May 19, 2006
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson
Since 1990, front-wheel drive Lexus ES “entry-level” luxury sedans have shared platforms and powertrains with Toyota Camry V6 models, and for 2007, Lexus has followed the same successful formula. The fifth-generation 2007 ES 350 is based on the just-redesigned 2007 Camry V6, and as in the past, the main differences between the ES and Camry are exterior styling, interior design, suspension tuning, noise reduction, additional comfort features and more safety features.
Lexus says the new ES 350 is for Canadians “looking for a balance between performance and comfort” while their rear-wheel drive IS 350 “is all about performance”. However, it would be a mistake to infer from this that the ES 350 lacks performance. Its new 3.5-litre V6 has 54 more horsepower than the 3.3-litre V6 in the 2006 ES 330. The smooth new V6 makes 272 hp @ 6200 rpm and 254 lb-ft torque at 4700 rpm and now features dual variable valve timing which acts on both intake and exhaust valves to improve torque and fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. So while the ES 350 can zip from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.8 seconds, it also offers better fuel consumption than the ES 330 (city: 10.9 L/100 km; hwy 7.2 L/100 km) and it’s still rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II (ULEV II rating).
A manual transmission isn’t available, but the new ES 350 is now equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode – compared to the previous model’s five-speed automatic transmission which didn’t have a sequential-shift manual mode. Though you’ll probably leave the transmission lever in automatic most of the time because it is so smooth and responsive, the manual mode can make driving a little more enjoyable on challenging roads.
Handling has been improved too, in part because of the ES 350′s 30 mm wider track and slightly lower ground clearance. Its fully independent suspension (front MacPherson strut/rear strut/multi-link) soaks up the bumps well and the car remains poised even when thrown into tight corners – beefy P214/55-R-17 inch all-season tires are standard. It’s true that some handling ability is sacrificed for ride comfort – and this car does have a supremely comfortable ride – but the ES 350′s acceleration and handling will satisfy most driver’s needs.
The ES 350′s more comfortable ride can be attributed to its 50 mm longer wheelbase (2775 mm) and suspension tuning, but since the car’s overall length is about the same as last year, it doesn’t feel like a bigger car when driving it – although its turning circle of 11.8 metres (38.7 ft.) isn’t exactly tight. Standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake differential and Brake Assist provide sure stopping power while standard stability and traction control help keep the car from losing control on slippery roads. As a front-wheel drive car, the ES 350 has lots of traction anyway, and tends to understeer mildly at the limit. You can feel very safe driving an ES 350 in poor weather conditions.
A new option for 2007 is headlamps that can swivel independently of each other when making a turn. This allows the driver to “see around corners”, thereby increasing safety at night.
Inside the ES 350′s cabin, engine noise and vibration is virtually non-existent at idle due to an improved ‘active control’ engine mount that counters vibrations in the 650 to 800 rpm idling range. As well, the window glass now has three layers of film sandwiched between two layers of glass to keep the interior quieter, and an insulation coating covers the underside of the car to keep out road noise.
The attractive interior has front seats with standard perforated leather that are heated and cooled, and a new optional power driver’s seat cushion to provide additional thigh support for those with longer legs. Ten-way power adjustment and two memory settings are standard. Ahead of the driver are new backlit gauges that are larger and the centre instrument panel has attractive wood trim and refreshingly simple buttons and dials laid out in an easy-to-see design.
The standard automatic climate control features a new smog ventilation sensor that automatically switches to Recirculation mode when it detects carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other harmful gases. As well, a new (optional) DVD navigation system features a higher resolution screen and a DVD disc with eight million points of interest! The navigation screen also doubles as a rear back-up camera when the transmission is in Reverse.
The ES 350′s standard stereo has an in-dash 6-disc CD changer capable of playing MP3 or WMA formats, and features eight speakers and a new audio input jack. Optional is a premium Mark Levinson stereo with 300 watts and fourteen speakers.
I found front and rear legroom and hiproom generous, but headroom was just adequate for my 5′ 9″ frame, even with the power driver’s seat at its lowest setting. Drivers over six feet tall might find headroom lacking. The rear seat has a pass-through from the trunk, but as before, the ES does not have folding rear seatbacks. The 14.7 cubic feet trunk is slightly larger than the ES 330′s, and includes a full-size spare tire under the floor.
Safety gets an upgrade for 2007 with a total of eight standard airbags including two front, two side, two curtain, and two front knee airbags. As well, rear side airbags are optional.
Other new luxury features include a Smart Key system where the doors can be locked and unlocked by touching the door handles, and the car started by pressing a button while the key is kept in the pocket or purse; a new larger ‘panorama’ moonroof, and new power tilt and telescopic steering wheel.
The 2007 ES 350 starts at $42,900, an increase of almost $3,000 over last year’s base price. However, there is a lot more standard equipment for 2007, not to mention more power and improved ride and handling. A premium package ($46,500) adds options like wood steering wheel and shift knob, rear side airbags, power rear sunshade, power seat cushion, rain-sensing wipers HID swivelling headlamps. An Ultra Premium Package ($54,300) adds the DVD navigation system with back-up camera, premium alloy wheels, panorama glass roof, premium leather, and the Mark Levinson audio system.
My first impression of the 2007 ES 350 is that this is a very refined automobile with expected comfort, excellent safety features, and surprising performance.
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