The Lexus ES 330, a much-refined cousin of the Toyota Camry, represents the most luxurious (and least sporty) take on the entry-luxury segment. With its sumptuous leather, whisper-quiet cabin, smooth ride, and bulletproof reliability, it's a choice pick for anyone looking for a cushy ride and upscale cabin ambiance for less than $35,000.
For 2005, Lexus' designers revised several of the ES's exterior elements, including the front and rear lamps, grille, and foglamps, and added several new exterior and interior finish selections. In addition to the new cosmetic treatments, 2005 sees the arrival of an enhanced steering wheel, standard satellite-radio compatibility, positional memory for both front seats, and side-view mirrors that, when the transmission is put in reverse, tilt downward for greater curb view during parking maneuvers. The optional heated front seats are now ventilated, as well. Safety improvements include rear seatbelt pre-tensioners and force-limiters, plus voice activation for the optional navigation system. Six-spoke 17-inch wheels, available in two finishes, are another new option for 2005.
The ES 330's smooth exterior design inhabits the safe middle ground between radical and staid, and it more than fulfills its charge of keeping its passengers extremely well insulated from the outside world. Though it shares a platform with the Camry, as with the previous generation, the ES 330 has its own bodywork, sharing familial design language with both its Camry cousin and the Lexus line. Optional 17-inch wheels add a bit of flash to the otherwise bland presence. The lower body panels and front fenders feature anti-chip paint, but it isn't as mirror-smooth as the similar finish available from Mercedes. If you've ever had trouble operating the stiff door handles on a German car, however, you'll be happy to know that the ES features low-effort pulls.
Liberal use of wood and leather impart a truly cosseting, Sybaritic ambiance to the ES 330's interior. But while many competitors end the luxury interior treatment there, Lexus sweats the details: Plastics are of the highest quality, the fits between the panels are tight, and knobs and switches feel precise and substantial.
The controls for the driver's-side, 10-way-adjustable leather seat (the passenger gets an eight-way seat) are logically placed on an easy-to-reach center console. Drivers under six-feet tall will be nicely accommodated, but as is the case with most sedans in this class, the standard moonroof leaves taller drivers a bit short on headroom. The easily accessed interior comfortably seats four adults with ample legroom front and rear, although adding a third passenger to the rear seat cramps things considerably, typical for a midsize car. The ES 330's trunk is commodious at 14.5 cubic feet of space.
The instrument cluster is easy to view, although its busy design is a bit out of sync with the rest of the clean-lined interior. In stark contrast with the confusing arrays of buttons strewn on the dashboards of many competitors (and that doesn't even include BMW's maddening iDrive), the ES features knobs and large rocker switches for its audio and climate controls that are blissfully simple to operate. Want it warmer? Click a toggle. Radio too loud? Twist a knob counter-clockwise. Luxury is to be free from inconvenience and stress, a principle the ES openly embraces.