2005 Lexus ES 330
Click image to enlarge

by Bob McHugh

The gloves are off at Lexus as it drops the base price of the 2005 model year Lexus ES 330. In addition, there are a number of small exterior styling changes and some extra equipment inside. The new under -$40,000 starting price is almost $4,000 below last year’s base price and more importantly it beats arch-rival, the Acura TL, by $900 – take that Honda!

The price may be lower but the product is still first rate, the ES 330 is a silky smooth driving experience in a cabin that’s exceptionally quiet and very classy. The styling revisions are certainly mild, still there’s enough to distinguish it from last year’s model.

As you probably know, the ES has strong Camry connections including the 3.3-litre V6 DOHC engine (in the Camry SE V6). Although its horsepower output is lower than the TL’s V6 it’s a quieter and smoother engine and it has excellent low-speed torque production numbers, 240 lb/ft at 3,600 rpm. This translates to a quick power response when you push on the throttle pedal at low engine speeds.

New stuff inside the ’05 ES 330 includes steering wheel audio controls, a two-position memory system for the front passenger, ventilation/cooling functionality for the heated front seats. Safety upgrades include pretensioners and force limiters on the rear seatbelts, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

2005 Lexus ES 330
Click image to enlarge

An “appearance package”, which adds a power moonroof, an in-dash 6-CD changer, and adjustable throttle and brake pedals, will bump the price up to $43,900. This is $100 more than the ’04 version, but according to Lexus you’re getting almost $1,200 worth of additional standard equipment.

The test car was a top-end ES 330, with the Premium Luxury package plus a Navigation System, which, now includes voice recognition. It cost $52,300, a $700 price drop when compared to an ’04.

The looks

The sweeping front end has elongated headlights that certainly give the ES 330 a distinctive and dramatic entrance. Although, and this may seem strange, the over-sized headlights reminded me of a couple of old cartoon magpies called Heckle and Jeckle, who had similar shaped heads.

2005 Lexus ES 330
Click image to enlarge

The headlamps now come with projector bulb halogen low beams, and a revised grille has additional horizontal bars. There’s also a re-shaped lower intake valence and larger round fog lamps. At the rear, the tail lamps have twin circular bulb elements and there’s a new chrome garnish above the license plate.
Unless you really know your Lexus, a second or even a third look, may be necessary to spot the revisions. Easy to grab chromed door handles are a classy finish and that reassuring solid “thud” when you close door signals quality.

The inside

2005 Lexus ES 330
Photo: Bob McHugh.

2005 Lexus ES 330
Click image to enlarge

The test ES had a beautifully crafted warm, alluring interior, with golden bird’s-eye maple wood and brushed aluminum trim, plus light brown (Cashmere) leather upholstery and carpeting. There are wood trim highlights on the dashboard, centre console and doors, which also have chrome handles.

The steering column has a manual tilt, but no telescopic adjustment feature, unfortunately. Power-adjustable pedals are a great option for short-legged drivers as it helps position them away form the steering wheel airbag. However, this car needs more storage pockets in and around the dash, for a driver to stash stuff.

Ventilated as well as heated front seats are new and although very comfortable and easy to get in or out of, they could do with a little more side support in the seat-back. The front passenger now has an eight-way power passenger seat with memory settings and driver has a 10-way power adjustable seat.

Safety equipment

The new front seats also have built-in whiplash protection. They’re designed to cushion the upper back, as the head restraint reduces the rearward head movement in a rear impact. All seating positions feature three-point seatbelts and the four outboard seating positions also have adjustable shoulder anchors, and pretensioners with force limiters.

Standard safety equipment includes the full complement of airbags: dual front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and front and rear side-curtain airbags. The side curtain airbags provide protection for both front and rear occupants in a side impact.

The drive

2005 Lexus ES 330

2005 Lexus ES 330
Photos: Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

Although not a particularly heavy (1,575-kg) car, the ES330 has a big-car luxury ride and solid feel on the road that’s very appealing. Classy and comfortable its supple suspension offers a smooth relaxed driving experience. In general, driver vision is good, although a high rear deck restricts the rear view, most noticeable when parking.

The test ES330 came with the optional, but definitely not a high priority, Adaptable Variable Suspension. Yes, you can adjust the suspension damping from mushy-soft to extra-firm. However, “firm” doesn’t suddenly transform it into a sports car – it’s just a harsher riding Lexus ES330. So, why bother?

Considering its front weight bias (61/39), its front-drive powertrain, and the fact that it’s tuned for better ride comfort than sporty handling, the ES 330 actually corners surprisingly well and is very predictable. That said, the vehicle stability control system (VSC) is an excellent option that’s well worth including.

A gated shifter does allow manual shifts, but it’s a bit cumbersome and not intuitive, so I rarely took it out of Drive. The shifts are silky smooth and perfectly matched to the performance, push hard on the throttle and a little growl form under the hood lets you know the V6 is working. And there’s lots of push from the torque rich V6 to get you pass slower traffic, when needed.

The competition

Its competitors, mostly imports, include the Acura TL $40,800 – $44,000, Audi A4 $34,435 – $46,830, BMW 3-Series $34,850 – $63,850, Cadillac CTS $37,800 – $70,700, Infiniti G35 $41,200 – $42,700, Jaguar X-Type $41,195 – $44,995, Lincoln LS $43,865 – $58,430, Mercedes-Benz C-Class $35,290 – $68,550, Saab 9-3 $34,900 – $58,000, Volkswagen Passat $29,550 – $56,350, and Volvo S60 36,995 – $61,495.

The score

In a word ‘Regal’. If ‘the Royals’ had to choose an under $40,000 car (not likely!), it surely would be a Lexus ES330.

Technical Data: Lexus ES 330

Base price $39,900
Options $12,400 (Premium luxury package with navigation)
Freight $ 1,575
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $53,975
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size luxury sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.3-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves, VVT-I
Horsepower 225 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 240 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires P215/60R-16 all-season
Curb weight 1575 kg (3472 lb.)
Wheelbase 2720 mm (107.1 in.)
Length 4855 mm (191.1 in.)
Width 1810 mm ( 71.3 in.)
Height 1440 mm ( 56.7 in.)
Cargo area 411 litres (14.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 11.4 L/100 km (24 m.p.g.)
  Hwy: 7.5 L/100 km (37 m.p.g.)
Warranty 4 years/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 6 years/110,000 km

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