DRIVEN: First Drive: 2010 Lexus ES350

December 1, 2009
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Building five generations of ES luxury sedans has taught Lexus how to do that job to perfection. Nonetheless, 2010 brings more gilding for a magnificently poised if not especially entertaining to drive lily. There are modest design changes inside and out plus a new telematics system shared with other Lexus models.
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Slightly Edited Exterior
A close order inspection reveals a slightly sharper character at the front of the ES achieved with by means of bright sides for the trapezoidal grille assembly and subtle reshaping of the bumper fascia. The fog lamps and lower air opening are both more prominent and turn signals have been added to the mirrors. Handy rub strips attached to the bottom of the doors are accented by bright trim. The hidden wipers now go to work when the first droplets of rain are sensed and there are two new 17-inch wheel designs. Taillamps have been revised to show more curvature.
Still Sweet Interior
The major change inside is a couple new coat hooks for the rear compartment. The feel of the steering wheel switches has changed for the better and metal accents have been added. Also, there's a new strip of metal and wood running across the top of the glove box door.
One tragic loss is the audio system's cassette deck. To make amends, the ES 350's wood trim is darker and buttons have a more contemporary design. Metal accents have been added around the vents, door trim, shift knob collar, and primary gauges. The distinctive tombstone-shaped center stack continues. The leather upholstery-now standard--is stitched together with thread in a contrasting color. ES 350s blessed with the Ultra Luxury Package get two contrasting colors. The console bin is half-a-liter larger inside and is accessed by means of a more convenient release. Two new wood trim choices have been added and last year's cashmere leather has been replaced by parchment-colored hides.
New standard features include a power driver's seat with memory settings and rear seat airbags that raise the count of inflatable restraints to ten. An ECO monitor and extra cruise control indicators have been added to the instrument cluster.
One carryover ES feature that warrants special recognition is a backseat configured to carry three adults in reasonable comfort.
Yes We Have Gadgets
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One year of the new Lexus Enform with Safety Connect telematics system is standard; after a free 12-month trial, there is a modest cost associated with this service. The major functional categories are automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assistance, and roadside assistance. When the optional navigation system is purchased, the Enform service includes live and online routing assistance. Special audio casts and Lexus promotional messages are available through a free Lexus Insider broadcast service.
XM radio is also part of the Enform service. After the free 90-day taste test expires, a subscription fee also applies to this communications channel.
Other electronic upgrades for 2010 are revised navigation software, full Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, and a standard USB port.
This car boasts a lavish array of stand-alone and packaged optional equipment. A park-assist system uses ultrasonic sensors to warn of pending contact with fixed objects, both while backing and while moving forward. HID headlamps that steer around corners are available plus heated and ventilated front bucket seats. A touch screen navigation with a back-up camera and voice command capability can play DVD movies with the car stopped. A Mark Levinson premium audio system with 14 speakers and 300 watts of amplification turns the ES interior into a private concert hall.
A highly desirable Ultra-Luxury package contains perforated leather seats, a power rear sunshade, wood and leather trim for the steering wheel and shifter, special 17-inch wheels, and a panoramic glass roof.
Superbly Poised Powertrain
All Lexus ES 350s are propelled by a well mannered 3.5-liter V-6 engine that drives the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine revs to 6400 and delivers a potent 272 horsepower, enough to hit sixty mph in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 137 mph. EPA ratings of 19 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway are commendable.
Both intake and exhaust cams have variable valve timing and the electronically controlled transmission offers a manual shift mode. Shared with the popular Toyota Camry, this high volume powertrain is hardy in service and dead reliable. There are no notable changes this year.
Competent Chassis
Except for new wheel designs, the chassis is also unchanged for 2010. A sound body provides a good foundation for the all-independent suspension systems. Four-season 215/55VR-17 radials are standard and a full-size spare wheel and tire is available at extra cost. The electronic stability system includes traction control, ABS, brake assist, and brake-force distribution. At long last, a shut-off switch is provided for those who enjoy the occasional frisky fling; disabling the traction control is also handy for powering out of snow banks with both front wheels churning.
Unpretentious Dynamic Behavior
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The ES 350 excels in providing a smooth, unperturbed ride. Throttle response is crisp and forceful, begging the question 'who needs a V-8?' in some minds. The torque-managed transmission shifts are barely noticed in normal driving. There is ample grip to attack back roads with vigor and safe, predictable understeer waiting to greet the driver when the adhesion is spent. This is an excellent automobile for ordinary drivers and quite acceptable for enthusiasts who commute long distances and don't expect every trip to be a thrill ride.
The Lexus ES 350 is content in its cruising lane status and never anxious to mix it up with more sporting alternatives such as the Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-series, or Infiniti G37. It's quiet, comfortable, dependable, and easy to dispose of if and when the mood strikes for a newer or more assertive ride. Driving enthusiasts may consider this car beneath their dignity but they seldom hesitate to recommend it to any friend or family member seeking a smart blend of value, prestige, and creature comforts.

2010 LEXUS ES 350
Base Price: $35,675
As-Tested (estimated): $40,000
Powertrain
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 272 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 254 lb-ft@ 4700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel
Measurements
L x W x H: 191.1 x 71.7 x 57.1 in
Legroom F/R: 42.2/35.9 in
Headrom F/R: 37.4-37.8/36.8-37.0
Cargo capacity: 14.7 cu ft
Curb weight: 3580 lbs
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/27 mpg

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