Lexus ES 350 — Epitome of family luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Lexus ES sedan has been the luxury go-to car for nearly three decades. It's a prime example of Lexus solitude. It exudes performance and comfort in luxury surroundings. It features an attractive modern design, a spacious cabin, a long list of standard and available equipment, and a positive history of quality.

Lexus introduced the first entry-level ES in 1989. The first five generations shared the Toyota Camry platform, but for the sixth generation that kicked off in 2013 the ES is built on the larger Toyota Avalon platform. And for all six generations it continues to be a best seller against its perceived competition. The ES 350 in 2016 outsold direct competitors Buick LaCrosse, Acura TLX and Lincoln MKX and outsold both the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-series by about 50 percent.

The ES was given a mid-cycle refresh in 2016 with updated exterior and interior styling. If you like the Lexus spindle grille design, you will love the 2017 ES. A bigger and bolder grille now dominates the front end, while redesigned headlights, which offer LED low beams, add an aggressive touch. The rear of the car has been endowed with new taillights and a revised fascia. Inside, trim pieces have been updated and a new shifter added.

For 2017, Lexus improved the multimedia system with updated graphics, new menu shortcuts for audio, navigation and phone, and a "back" button has been included with the Remote Touch controller. And rain-sensing wipers and the Lexus Safety System+ become standard equipment. The safety package includes radar cruise control, collision warning and mitigation, and lane departure warning with steering assist.

What's not new is the 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The same engine has powered the ES 350 throughout its sixth generation, and now trails many competitors in horsepower and torque. But — that being said — we were pleasantly surprised by its performance, demonstrating the ability to surge off the line if necessary (measured from 0-to-60 by one publication in 5.8 seconds). Its can-do attitude when it came time to pass slow moving traffic on a two-lane or merge into rapidly moving traffic is confidence inspiring. At the same time, fuel economy is very good measured at 21 mpg city, 30-highway and 24-overall, all on regular gas.

While the ES 350 exhibited rewarding luxury-like performance, it makes no pretense of being a sports sedan. On the other hand its soft suspension swallows up road imperfections like a sponge soaking up water all the while in the comfort of a quiet cabin where luxury materials abound. Cushy seats add to the floating ride and we think will hold up well on long trips. It sports a 1.8-inch longer wheelbase, and overall length has grown by one inch from previous generation. Even this seemingly insignificant increase results in a more spacious interior including 4.1 additional inches of rear-seat legroom.

The second-generation Remote Touch Interface allows users to operate a variety of functions including the navigation system. But for us there is still too much distraction when attempting to perform a simple task such as changing a radio pre-set. This has to be accomplished using a mouse-like joystick (similar to using a computer mouse) and in our estimation it is one the of most driver districting controls in any car. On the plus side, old-fashioned knobs are available for volume and manual tuning, and the climate controls can be accessed without going through the navigation screen.

The Lexus also comes in a hybrid version, the 300h, powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an electric motor that together make 200 horsepower. The advantage — and it's a big one — the ES 300h has over the standard ES is gas mileage measured at a fuel-sipping 40-city, 39-highway and 40-overall. But the sedan is about two seconds slower from 0-to-60 than the ES 350 and trunk space is compromised by the battery pack. The hybrid also starts at about $3,000 more than the gas engine model.

The ES 350 comes in one well-equipped trim level at $39,875 (or less depending on market) including destination charge with numerous options and packages available. Our test car came with the Luxury Package for $1,670 that includes driver-seat memory settings, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, wood trim, heated and ventilated front seats, and leather upholstery. The navigation package at $2,590 brought — in addition to navigation — the Mark Levinson premium audio system.

Other assorted stand-alone items including blind spot monitoring, panoramic glass roof, and heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel, brought the bottom line to $48,090.

Base price: $39,875; as driven, $48,090
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 248 foot-pounds @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 193.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,671 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 21 city, 30 highway, 24 combined
0-60: 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Buick LaCrosse, Genesis G80, Lincoln MKZ

The Good
• Quiet, luxury-infused interior
• Spacious rear-seat room
• Solid V6 engine
• Many safety systems standard equipment

The Bad
• This is no sports sedan

The Ugly
• Mouse-like controller distracting