2013 Lexus ES 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 30, 2012

Larger but leaner, the 2013 Lexus ES gains a hybrid model and some very attractive new styling to stave off strong new competition.

The Lexus ES has long been the choice for those who want to be cosseted and comforted, and don't want to be overly involved in the driving experience. At the same time, there's a new kind of luxury shopper who wants a car that's quiet and cushy, yet more responsive—not sluggish or boatlike.

We think that the 2013 Lexus ES models should do well in appeasing both of those types—especially those with some modern expectations about how a premium sedan should respond behind the wheel. Whether you're interested in the V-6 ES 350 or the new ES 300h hybrid, these models really handle well enough for the 99 percent who don’t subscribe to the enthusiast vernacular of canyon roads and weekend track time.

Of course there is a difference in how they accelerate; the V-6 models are still the quickest and smoothest, surely, but the ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly fleet-footed. With Lexus' incorporation of Drive Select modes (Eco and Power), you have a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and there's even now an EV-only mode. The big payoff comes at the pump, where the new ES 300h returns an EPA 40 mpg city, 39 highway (much better than the ES 350's 21/31).

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While the 2013 ES models look pretty conservative on the outside—the new Lexus hourglass grille and a newfound curviness at the rear flanks are the exceptions—there's a lot to love inside. The ES's cabin has been completely redesigned, with a new sense of airiness and spaciousness thanks to a shelf-like horizontal design, and corners that have been pushed out (in a sort of anti-cockpit design). It resembles what Lexus did with its GS sport sedans, only it feels better done here, with the navigation system's screen fitting nicely mid-contour.

For the first time, the ES isn't riding on the same wheelbase (and about the same length) as the Camry; its wheelbase is now a couple of inches longer—think Avalon, lengthwise—which pays off in back-seat space. Thanks to its additional back-seat space, we might as well call it a large sedan. There's now enough room for three adults back there, if you need it, while in front, for the first time, Lexus is offering an available extendable thigh support for taller drivers (cushions are longer, too). Ride quality is slightly firmer, but the outside world, engine noise, and the road surface are all still supremely isolated from the cabin.

In addition to some new active-safety features like Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Pre Collision System, the ES offers a host of high-tech entertainment and premium-luxury goodies on top of its standard kit. Major options for the ES include a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims, a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform with apps. The only down side to getting the audio upgrade, or navigation, is the mandatory, mouse-like Remote Touch controller, which requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections.

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2013 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The 2013 ES models still wear a very conservative topcoat, but the cabin carries a refreshing contemporary luxury look and feel.

The ES has been completely redesigned for 2013, and while we’d call the new look significantly different inside, it's only somewhat evolved on the outside.

With some sharper details at the front and back, as well as a little more curvaceousness in the sheetmetal in between (especially back above the rear wheels), the 2013 ES models are just different enough to appear fresh, albeit too much in the stiff-and-formal direction.

The corners of the vehicle both in front and in back have been tucked a little closer than before, while corners are just a bit more squared-off, giving the ES a somewhat more trim look from some angles. From the front, the ES models get the new Lexus 'spindle grille’—we call it the hourglass grille—that tapers down to the bumper and then expands outward again below the bumper, continuing into the airdam, and more finely detailed headlamps with LED running lamps help punctuate. In back, the taillights now come to a point at a centerline that continues the beltline. All that said, the ES comes across as quite formal on the outside.

Inside, the ES follows the design path already taken with the new 2013 Lexus GS sedans, with a more horizontal orientation and a shelf-like centerline that bridges the top of the front doors. Only in the ES it’s not cockpit-like at all; while there's a wide center console separating the driver and passenger areas, the dash and door trims don't wrap or flow into each other. Instead, they form a pushed-out corner that serves to help maximize interior space. Yet the ES gets almost all the details right; we love the curviness atop the instrument panel (and the positioning of the hooded navigation screen), as well as the fluid, slightly curved nature of the lines and contours. The only thing we could do without is the overabundance of slightly tinted, matte-metallic trim and audio faceplate material; just like the piano black surfacing, this is simply too played-out.

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2013 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The 2013 Lexus ES models handle better than most comfort-oriented shoppers will ever need, and powertrains—even in the new 300h hybrid—are strong and smooth.

Just as its predecessors, the 2013 Lexus ES clearly puts comfort above absolute performance. The ES still drives that way—but you may be surprised to find out how athletic this smooth sedan can be when pressed to the task.

The ES 350 accelerates strongly with its 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6—essentially the same engine as in the Camry V-6, but with even more noise- and vibration-quelling measures. And it winds through the gears of the six-speed automatic transmission with such a seamless flow of power that on a straight road the speed can creep up on you, more so than in performance models. but because there’s so little engine noise the speed can creep up on you in deceptive ways. Shifts are a little lumpier on gentle takeoffs, but this is one responsive, fine, and very refined powertrain.

ES 300h models get the latest iteration of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive—here incorporating a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine plus an integrated electric motor/generator system, along with a planetary power-split system and a complex set of electronic controls. Just as with the CT200h and the now-discontinued HS250h, Lexus has included a Drive Mode selector that allows you to choose an Eco, Sport, or EV mode. Eco favors fuel economy, while Sport steps up responsiveness. EV model provides a very short distance (less than a half-mile) of driving at low speed—for when you want to quietly go up the driveway, for instance.

The ES300h shows Toyota's experience in making a hybrid system smooth and unobtrusive, yet responsive. Provided you drive the 300h relatively softly—just with traffic, for instance—the system goes about its business in the background; and if you have the sound system on, it might as well be a V-6, or an exceptionally smooth four-cylinder under the hood. The transitions between electric and gasoline-electric operation are that seamless. However, ask for the powertrain to deliver more performance—on a curvy road, or when merging with high-speed freeway traffic, and the hybrid powertrain lets itself be known.

Engineers have firmed up the ride and handling of the ES 350 a tad—just enough to give a slightly more buttoned-down feel but not so much as to mess with this model’s already established priority: comfort. Straight-line tracking is also greatly improved compared to the outgoing version, and the steering is weighted better, with a quicker ratio. The changes together give it a surprisingly athletic, if not nimble, feel.

The only dynamic area that we had issue with in both of the ES models was the feel of the brake pedal. In ES 350 models it was just too spongy, and lacked the reassuring firmness that some other premium sedans get as calipers apply pressure. ES 300h models have regenerative braking that helps recover excess energy as you decelerate or brake, but as we’ve noticed in some hybrids there’s a dead zone where the transition between regen and brake-pad application isn’t as smooth as it could be.

10

2013 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Lexus ES has the roomy interior and plush, quiet ride of a modern luxury car—although some engine noise in the hybrid keeps it from being completely serene.

The 2013 Lexus ES sedans already have a strong reputation for interior comfort, and they’re coveted by those who want a plush interior, silky ride, and tight, quiet cabin. All that hasn’t changed in the new ES; but upgraded interior materials along with increased legroom in back together step the comfort appeal of these models to a new level.

Lexus has made the centermost rake of the steering column a little closer to horizontal this time, and combined with seats that have a greater range of adjustability—as well as longer cushions for the front seats and available extendable thigh bolsters—the effect is the The new ES has about four inches more rear legroom, and its wheelbase is now two inches longer than the Camry on which it's based.

All ES models now include a 10-way power driver seat, while the available 12-way seat brings extendable lower cushions—a feature some of our long-legged editorial team would definitely opt for.

Get the ES 300h and the only thing you give up is the trunk pass-through, and a little bit of trunk space. We saw no significant difference in actual backseat packaging or space.

While the ES 350 is a perfect ten in terms of refinement, you do have a bit more engine noise in the ES 300h, especially when you drive it a little harder or go to make a quick pass, and the four-cylinder engine kicks on with a raspy sound—although it’s never boomy and it’s surprisingly just as well isolated from powertrain vibrations as the V-6. We also noticed a little more whine from the electrical components in the hybrid than we've noticed in other Lexus and Toyota hybrids—the one downside, perhaps, to making the rest of the ES 300h so darn quiet.

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2013 Lexus ES 350

Safety

In all likelihood, the 2013 Lexus ES sedans will be among the top-rated luxury models.

The 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h are all-new models, so neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the federal government (through its NCAP system) have yet evaluated these sedans.

But the ES does remain quite closely related to the Toyota Camry, which has since its redesign last year (and a completely redesigned structure) earned an excellent set of crash-test results and safety ratings. As it stands, the current Camry has superb crash-test protection, with top five-star results from the federal government and all 'good' results—and the Top Safety Pick nod—from the IIHS.

No matter which model you choose, ten airbags are standard—including front and rear curtain bags and rear seat-mounted side airbags, in addition to electronic stability control and all of its complementary systems like anti-lock brakes. Lexus Safety Connect wraps in roadside assistance, emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, and automatic collision notification—although those services require a subscription (one year is included).

Several active-safety features are available as options on the ES models. Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert can help see moving vehicles in your blind spot, or help see cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot. There's also a Lane Departure Alert system that includes an automatic high-beam feature; and the Pre-Collision System uses radar to anticipate a potential collision.

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2013 Lexus ES 350

Features

The 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h can be optioned up to an opulent and technologically advanced level—although the Remote Touch controller needs to go.

The Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h are sold in monospec—with a single model offering loads of standard features; yet there's plenty of room to option up to the most advanced high-tech entertainment and active-safety options.

Automatic climate control, an illuminated keyless entry system, SmartAccess features, push-button start, an analog clock, a HomeLink garage-door opener, a 3.5-inch color info display, and an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, USB/iPod connectivity, and SiriusXM capability are all included.

Major options for the ES include a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform with AppSuite system. In this iteration, Enform includes Bing (search), iHeartRadio (streaming audio), MovieTickets.com, OpenTable (restaurant guide), Pandora (streaming audio), Yelp (reviews), and Facebook Places apps—although these apps can be updated via the dedicated data stream, and new ones will be made available later.

There's one down side to this advanced interface, which works otherwise very well: Included with the navigation system is the Remote Touch controller, a trackpad-like, mouse-like system that requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections. Even with the haptic feature (which helps you feel your way through menus) turned on, we find it highly distracting.

Traditional, lavish luxury options are on the table, too. A Premium Package works in bamboo trim, upgraded leather seats, and a power steering wheel; while a Luxury Package adds HID headlamps, Park Assist, and a rear sunshade. With the Ultra Luxury Package, you get ambient lighting, window shades, rain-sensing wipers, a heated wood steering wheel, extendable driver's seat thigh supports, and single-touch trunk release.

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2013 Lexus ES 350

Fuel Economy

The new 2013 Lexus ES 300h is one of the greenest, most fuel-efficient luxury sedans yet.

The Lexus ES is for the first time offered as a hybrid for 2013, and we're guessing that it will be a popular option because it manages to get many more miles out of each gallon of gasoline while still feeling like a Lexus in terms of smoothness and refinement.

The hybrid—called the ES 300h—achieves EPA ratings of 40 mpg city, 39 highway (and 39 mpg Combined). And based on our experience with the Toyota Prius, as well as with the closely related Toyota Camry Hybrid, you're likely to see close to that number even when you're not driving gently—or even better than that if you can keep an exceptionally light right foot and use the enhanced efficiency displays in the ES 300h as a guide.

For those who aren't as swayed by high fuel economy numbers, there's still the Lexus ES 350, powered by a strong V-6 engine; and considering its quick acceleration and smooth demeanor, it gets a reasonably good 21 mpg city, 31 highway.

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April 26, 2016
For 2013 Lexus ES 350

Nothing to dislike with Lexus ES

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Like other reviewers, this is my second Lexus ES. I can't imagine driving any thing else. I frequently drive my lady's Cadilac CTS which is a fine car, but I much prefer the Lexus. My car has so much more... + More »
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November 17, 2015
2013 Lexus ES 350 4-Door Sedan

Love My Lexus

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I love my car! This is the second Lexus I have owned and I am convinced this is the only car I will ever buy. Such an amazing performance. It is always a joy sitting behind a Lexus. Seldom any issues and the... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2013 Lexus ES 350

Never breaks! Love it!

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This is our second Lexus and it has much more performance than our old ES-300. Great features and wonderful performance! Love it so much that we bought a Camry in Florida as a third car! A baby Lexus and we... + More »
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 10.0
Safety 9.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy 9.0
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