The ES 330 offers as standard most of the safety features one would expect in an entry-level luxury car, including eight airbags, traction control, anti-lock disc brakes, and front and rear crumple zones. Electronic vehicle stability control and brake assist (helps ensure the ABS engages during panic stops) are the only safety options, and they're highly desirable.
Unlike many class rivals, the ES 330 offers only one engine; fortunately it's up to the task. The 3.3-liter/225-horse DOHC V-6 is coupled solely to a five-speed automatic, and it provides reasonable power while sipping relatively little fuel. Its 21/29 city/highway mpg EPA rating is among the best in class. Cadillac offers two V-6s in the CTS sedan, and while one boasts 30 more horsepower than the ES 330, neither Cadillac engine is as fuel efficient. The power output does trail several lower-priced midsize sedans, such as the Honda Accord, and within Toyota, it bows to the much more robust Avalon.
Lexus looked at the balance of ride and handling offered by German competitors and decided to tilt the needle far toward the comfort end of the spectrum. Lexus is uniquely situated to offer such a narrowly focused luxury car because it also offers the sporty IS line in the same price range. While the ES is agile enough to be safe and predictable, it doesn't inspire enthusiasm when pushed. The steering is overly isolated and handling leaves the driver too removed from the road. The standard suspension is smooth and pillowy, so the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension, with four settings from Comfort to Sport, is an unnecessary indulgence for most. This effective technology can provide control over the dynamic personality, but it can't transform the ES sport sedan. Braking is satisfactory, though a bit of nose-dive is apparent during hard stops. Road visibility is comparable to that of other cars in its class.
The five-speed transmission handles the ES 330's overriding mission of maintaining the serenity of its occupants with silken shifts during normal usage, although a firm stab at the loud pedal can elicit a sharp kickdown; it's almost as though Lexus engineered this intentionally to remind you that the ES prefers to be driven gently and slowly. The engine, silent other than near full throttle, provides solid but hardly awe-inspiring power.