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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2012 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 has an understated, urbane look and feel throughout.

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.

Inside, the ES 350 has an underlying design that's flowing but not curvaceous, and not really innovative or extroverted in any way. Cabin appointments that meet the traditional definition of luxury, with plush leather, nice wood trims, and just enough brightwork to top it off. Last year, Lexus touched up the look just a bit to make it warmer and softer, yet brighter, though it still feels quite conservative.

Review continues below
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2012 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 has strong, confident performance, provided the road is straight.

Comfort and true luxury-car refinement are the priorities in the 2012 Lexus ES 350, so it should come as no surprise that performance takes second stage—except in straight-line acceleration, where it doesn't interfere.

In some ways the ES 350 is 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. That said, you couldn't do much better for a highway cruiser.

Review continues below
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2012 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

Whether sprawling out in its comfortable interior or focusing in on the details, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 feels every bit a luxury car.

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 feels like a true luxury car inside--and that means top-notch trims and materials, plush seating, and a comfortable ride, as well as the hushed, isolated ride quality you expect in a non performance-focused Lexus.

Seats aren't as supportive as you'll find in some German rivals (or from Cadillac, for that matter), but they're exceptionally comfortable all around. The back seat is contoured for adults, and wide enough to hold three for shorter trips.

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.

All the while, the interior is nearly silent and the ride pillowy but well controlled (albeit possibly a little too soft and wallowy for some country roads).

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2012 Lexus ES 350

Safety

The safety story is positive here, even if the ES 350 doesn't get top ratings in all categories.

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 comes with a great list of safety features--although its set of safety ratings isn't quite perfect.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the ES 350 achieved top 'good' scores in frontal and side impact, as well as the new roof strength test, but in rear impact (seat-based), it got a low 'marginal' rating--indicating a higher chance of whiplash injuries.

The federal government hasn't rated the ES 350 in its latest NCAP test system, and with the related Camry recently redesigned and a new ES expected next year, it likely won't be.

Safety equipment in the 2012 ES 350 is great; ten airbags (including rear side bags), anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, and stability control are all standard. 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.

Also available in the ES is an Adaptive Cruise Control system, which uses radar to keep a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead; it also includes a useful (and potentially collision-avoiding) Pre-Collision System that will sound a warning, tighten seatbelts, and activate the brakes.

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2012 Lexus ES 350

Features

The ES 350's price is premium, but so is its comfort- and technology-rich feature set.

As you might assume, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 comes with all the comfort-oriented luxury conveniences that demanding premium shoppers expect.

Take an even cursory look at the feature list, 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.

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.

The ES 350's navigation system has been updated to include 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.

Review continues below
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2012 Lexus ES 350

Fuel Economy

Unless you're willing to step up to a hybrid, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 is one of the more efficient large-sedan picks.

If you don't have especially green expectations, you'll probably be happy with the 2012 Lexus ES 350; it gets EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 28 highway, which are pretty typical for this class. 

Actually, the ES 350 is more fuel-efficient than most larger V-6 sedan alternatives, and Lexus has lifted the requirement for premium fuel. But you could do better if going green is the top priority; the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, for instance, offers an interior nearly as large and luxurious, with fuel economy ratings that top 40 mpg; and the Lexus HS 250h, while not all that roomy inside, gets much better mileage.

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