2010 Lexus ES 350 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 15, 2010

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.

To arm you with all the information to make the best shopping decision regarding the 2010 Lexus ES 350, the editors of TheCarConnection.com have selected highlights from a range of reviews, then compiled a definitive Bottom Line assessment of the ES 350, using firsthand driving impressions and observed details.

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.

Review continues below

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.

7

2010 Lexus ES 350

Styling

A few slight enhancements for 2010 don't do much to spice up the Lexus ES 350's very conservative appearance. But that's not a bad thing to a lot of shoppers.

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.

Cars.com says that the ES 350 has a "classy, conservative design," while also acknowledging the vehicle’s “sharper angles and more defined body panel creases.” Motor Trend agrees, commenting that “from the nose on, the sheet metal flows into a rakish, aerodynamic body with a bit of the GS and IS sport sedans' flavor.” MotherProof describes the exterior of the Lexus ES 350 as "curvy and sharp,” while Kelley Blue Book wonders if it may be "a bit too conservative."

The interior takes a slightly different direction, becoming warmer and softer, yet brighter, though the overall look is also very conservative. Although the 2010 Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Camry utilize the same running gear, Edmunds points out that “the ES doesn't share a single dash panel or material with its less expensive Toyota sibling.” And overall, reviewers are very positive about the interior, even if it's not at all flamboyant. “Inside the ES is a combination of indulgent shapes and textures that are as functional as they are pampering,” says Edmunds. Cars.com reports that the controls “are easy to learn,” while Car and Driver, calling the interior of a previous model-year ES "posh," adds that it “has a flowing dashboard design [that] looks a bit plain when finished in black.” In the opinion of TheCarConnection.com, 2010's sharpen has helped a bit with that.

Review continues below
7

2010 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The 2010 Lexus ES 350 accelerates well, but when the roads turn curvy it's clear that this model favors ride comfort over handling.

With the slight appearance changes for 2010, 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.

V-8 configurations are optional on competing models, but Cars.com says that "buyers aren't likely to find the V-6 wanting for power" and praises the performance of the transmission as well. Edmunds notes that “shifts can be manually controlled using the sequential-style sport shifter.” During test drives, the transmission "never made a harsh shift," although "it can require lots of throttle to deliver a highway-speed downshift," according to ConsumerGuide, also noting that the Lexus ES 350 "scoots from a stop with satisfying strength" and "did 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds." Motor Trend assesses altogether that the 2010 Lexus ES 350 is "“more freeway cruiser than canyon carver," adding that "everything about this car is more biased toward a smooth ride than making the driver's heart beat faster."

Handling is competent and predictable, but the driver isn't much 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. Car and Driver says that the car’s “steering is numb, body roll is abundant in hard cornering and braking performance is so-so.” Motor Trend reports that the car is “without an ounce of sporting pretension,” and Cars.com concurs, “With the smooth ride comes moderate body roll, and the car also tends to bob up and down a few times after traveling over a big dip in the road.” Cars.com also observes that the brake pedal “has a soft feel, and it's difficult at times to modulate the touchy brakes in order to stop smoothly.” Edmunds did bestow the Lexus with faint praise as “a perfect compromise between the couchlike driving experience of an American luxury car and the well-damped ride of a Japanese sport sedan.” Motor Trend sums that "twisty roads are not where the ES does its best work."

While ride quality on the highway is superb, the car’s steering doesn't offer enough on-center feel, in the opinion of TheCarConnection.com, which means you're constantly making minor adjustments to keep it tracking straight.

Review continues below
9

2010 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Lexus ES 350 truly impresses here, with a roomy backseat, pleasing new trims and materials, and great ride comfort.

Last year’s model finally shed its very 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.

Although the ride is soft, the seats weren't universally loved. According to a Cars.com's reviewer, “the front seats have ten-way power adjustment, and the driver's backrest is soft and comfy, but I was sore after driving for a few hours because the bottom cushion doesn't provide enough support.” Edmunds’ test car the upgraded seats, with a “power cushion extender that increases, or decreases, the length of the seat bottom cushion underneath the thighs, allowing support for both long- and short-legged drivers.” The ventilated seats "are among the best we've experienced, with plenty of cool air circulating throughout," they add.

The front-wheel design of the ES allows a bit more roominess in back when compared to most rear-wheel-drive sport sedans. Automobile Magazine says that the Lexus ES 350’s longer wheelbase “opens up interior space a bit. Unlike those of many cars in this class, the ES 350's rear seats should elicit no complaints from passengers.” According to Cars.com, “the outer spots of the rear bench seat are comfortable enough for adults, but don't expect any extra legroom or headroom.”

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. Both Edmunds and Cars.com praise Lexus for its choice of interior materials, with Edmunds stating that the ES 350 has "the finest quality" materials. According to Cars.com, standard materials include "real wood trim on the doors and center console." MotherProof observes that materials such as leather and wood makes occupants feel "very welcome." 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. Motor Trend seems to like the interior changes, also noting that " Lexus finally got rid of the tape player."

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. The Lexus ES 350 is "one of the quietest cars we've ever tested at freeway cruising speeds," reports Edmunds, while ConsumerGuide says that the Lexus ES 350 for this year "excels for cushioned comfort" but notes that it trails rivals for composure on bumpy roads with "bobbing and pitching" at freeway speeds. Nonetheless, ConsumerGuide cites "excellent isolation from road and wind noise."

"The soft suspension does a great job of absorbing bumps and potholes," says Motor Trend. "Combine that with the quiet cabin, and this is a car that would be a terrific place to burn miles on the Interstate."

Review continues below
9

2010 Lexus ES 350

Safety

With just a minor blemish or two, the 2010 Lexus ES 350 is one of the safest sedans its size.

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, 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. Front seat belts automatically tighten and the brake assist prepares to go into action if the Lexus proprietary Pre-Collision System determines that a collision is imminent. The system will also activate the brakes without the driver if necessary, Edmunds says.

Review continues below
10

2010 Lexus ES 350

Features

The 2010 Lexus ES 350 offers as many high-tech and luxury options as some vehicles costing twice as much.

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.

Cars.com notes, among standard features, the "chic LED lighting.” MotherProof comments that despite its relatively high cost, "you get so much with this car that you don't necessarily get with same-priced SUVs!" Some of the "mom-friendly goodies" reported on here include a backseat skylight, LATCH connectors for child seats, and a first aid/tool kit.

Motor Trend muses that the ES 350 offers “enough gizmos to embarrass a Best Buy salesman." Cars.com reports other "noteworthy options," including front and rear parking sensors, a power rear sunshade, a panorama glass roof, and a voice-activated navigation system with rearview camera that "makes judging the distance between the ES 350's back bumper and another car or object a breeze," says Cars.com. Audiophiles will appreciate the "Mark Levinson Surround Sound" stereo system, and one can watch DVD movies on the navigation screen when the Lexus ES 350 is parked.

Top options are rolled into the Ultra Luxury Package, including Intuitive Park Assist, perforated leather with heated and ventilated front seats, the aforementioned panorama glass roof, a power rear sunshade, and HID headlamps with AFS to help in dark corners.

Review continues below
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