Review and photos by Grant Yoxon
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The Lexus ES 330 is somewhat unique among entry level luxury sedans. Most manufacturers, including Lexus, draw upwardly mobile buyers to their marque with a smaller, performance-oriented sedan. BMW has it’s 3-Series, Infiniti – the G35, Acura – the TSX, Volvo – the S40, Mercedes-Benz – the C-Class, and Lexus – the IS 250/350 sport sedan. The target buyer is young, relatively well-off financially, but still moving up the ladder, with small children or maybe none at all. They want a car that makes a statement about their achievements, one that reflects their entrepreneurial spirit and delivers excitement and entertainment whenever they are behind the wheel.
What makes the ES 330 unique is that it doesn’t pretend to be sporty, although it is quite capable, and it doesn’t make that big a statement, except to the knowledgeable. The ES 330 is about treating oneself well, without showing off. It is a car for those who are not particularly interested in cars, a well-equipped, exceedingly comfortable, safe and reliable transportation device, not an entertainment machine.
This is not to say that drivers and passengers won’t be soothed by some cool jazz wafting through the surprisingly quiet cabin.
The premium AM/FM/CD/Cassette audio system with 5-channel amplifier, seven speakers and automatic sound levelizer provides clear, high-quality sound reproduction. For audiophiles, there is a superb 240-watt Mark Levinson system designed specifically for the ES 330.
Also soothing are the large, comfortable front seats that are adjustable, as standard equipment, in 10 different directions for the driver, eight for the passenger, covered in soft leather, heated in winter and ventilated in summer. Two memory presets are available; optionally, power adjustable pedals, mirrors and steering wheel position are also linked to the memory system.
The rear seats are deep and comfortable and provide plenty of leg room for two passengers, although there are three-point seatbelts for three. A rear centre arm rest holds two cupholders and reveals the locked pass-through to the trunk, so that longer items may be carried. Luggage space is sufficient, but not huge – .411 cubic metres (14.5 cu. ft.).
Standard creature comforts include dual zone climate control, tilt steering (but not telescopic), cruise control, power windows with auto up and down for all windows, power door locks with keyless remote access, Optitron electronic analog gauges, electrochromic rear view mirror and power heated side mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, wood grain trim, variable intermittent wipers and Homelink garage door opener. Projector style halogen headlamps, fog lights and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels are also standard at the opening price of $39,950.
There are four option packages. An appearance package consisting of 6-disc, in-dash CD changer, the enhanced memory system with power adjustable pedals, power moonroof and 17-inch wheels and tires is priced at $44,300. A luxury package – as our tester was equipped – adds rear window sunshade, traction control, vehicle stability control, high intensity discharge headlights and rain-sensing wipers for $47,200 . A premium package further adds the Mark Levinson audio system, wood steering wheel, and adaptive variable front and rear suspension for $49,850. Finally, the full-load, with navigation system is priced at $52,700.
If there is one knock against the ES 330, it is doing without traction control or stability control until you have spent an additional $7,250 on optional equipment you could probably do without. I can understand opening my wallet for extras like rear window sunshades, power moonroof, ventilated seats and rain-sensing wipers, but safety should be standard equipment at this price level.
To its credit, the ES 330 is equipped with a full load of passive safety equipment – whip-lash lessening front seat design, three-point seat belts in all seating positions, front seat-mounted side air bags and side curtain air bags. The driver’s front air bag has a seat position detector that engages an extra low level of deployment when a driver is seated close to the steering wheel. The 2006 ES 330 has a five star (the highest) rating for side impacts for the driver and four stars for rear passengers from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA last tested the ES 330 for frontal impacts in 2004 and gave the car five stars for both driver and front passenger.
All Lexus ES 330 models are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and electronic brake force distribution for stable stopping.
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The ES 330 receives power to the front wheels from a 3.3-litre V6 engine that produces 218 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, down slightly from 2005 due to new testing procedures put in place by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Performance however is the same. This is the same engine used in the Lexus RX 330, the Toyota Sienna and the Toyota Camry SE V6 and incorporates variable valve timing and an electronic throttle to improve responsiveness, power, torque and fuel efficiency as well as reduced emissions.
The engine is coupled to a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission that bases shift decisions on engine speed and load.
Fuel consumption is low for a V6 – Natural Resources Canada estimates the Lexus ES 330 uses 11.5 L/100 km (24.6 mpg) in the city and 7.3 L/100 km (38.7 mpg) on the highway.
This engine doesn’t provide the kind of hair-raising power the new 3.5-litre engine delivers in the ES 330’s sportier, but smaller sister, the IS 350, but the 3.3-litre does provide the kind of power that most drivers will appreciate when overtaking slower traffic and merging onto freeways. And it is delivered smoothly, quietly and without strain.
And just as smooth is the ES 330’s ride, which emphasizes comfort without giving up anything you would notice on the street in the handling department. The ES 330 seems to soak up even the worst potholes and frost heaves without interfering with your peace and quiet. An available adaptive variable suspension, which continuously tunes shock absorber damping rates in response to changing road surfaces, vehicle speed, steering and brake inputs also allows the driver to firm up the ride if desired.
Based on the front-wheel-drive Toyota Camry since 1992, the Lexus ES last received a ES 330. In 2005, Lexus revised the exterior styling of the ES 330 – new front grille, bumper, integrated fog lamps, projector beam headlamps and rear combination tail lights – and upgraded the interior with steering wheel audio controls, a two-position memory system for the front passenger, and ventilation/cooling functionality for the heated front seats. At the same time, it dropped the price on the base model (called Special Edition), from $43,800 to $39,900., the same year Toyota introduced the current generation of . At that time, the ES was known as the ES 300, derived from it’s 3-litre V6 engine. In 2004, the ES received a new 3.3-litre engine and became known as the
For 2006, the ES 330 continues largely unchanged and just a $50 increase in the base price. This could well be the last year of production for the current ES 330. Lexus will roll out an all new LS 430 early next year, leaving the ES as the only model in the line-up to yet undergo revision. It is also rumoured that a new Camry will debut next year as well, for the 2007 model year. That would seem to make a new ES almost a certainty.
However, Toyota has been making great efforts to differentiate the Lexus and Toyota brands. The cars are not built in the same facilities. Separate Lexus dealerships are being opened wherever they can be supported. There are currently 12 stand-alone Lexus stores in Canada. And Lexus and Toyota research and development are organizationally separate. Considering that all other Lexus products are rear-wheel-drive, it is a distinct possibility that the next Lexus ES, if there is to be a next ES, will be based on a rear-wheel-drive platform.
There is also the possibility that the ES may go up-market. Currently there is considerable overlap in pricing between the IS 250/350 ($36,300 – 59,700) and the ES ($39,950 – $52,700). As well, the rear-wheel-drive GS 300 starts at $64,300, leaving a gap between the two entry luxury models and the next step up. Should Lexus decide to fill that gap with a more luxurious ES, it would not be a surprise.
Technical Data: 2006 Lexus ES 330
|Options||$7,250 (Luxury Package: in-dash 6-disc CD changer, adjustable pedals with memory, rear window sunshade, traction control (TRAC), vehicle stability control (VSC), power moonroof, high intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, P215/55R17 tires, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers)|
|Price as tested||$48,975 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|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||218 @ 5,600 rpm|
|Torque||236 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 rpm|
|Tires||P215/55R17 all season radials|
|Curb weight||1,575 kg (3,472 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,720 mm (107.1 in.)|
|Length||4,855 mm (191.1 in.)|
|Width||1,810 mm (71.3 in.)|
|Height||1,440 mm (56.7 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||411 litres (14.5 cu. ft)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.5 L/100 km (24.6 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 7.3 L/100 km (38.7 mpg Imperial)|
|Warranty||4 years/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||6 years/110,000 km|