2005 Lexus ES330
2005 Lexus ES330; photo by Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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The Toyota Camry commands respect for a lot of reasons: it’s reliable, roomy and refined, to name a few. But the last thing anyone will ever mistake a Camry for is a luxury car, even in top-line, leather-trimmed XLE form.

For those buyers who like the Camry for all of its practical attributes but demand a little more cachet in the car they drive, Toyota’s luxury Lexus division has the answer, in the form of the ES, the Camry-based executive sedan that’s been on sale since 1989.

As nice as the original ES250 (named for its 2.5-litre V6) was, this car has come a long way. With a fourth-generation ES350 in showrooms, this week’s used car review will take a look back at the third generation version.

Based on the fifth-generation Camry that arrived in 2002, the third-gen ES300 was, as these things tend to go, bigger, more powerful and more luxurious that its predecessor. Cars sold in 2002 and 2003 were powered by a 3.0-litre V6 making 210 horsepower. In 2004, displacement was bumped to 3.3 litres, adding 15 horsepower and necessitating a name change to ES330 to keep the car in line with Lexus’ engine-displacement-based naming convention.

2005 Lexus ES330
2005 Lexus ES330; photo by Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

Changes to the methods used to calculated horsepower ratings resulted in a seven-horsepower drop for 2006 models (to 218). All third-generation ES’ used a five-speed automatic transmission.

That powertrain endowed the ES with strong straight-line performance, and allowed economical operation for a luxury car. Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings for the car are 11.5 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp.) (city) and 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp.) (highway).

Safety is a definite plus, too. The ES earned five stars for driver and front passenger protection in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) front impact testing.

2005 Lexus ES330
2005 Lexus ES330; photo by Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

Standard side airbags helped the car earned five stars for front-seat occupant protection in side impacts, and four stars for protecting rear sear occupants. The ES earned “good” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in both the organization’s frontal offset and side impact tests.

Like the Camry, the ES is known for excellent reliability. The one well-known issue is erratic shifting from the five-speed automatic transmission. Lexus has issued a fix, however. More information can be found here and here. Otherwise, there’s not much to talk about in terms of dependability, other than to say that these cars just are.

This thread at the Lexus Owner’s Club details some common issues with the ES, but the list covers all generations of the car, not just the 02-06 version. Go here for a list of how-tos related to various repairs and maintenance procedures, and an FAQ on these cars can be found here. And to access a factory service manual, click here.

2002 Lexus ES300
2002 Lexus ES300
2002 Lexus ES300; photos by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

You won’t be surprised that, like the Toyota model it’s based on, the ES holds onto its value very well, with used values ranging from $24,175 for a 2002 model (more than half of its MSRP) to $40,350 for a 2006 model. If you can live with the less-powerful 3-0-litre engine (it only gives up 15 horsepower to the 3.3), we’d recommend looking for a 2002 or 2003 model to take advantage of sub-$30,000 prices. Or, if you can live without a luxury nameplate, go for a well-equipped Camry XLE: a 2006 model is worth just under $31,500.

The ES isn’t an exciting car and won’t attract more than a passing glance from bystanders, but like the Camry, it’s a comfortable and dependable way to get around, and simply offers a splash of luxury to satisfy drivers who want just a dash of luxury in their daily commute.

Online resources

  • Club Lexus – These guys live and breathe all things Lexus. All years and versions of the ES are grouped together in one forum section. Much of the info deals with older models, but there’s lots to read about regarding the 2002-05 models too.
  • Toyota Nation – this is the place to go for all things Toyota, of which Lexus is one. All Lexus models are lumped together in one forum, so information specific to the ES may be difficult to find without a concerted search effort. Members can vote in a poll to “yay” or “nay” a LexusNation.com spinoff that the site’s owners are considering launching.

  • Lexus Owners Club – this is a North American offshoot of a UK-based Lexus website. Here you’ll find a forum dedicated to the ES in all of its forms, ranging from the original ES250 to the brand new ES350. There’s also a heap of other topics to discuss here, like aftermarket modifications, audio/video, for sale/wanted and many others. A basic membership is free, and there’s an optional gold membership available for a subscription fee. This is home for more than 20,000 wired Lexus owners.

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Manufacturer’s Website


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001284; Units affected: 152

2002: Certain passenger vehicles. The left front brake tube may be deformed prior to vehicle delivery due to improper installation of a coil spring spacer that was installed to prevent damage to the vehicle during transportation, if the brake tube is deformed significantly, it could contact the inner fender panel, and eventually cause damage to the tube due to vibration during driving. Brake tube damage could also lead to break fluid leakage after extended use of the vehicle. Correction: dealers will inspect the front brake line and, if necessary, replace the line.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001283; Units affected: 438

2002: Certain 2002 model Lexus ES300 vehicles, during air bag deployment, it is possible that the bottom seam of the front driver’s side air bag module cover (horn pad) could be torn away allowing the bottom portion of the cover to completely detach from the air bag module. If this should occur, there is a possibility that the detached bottom portion may strike the driver causing personal injury. Correction: dealers will replace the driver’s side air bag module.

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.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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