilated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, a power rear sunshade, and HID headlamps with adaptive cornering. With a nav system updated with satellite-radio subscription services, the Web-driven eDestination, and the Lexus Enform suite of services, there's plenty for the tech savvy, too. Bluetooth audio is part of the package, along with Bluetooth hands-free features, a USB port, and XM satellite radio.
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