by Grant Yoxon
“Counter to expectations about luxury cars, the Lexus ES 300 is neither boring nor old fashioned. Re-designed for 2002, the ES 300 has a crisper, more contemporary look. From its radically raked integrated headlights to its high roof line flowing, fastback-like, to the high rear-end, the new ES 300 cuts a distinctive profile. This is not understated elegance.”
Reliable, safe and exceedingly comfortable
Perhaps it is a sign of my advancing years. I’m pretty sure its not a mid-life crisis. I’m well beyond that. I’ve got a 5.0 litre Mustang in the garage to prove it.
But just like the grey that has slowly infiltrated what little hair I have left, I have noticed that my taste in cars is changing.
I still love to take my muscle car for a quick blast, but I wouldn’t drive it to Charlotte, North Carolina, in a day, ‘just for the fun of it’ like I once did. Heck, I don’t even want to drive it to work. With its rock hard suspension, heavy performance clutch and one-size-fits-all seats, not to mention a total lack of air conditioning, the Mustang is not a great place to spend time.
I no longer care as much about how many ‘Gs’ I can generate in a straight line or around a corner, as I do about the width and softness of the seats. I’m less entertained by an engine’s roar or a tuned exhaust as I am by a high-end sound system or the blessed peace and quiet of a well-insulated cabin.
I owe this change of taste to cars like the Lexus ES 300, cars that aren’t shy about being labeled “luxury” sedans.
Until recently Lexus marketed the ES 300, it’s entry level luxury sedan as a “luxury sports sedan.”
Lexus parted company with this strategy when it introduced the rear-wheel-drive, performance oriented IS 300 last year.
The IS 300 gave Lexus the opportunity to re-focus the front-wheel-drive ES 300 on that much larger segment of the driving public who really don’t give a darn about the performance potential of their transportation – people who just want a guaranteed reliable, ultra-safe, exceedingly comfortable conveyance to get them from point A to B.
And if the vehicle also happens to make a statement about their financial achievement, well, that’s a bonus.
Counter to expectations about luxury cars, the Lexus ES 300 is neither boring nor old fashioned. Re-designed for 2002, the ES 300 has a crisper, more contemporary look. From its radically raked integrated headlights to its high roof line flowing, fastback-like, to the high rear-end, the new ES 300 cuts a distinctive profile. This is not understated elegance.
Although the ES 300 shares its basic architecture with the re-designed Toyota Camry, Lexus reinforces the luxury appeal of the 2002 ES 300 by promoting it as a junior LS 430, the flagship of the Lexus line-up and, to many minds, the pinnacle of automotive luxury. In fairness to Lexus, beyond its wheelbase and a variety of shared mechanical components, the ES 300 has little in common with the Camry. But comparing it to the rear-wheel-drive LS 430 is also a stretch.
However, it does derive some features from it’s well to do sibling. For example, the ES 300 shares the same leather as found in the ultra-luxury LS 430, and it is nice stuff too. My children (I’m not that old) called it “squishy”. The heated 8-way power adjustable drivers seat (6-way passenger seat) – with dual memory settings which not only re-align the seat to suit the driver, but the outside mirrors as well – are superbly comfortable. Like the seat surfaces, the door inserts and dash are also “squishy”. In fact there isn’t a hard surface to be found anywhere in the car except for the real California walnut wood trim which is as smooth as glass.
Speaking of glass, the ES 300’s window glass is extra thick to reduce outside noise penetration. And the front door glass is water-repellant, another feature borrowed from the LS 430.
Lexus made a number of other improvements to the ES 300 to reduce noise. Rather than piling on the insulation – and weight – Lexus used sound absorption technology to give the 2002 ES 300 an even quieter cabin than its predecessor. The new material absorbs noise rather than simply blocking it. As in the previous model, an active engine mount helps cancel out vibration generated by the engine. New engine mounts further reduce vibration at idle, and a two-stage muffler reduces exhaust “booming” at low speeds. A flat underbody, reshaped mirrors, and other exterior refinements contribute to a low 0.28 coefficient of drag and help reduce wind noise. The ES 300’s interior is a very quiet place indeed.
With one exception. Sound absorption technology couldn’t mask some irritating rattles emanating from the rear doors or seatbelts on our test car. How very un-Lexus. But that is what a warranty is for, and with Lexus, that’s a four year/80,000 km basic warranty and six year/110,000 km powertrain warranty.
A 50 mm longer wheelbase and 60 mm taller roofline contribute to greater interior space for both front and rear passengers. The ES 300 can easily accommodate three six-footers in the back seat. There is lots of room in the trunk as well and a lockable pass through, hidden by a fold down arm rest with cup holders, adds additional space for long items when needed.
The list of standard interior features on the $43,400 ES 300 is extensive, but one of the most significant is dual zone climate control – again derived from the LS 430 – that senses smog and other unwanted smells and switches to re-circulation mode while the air is cleaned and the outside air improves and then automatically switches back. An electrostatic dust collector helps keep pollen and dust particles at a minimum. Other standard features include high solar energy absorbing glass, power windows with auto up/down at all four windows, tilt steering, two stage console with cell phone storage, and vehicle information computer that displays outside temperature and vehicle performance information. Both the rear view mirror and outside mirrors are electrochromic automatic dimming. A compass is contained within the rearview mirror.
All controls are logically placed, easy to use and the luminescent gauges are attractive by day and night. The console mounted shifter is a gated style, yet another LS 430 style item.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a $4,400 Luxury package which adds power moonroof, high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, traction control, vehicle skid control, rear window sunshade, in-dash 6-cd changer, all good features to have, and rain-sensing windshield wipers, which I quickly learned to hate. Despite fiddling for a week, I could never get the wipers to operate the way I liked.
The optional vehicle skid control (VSC) system integrates electronic traction control (TRAC), electronic brake force distribution and the advanced brake assist feature. VSC helps control traction while cornering on slippery or dry road surfaces by using throttle intervention and/or applying individual wheel braking to help control any discrepancy between where the driver is steering and where the vehicle is heading. The brake assist feature comes into play in an emergency-braking situation. If the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to engage the ABS, the system supplements the braking power applied. Four wheel, four sensor anti-lock brakes are standard.
For an additional $2,700, buyers can opt for a premium package which includes wood steering wheel, Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), and Mark Levinson Audio system. AVS allows the driver to firm up or soften the suspension for more spirited (or less spirited) driving. The Mark Levinson Audio system is standard equipment in the LS 430 and SC 430.
The 2002 ES 300 is powered by the same aluminum 3.0-litre double-overhead cam V6 engine as its predecessor. While some would argue that more power is always better, 210 horsepower and 220 lb.-ft. of peak torque is plenty for this front driver. A new five-speed electronically controlled transmission and new electronic (“drive by wire”) throttle control help give the 2002 ES 300 lower emissions, better fuel economy and marginally quicker acceleration over previous models.
Despite its refined demeanor, the ES 300 will accelerate to 96 km/h in 8.1 seconds, according to Lexus, which is plenty for most people.
Naturally, the ride is plush. The ES 300 insulates driver and passenger from the road rather than connects them to it. If you want to get in touch with the road, better to try the IS 300 or opt for the ES 300 premium package with AVS.
Despite a cushy ride and a general lack of road feel, the ES 300 is no land yacht. Steering is precise, though a bit dull, and cornering ability is far better than it feels.
In addition to dynamic safety features like electronic brake force distribution, advanced brake assist, vehicle skid control and traction control, the ES 300 contains numerous passive safety features. As with the LS 430, the supplemental restraint system includes new side curtain airbags, dual front airbags and front seat-mounted side airbags. The side curtain airbags extend from the A pillar to the C pillar to help provide protection for both front and rear occupants in a side impact. New multi-stage front airbags deploy according to impact force. The driver’s front airbag is also provided with a seat position detector that engages an extra low deployment stage when a smaller-sized person is driving.
Ultra-safe, exceedingly comfortable and guaranteed reliable – the Lexus warranty is second to none – the ES 300 is no cure for a mid-life crisis. No, this is a car designed for people who are comfortable with themselves and their achievements.
If I could choose between the Lexus ES 300 and the hot rod in the garage, the Mustang might never see sunshine again.
Fortunately for the Mustang, I only had the Lexus for a week.
|2002 Lexus ES 300|
|Options on vehicle||Luxury package ($4,400) – power moonroof, high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, traction control, vehicle skid control, rear window sunshade, rain sensing wipers, in-dash 6-cd changer.|
|Price as tested||$47,800|
|Type||4-door 5-passenger luxury sports sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front wheel drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24-valves, Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i)|
|Horsepower||210 hp @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||220 lb.ft. @ 4400 rpm|
|Fuel||Premium recommended for improved performance|
|Transmission||5-speed “Super Electronically Controlled” Transmission|
|Tires||P215/60 R16 Michelin on 9-spoke alloy rims|
|Curb weight||1560 kg (3439 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2720 mm (107.1 in.)|
|Length||Length:4855 mm (191.1 in.)|
|Width||1810 mm (71.3 in.)|
|Height||1455 mm (57.3 in.)|
|Trunk capacity||0.519 cu. m. (18.3 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.4 L/100 km (25 mpg)|
|Highway: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 years/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||6 years/110,000 km|