The Lexus ES 330 undergoes a modest restyling for 2005, but the most significant is to its price tag: it drops almost $4,000, to squeak this midsize luxury sedan just under the $40,000 mark.

Exterior revisions include updates to the front grille, bumper, fog lamps, projector beam headlamps and taillights. Inside, new standard features include wheel-mounted audio controls, a two-position memory for the front passenger seat, and a ventilation/cooling function for the heated front seats. Rear seat belt pretensioners and a tire pressure monitoring system are now standard.

Based on the Toyota Camry, the ES 330 is powered by a 3.3-litre V6; introduced in 2004, it’s more powerful than the 3.0-litre it replaced but not as smooth. Still, it hands back impressive mileage figures for its size, and qualifies as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV). The sole transmission choice is a five-speed automatic Super ECT (Electronically Controlled Transmission), which manages shift decisions based on engine speed and load for smooth shifting on inclines, and adjusts for the slight wear on parts that occurs over time to produce smooth shifts over the vehicle’s lifespan.

Features include four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, dual zone automatic air conditioning, CD/cassette with seven speakers and wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front leather seats with ventilation fan, ten-way driver and eight-way passenger power seats with memory on both, power windows with auto up/down on all, power locks, walnut wood trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, driver’s footwell lamp, 16-inch alloy wheels, water-repellant front door glass, and self-dimming heated mirrors.

Available options include six-CD changer, power-adjustable pedals, power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear sunshade, high intensity discharge headlamps and rain-sensing wipers.

The price drop should get more people looking at the ES 330, and they should like what they see. The qualities that make the Toyota Camry such a popular car – its roominess, responsive handling, smooth ride and top-notch fit-and-finish – are also found in the Lexus version. The question is whether you want to move up to the extra features on the Lexus; a Toyota Camry SE-V6, which uses the same engine, is $7,100 less. The cynic tends to wonder if the massive price drop from the 2004 ES 330 might have been because enough buyers didn’t want to pay even more of a difference (eventually, Lexus’ plan is for a unique lineup that doesn’t share any body styles with Toyota). The Lexus has a nicer interior and you get a lot of luxury stuff, but test-drive them both.

The ES 330 is built in Kurokawa-gun, Japan.

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