Test Drive: 2007 Lexus ES 350 car test drives lexus
2007 Lexus ES 350. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Photo Gallery: 2007 Lexus ES 350

Toronto, Ontario – It’s curious, given how successful Infiniti’s been with streamlining its entry-level line-up to just one car (the G35), that Lexus continues to offer two very different models at the bottom of its price range. The IS series, starting at just under $37,000, is a compact, rear-wheel drive sedan with sporting pretensions, entertaining handling and razor-sharp styling. It couldn’t be more different from the subject of this review, the ES series, which is front-wheel-drive, large to the point of almost being full-sized and whose focus is on supreme smoothness and isolation rather than driving pleasure. If the IS is designed for younger, edgier, more aggressive customers – the ES is for a more mature, relaxed buyer – one who’s not in as much of a rush to get ahead, because they’re already there.

You can certainly rush if you want. Priced around the same as mid-level IS 250s, which produce just 208 hp, the ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 which produces 272 horses in a smooth, seamless rip up its rev range. While it doesn’t have quite the same urge as the (different) 3.5-litre six in the more expensive IS 350, the ES has more than enough power to haul itself around town with authority and more than enough power, as well, to pass multiple cars on two-lane roads in a series of sustained lunges. Much of the credit must go to the buttery-smooth six-speed automatic transmission, which snaps off quick but barely-perceptible changes and always seems to be in the right gear. Should you wish – you wouldn’t, really, in this car – there’s also a sequential mode, allowing more manual control. While you can’t actually hold a gear using the manual function, you can limit how far the automatic upshifts, making it possible to set up for corners and to hold the revs higher on winding roads.

Test Drive: 2007 Lexus ES 350 car test drives lexus
2007 Lexus ES 350. Click image to enlarge

Not that winding roads are going to be something you really seek out in the ES. It’ll go around corners well enough, but it certainly complains a lot while doing so. There’s plenty of body roll even in slow turns and the suspension lurches and heaves over mid-corner bumps. While the Michelin tires provide lots of grip, there’s a lot of squealing while they do so; you find the standard-fit stability and traction control systems intervening a lot, even in regular driving. For sheer involvement, the similarly-priced Acura TL puts the ES in the shade with its sharp steering, nimble handling and lively feel, though it has a faster pulse and a less relaxed personality.

The flip side of the Lexus’ softness is a remarkably serene freeway ride: the Lexus floats over undulations and ripples in the pavement that would have other luxury cars heaving and there’s no vibration through the steering, seats or pedals. At speed, you hear very little wind rushing by the pillars and road noise is well-contained; the ES just gulps up the miles on long trips. It’s quieter than the Hyundai Azera and rides better than the Buick Lucerne. Its smoothly-styled body turns lots of heads while simultaneously managing an excellent 0.28 coefficient of drag – contributing not only to the ES’ impressive fuel economy as well as its overall refinement.

Test Drive: 2007 Lexus ES 350 car test drives lexus
Test Drive: 2007 Lexus ES 350 car test drives lexus
2007 Lexus ES 350. Click image to enlarge

Much of the credit for the car’s “cruisability” has to go to the spacious, comfortably-equipped cabin. It’s not until you pull up beside other cars that you notice just how big the ES has grown: its seats are up almost at minivan height and the roofline is domed to create lots of headroom. The Lexus’ ample wheelbase means there’s lots of space to stretch out front and rear and the seats are as comfortable as you would expect from the brand – even on the base model, the front buckets have eight-way power adjustments as well as multiple levels of heating and ventilation.

The usual Lexus array of goodies is present: a fine-sounding stereo with iPod jack, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel as well as the usual great swaths of wood-grain and leather. What did come as a bit of a letdown was the quality of some of the interior fittings, which were just not up to Lexus’ usual standards. In particular, the plastic that drapes down the centre console and encompasses the radio and climate controls is hard and shiny, while the shroud for the steering column feels distinctively cheap. While there are some beautiful design details – the 3-D gauges are beautiful – there are some discordant notes, too: why, for instance, is the wood panel that wraps down the dash and around the shifter asymmetrical for no apparent reason?

Test Drive: 2007 Lexus ES 350 car test drives lexus
2007 Lexus ES 350. Click image to enlarge

Lexus once set the standard for luxury interiors, but in this lower price class, the ES is bested by Acura and almost equalled by the less-expensive Hyundai.

To be fair, the ES’ cabin does get considerably better as you move up its price chain. Go for the premium ($46,800) or the ultra-premium ($54,600) packages and you can play with such toys as Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition; a superb touch-screen navigation system; a huge panoramic glass sunroof; a Mark Levinson audio system; swiveling bi-xenon headlights and other goodies. Problem is, the package as a whole starts to look less and less like good value the more stuff you ladle onto it; at almost $55,000, the ultra-premium model competes with much more capable-driving cars from Europe that offer less feature content but considerably more driving pleasure; from Japan, there’s also the no-options-other-than-transmission Acura TL Type-S, with more power, more driving fun and as many gadgets – all for less money.


Pricing: 2007 Lexus ES 350


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