First Drive: 2010 Lexus ES350

Don Sherman

Yes We Have Gadgets

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.

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