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By Jeremy Cato
Last fall, Lexus launched a reinvented ES300 executive sedan. That means the previous remake of the ES300 came just more than four years ago, in 1997.
Just as the latest ES has been improved over the previous model, so too was the ’97 ES300 when compared to the 1992-96 version. The ’97 car arrived with more room, a stiffer body and new styling.
The ’97 car also came with more standard toys than the ’96: leather upholstery, power seats with memory and traction control. Of course, the ES300 also had the requisite power windows, door locks and the like, too. You’d expect that from what was, and remains in essence a sleeker and more luxurious version of the then-new-for-’97 Toyota Camry.
Make no mistake, though, the ’97 ES300 is a superior car to the ES it replaced. First, the basic unibody structure (imagine a car as a eggshell and you’ll get the idea about unibody) was made 30 per cent more rigid for a more quiet and easily controlled ride. Crash resistance, meanwhile, was upgraded to meet safety standards stretching to the end of the decade.
The changes to the unibody also included stretching the car 50 mm (2.0 in.) between the axles. Thanks to the longer wheelbase, there was added backseat room which made a world of difference for passengers riding in what was a pretty confining space for grown-ups in ’96 cars.
Second, on styling, the Lexus gang re-worked the sheetmetal into a more pronounced wedge shape, putting particular emphasis on details that would improve aerodynamics. Sure enough, the drag coefficient, a measure of aerodynamic efficiency, went down to 0.29 from 0.32. Translation: less wind noise and improved fuel efficiency.
And the greenhouse was given more glass for better outward visibility -again, not a strong suit with the previous version. The glass itself received a special coating that traps 90 per cent of all ultraviolet rays. To keep passengers cooler on sunny July days.
The headlamps, an important but often overlooked feature also received some attention. They were changed from projector beams to a multi-reflector design that brought 18 per cent better illumination to your night-time travels.
Inside, there were all sorts of small changes and improvements, including more real-wood accent trim. Repositioning the climate control switchgear made for easier operation and coffee drinkers were happy to know there was, finally, uncluttered access to the cupholders. The analog gauges of the 1997-2001 car were and remain beautifully clear. Interestingly, the trunk in ’97 was made slightly smaller than before. Loading, though, has proven easier thanks to a bumper-level cut-out.
It’s worth noting that for ’97 Lexus made only subtle changes to the powertrain, upping horsepower by 12 to 200. Another 10 hp. came in 1999, along with revised ratios and shift logic for the automatic transmission.
Underneath, the suspension design was unchanged, although things were tweaked for small improvements in ride quality and steering response. If you find a used car with the optional AVS, it varies shock damping with electronic controls, allowing drivers to customize ride quality.
For year 2000, Lexus revised the front and rear styling and added more wood to the dashboard trim. The available driver’s seat memory now incorporated mirror settings, too. The Lexus Brake Assist feature appeared, too.
The single most attractive feature of this or any other Lexus is the astoundingly quiet ride. Power is quite adequate, delivering 0-100 km/h times of about 7.8 seconds. Steering is firm and quick, although a bit numb. Ride quality very good and handling above average. Braking is powerful and sure. Drivers will also appreciate the clear gauges and user-friendly switchgear.
Quality, of course, is a major selling point for any Lexus, and this version of the ES300 is no exception. A slightly used ES300 should deliver years of faithful service in a near-luxury sedan. And at a relatively affordable price.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.