>> The Lexus ES. It's always been the humble sibling in a showy family. Based on the Toyota Camry, and usually showing that a little too much. But since the arrival of the sportier Lexus IS below it, the ES is free to be itself: just a nice car.
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Yes, the ES is Camry based. Always has been, but Lexus does a lot of massaging to the original Toyota platform. If you drive this, and think it's "Just a Camry," you should probably buy a Camry. Levels of refinement are everything here. Now our ES 350 is loaded up but even a basic ES 350 is still a Lexus, so it's not really a Camry level head unit. It would come with Lexus premium sound, eight speakers I think around the cabin. We've got the Levinson rig. Now things get interesting. The Levinson rig is 14 speakers, 300 watts, 7.1 surround decoding. As you can see, we've got the Dolby digital decode and the DTS. Yes, six discs go in here. You can put in the audio disc or video. There's a hard drive in this system as well. Unfortunately, the hard drive's only for the navigation rig. There's no place to put your own media. That said though, it does help power a high res, highly detailed nav system, traffic, weather is on there, all powered by XM which is also our satellite radio choice. Bluetooth, hands-free stock on the ES 350, enhanced Bluetooth is what you get when you bump it up with an optional head unit. That means you'll get phone book import off your smart phone. We also have Bluetooth streaming audio on this car, A2DP. Package also brings you rearview camera which is also part of that head unit. Nothing too advanced about it though. It's just a camera that looks out the back. It's a good camera, nice and clear and handles different light conditions well, but there are no indicators of distance or trajectory.
Stock on an ES 350 is going to be the Smart access wireless key, the advanced keyless technology which also leads to push button start. And notice the way Toyota does it, it's always a push button. So if you're worried about unintended acceleration, whether you think that's happening or not, make sure you know how to turn the car off, because that's your only way to do it.
Lane departure and blind spot technology and things of that ilk, not available on the ES, but you can add radar adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision braking system that's tied to it for $1,500. One engine, one gear box. Simple. A 3.5 liter V6 doing 272 horsepower and 254 pounds of torque. The transmission, 6-speed automatic, that's it. No fancy shifting panels or other nonsense, aside from a sport gate. 0 to 60 is a decent 6.8 and mileage is 19/27. And all of it happens nice and smoothly.
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Let me hand it to the ES 350 for this. Not for its 0 to 60 times, not for its canyon carving handling, but for unapologetically being what it's supposed to be: a comfortable, everyday car. Period. Power is completely willing, ample for getting around and having a good time doing it. Nothing on this car is labeled "sport" but I like a car that actually will just go out and be a good car, in this day and age, when every other car on the market seems to be "sport this" and "sport that." This car for example, has soft, comfortable seats, almost no one does soft, comfortable seats anymore. They're all like hard and gripping, and that's fine if you're a sports car. 99% of cars that are called "sport something" are not. This car has the good sense to realize that and just be itself.
Slick and smooth, like you'd expect a Lexus to be, I do have to say it does feel "starter Lexus." I don't know what it is, the dash is kind of a flat face, not a real attractive affair. I mean, the gauges look good but it's a little bit lacking in any kind of panache that would set it apart as a true Lexus. But, they had to hit a price mark and they did a pretty good job of that.
Okay, let's price an ES 350. Pretty simple. $36,000 is your base with destination. To that you can add one of two packages to make it CNET style. For $2,500 you can do the navigation and the enhanced Bluetooth with the phone book and contact import. That's good, but I would go a little further. Spend $4,000 on the package that adds on top of that, Levinson audio and the rearview camera. Now you've got a good mix of proven technologies and I think it's a pretty good value.
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