January 31, 2013
Review by Justin Pritchard
Vehicle Type: Luxury Sedan
History/Description: The Lexus ES was a front-drive luxury sedan offered by the Japanese premium brand from 2007 to 2012 in its last generation. A new-for-2013 model is on dealer lots now, meaning the prior generation of this relaxing cruiser has now transitioned fully into used car territory.
Packing room for 5 adults, a large trunk and a ‘comfort-first’ ride and handling equation, the ES was targeted towards shoppers after a relaxing and laid-back experience. This was not a sports car, particularly agile or intended to be ‘fun to drive’. Rather, the ES was aimed squarely after the shopper looking for a purely luxury motoring experience.
Lexus ES, 2007–2012. Click image to enlarge
Engines / Trim: The only powertrain was a 3.5L V6 engine making around 270 horsepower on all models. All ES models were front-wheel drive and fitted with an automatic transmission. If you need more power or AWD, consider something like a BMW 3 Series with xDrive, or an Acura TL SH-AWD instead.
Various options packages combined popular features, too. The Navigation Package, for instance, packed a voice-activated hard-drive navigation system, backup camera and ventilated front seats. The Premium Package with Navigation added memory seating, wood accents, a power rear window sunshade, backup sensors, xenon lights and more. Consider this package if you frequently travel away from home. Top-line models got the Ultra Premium Package, which included premium leather, a panoramic sunroof, Mark Levinson audio system and upgraded wheels.
What Owners Like: Styling, a calm and quiet ride, a richly trimmed interior, and a fantastic stereo were all commonly noted by ES owners taking to the web with their ownership experiences. Engine performance and stable handling were also highly rated. Ultimately, it’s a sense of laid-back relaxation, and the fact that the ES required little of its driver, that made it a popular choice.
What Owners Dislike: Some owners wish for a more exciting driving experience, sportier handling, stickier factory tires and easier-to-use infotainment and navigation controls. Further, some owners are offended at the ‘locking out’ of numerous functions in said infotainment system while the vehicle is moving. Finally, rear seats don’t fold flat, though there is a pass-through for skis. Ultimately, it looks like this isn’t a machine that’ll impress driving enthusiasts, though luxury car fans should be satisfied.
Common Issues: The Lexus ES you’re considering is loaded with complicated, sophisticated and expensive-to-repair features and systems. Start your test drive with a full check of these premium features, ensuring the automatic climate control system, memory seats, navigation and stereo function properly. With regards to the stereo, be sure to listen for any crackling or static that could indicate a blown speaker. Ensure the CD changer, if equipped, will accept and eject CDs as expected, rather than holding your Kenny Loggins disc hostage.
Have the tires checked, noting that some owners have reported problems with premature wear of factory rubber. Note that uneven wear across the tire treads could be a sign of an alignment issue. Have the ES you’re considering checked for proper alignment if you note this issue. Note that tire wear and alignment issues are somewhat a function of locale and driving habits, though a check is still advised.
Shoppers are also advised to confirm operation of the headlights, specifically on models with the xenon units. Xenon lights can be expensive to replace when they burn out, so be sure that’s not the case on the vehicle you’re considering.
Feel for any unwelcomed vibrations or ‘shuddering’ while driving your used ES candidate at a variety of speeds, which could be the result of a damaged or unbalanced tire or wheel. If you notice any of these sensations, be sure to have a mechanic confirm that it’s the wheel or tire, not something more serious.
More information here: http://us.lexusownersclub.com/forums/topic/68558-lexus-es-350-vibration/
Pay extra attention to transmission shift quality, ensuring the unit executes quick, clean, solid gear shifts that are free of slipping or surging. A loud ‘bang’ into gear, or hard shifts are other signs of trouble that may be caused by a bad transmission control computer. Typically, reprogramming of this computer solves any drivability gripes, but be sure that’s the case in the unit you’re considering if you note any issues. A Google search for “Lexus ES350 Transmission Problems” will provide more information.
Lexus ES, 2007–2012. Click image to enlarge
The V6 engine standard in this generation of ES (and available on the Camry) suffered from a well-documented problem with oil lines that could leak or rupture. The oil lines in question provide oil pressure to the camshaft actuators that engage the variable valve timing (VVT) system within the engine. Your local dealership will be familiar with this problem, and should check out the ES you’re considering ahead of purchase. If an oil line leaks or fails, it could, in extreme cases, destroy the engine and cause a fire. Ask the vehicle’s seller if they’ve ever had the common oil-line issue and associated replacement.
A check for acceptable level and condition of all fluids is also advised. Pay special attention to the oil level, too. Ultimately, if you’re not familiar with the service history of the ES in question, budgeting for a full tune-up, mechanical inspection and fluid change is advisable.
Closely inspect the paint and finish of your used ES candidate, as many owners have reported less-than-expected durability that could result in easy scratching or chipping. An inspection of the leather seating surfaces, particularly on the driver’s seat, can also indicate how well the car was taken care of. If the seats look worn, discoloured or show signs of rips or tears, be sure to call it into pricing negotiations.
Finally, inspect the front footwells and spare-tire well in the trunk for signs of moisture, which could be caused by a plugged or kinked sunroof drain plug. Wherever moisture finds its way into the cabin, it can cause rust and mold, as well as threatening the proper operation of electronic components.
The Verdict: The most common issues with the last-generation ES are fairly easy to identify, diagnose and fix. If the model you’re considering checks out, you’ll likely enjoy a comfortable, reliable luxury motoring experience for years to come. Opt for a model familiar to a selling Lexus dealer to maximize confidence.