Another way Lexus secures its luxury reputation is with Mark Levinson sound systems. In the ES 350, this means 14 speakers and a 300-watt amp with surround-sound processing. In general, we've found Mark Levinson systems to be one of the best you can get in a nonexotic car, in close competition with Lincoln's THX systems.
That said, the system in the ES 350 fell a little short of what we heard in the. It is still excellent, but it didn't have quite the depth of that other system. The GX 460 gets more speakers and a more powerful amp, but it also has a much bigger cabin.
The audio system in the ES 350 produces a lot of detail, finding those elements in songs that get buried by lesser systems. It is also well-balanced, with highs that never sound shrill and bass that you can feel in your chest. We preferred listening in surround mode, as it gave the audio a more immersive character and produced better separation.
Our complaints about the ES 350 begin with the iPod integration. With a USB port in the console, we were able to plug an iPhone into the system, and the onscreen interface showed categories for artists, albums, genres, and songs. But when we tried to browse the music library, scrolling down through a list of albums, for example, the stereo immediately started to play whichever album appeared at the top of the list. It is an annoying little problem and something that should be an easy fix for Lexus.
Other audio sources include a six-CD/DVD changer and satellite radio. Although the navigation system is hard-drive-based, Lexus does not let you rip music to the drive.
The satellite radio is also the conduit for traffic information, which has become fairly common these days, but it also brings in weather, stock prices, and sports scores, a new feature for Lexus. The stock and sports functions require presetting specific ticker symbols or teams, after which the car will read the latest information if you touch the screen.
How the navigation system makes use of the traffic information is another complaint we have about the car. When first entering a destination, the system looks at the traffic data and routes around any serious problems, but it won't recalculate the route once under way for new traffic problems that emerge. We found this troublesome, especially when the car led us into several stop-and-go traffic situations. The navigation system does give a voice warning about traffic problems that crop up on the route, but there is no detour button.
As for the navigation system's general effectiveness, it works well. The maps are strictly 2D, but they look good. Along with the usual destination options, Lexus now includes its Enform telematics option. At the push of an onscreen button, the car will call up an Enform operator who can look up business addresses or Zagat-rated restaurants, and send the address to the car. You can also find a set of destinations on a PC, save them on the Lexus owners' Web site, and then download them to the car.
Our third major peeve about the ES 350 involves the navigation system's route guidance. When giving voice prompts for upcoming turns, it does not mute or pause the stereo. We spent quite a bit of time testing the stereo at volume, and were not able to hear the turn guidance or traffic alerts.
Interestingly, although Lexus has gone to its new indirect interface controller in the RX and HS models, it still uses a touch-screen in the ES 350.
The Bluetooth phone system is a high point in the ES 350's cabin tech. It not only presents a searchable contact list, downloaded from a paired phone, on the screen, but also lets you dial contacts by saying their names.
Many of the problems we found with the 2010 Lexus ES 350 dealt with the cabin tech interface design, faults which mitigated the exterior design we so liked in our final assessment of the car. The Mark Levinson audio system and Bluetooth phone system were both high points of the cabin tech. We like the navigation system, with its new Enform features, but would prefer richer maps and the ability to detour around bad traffic. The drivetrain tech is pretty average, breaking no new ground, but we do give it credit for producing good fuel economy and that comfortable Lexus ride.
|Model||2010 Lexus ES 350|
|Powertrain||3.5-liter V-6, Six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based navigation with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible six-CD/DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Mark Levinson 300 watt 14 speaker surround sound system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, back-up camera|
|Price as tested||$44,848|