Understated and underrated luxury
The Lexus ES has always been one of those polarizing cars to review. There are many who consider the ES 350 as merely an upgraded Camry. In many ways, it's true; the ES has traditionally been based on the Camry platform in so many ways.
Regardless of perception, I beg to differ. The Lexus ES 350 is so much more than that.
To get it out of the way, the Lexus ES is closely related to the American Camry, the Avalon, and the “prestige” Camry/Aurion; the last being the Camry we get in SE Asia and Australia. But to classify the ES as a high-end Camry means it is easily underestimated.
The styling, for starters, is very Lexus. The current generation of the ES has been around since 2012, featuring the now signature spindle grill. The model we see here is the updated one, and fetures many of the updates that Lexus has done in order to freshen up the model line such as the more profound spindle grill, the rather ornate headlamps, and a few other bits and pieces here and there. There's a striking presence given off by the front, and it's complemented very well by classic but modern lines and proportions.
The cabin of the ES 350 is as serene as they come. This one has a predominantly black cabin, and that's OK; it's classy and elegant. Being a Lexus, everything fits and feels perfect, much like a finely tailored suit. Lexus made some changes to things like the steering wheel (it's an entirely new one), updates to the features, and a few other pieces here and there. As the driver, I particularly liked the Lexus touch interface system just aft of the shifter; it's intuitive and natural to use.
The back seat is really where it's at, given that ES stands for Executive Sedan. Being a long wheelbase car at 2820mm (the Camry's is 2775, mind you) means that the engineers could move the rear seats further back to generate more legroom. Crossing your legs is quite easy, and the front passenger seat can be moved forward for even more space. There are pull-up sunshades on the rear windows along with a motorized shade for the rear windshield; the latter can be controlled by the driver or by the button on the rear armrest along with controls for the A/C, audio system, among others.
Driving the ES 350 is a sedate experience. The steering itself is soft and has little in the way of feel, but that doesn't really matter. The suspension and noise suppression are the best qualities about the ES 350; they work exceptionally well to absorb the road and muffle external noise. And despite the length of the car, it's easily maneuverable around tight urban roads.
The 3.5-liter V6 has power and plenty of torque, but what matters more is the smooth and exceptionally linear delivery of them via the automatic gearbox. Acceleration isn't particularly immediate, but that can be addressed by activating sport mode on the drive selector. But then again, this is a Lexus meant specifically for comfort, so why bother?
You may think that I'm taking it easy on the Lexus by not bothering with things like driving feel, handling, and fuel economy (not stellar, but decent), but that's like trying to critique McDonald's food for being too unhealthy.
This is a car clearly intended to be driven for, not be driven by, its successful clientele. To make the ES drive and ride like it does, Lexus sacrificed everything upon the altar of comfort, and that's why we have to recalibrate how we think of it, and that's why it can also be difficult to review.
Once you do get behind the idea that this is a car meant to be viewed from the back seat, then you'll realize why the ES is the most popular way to enter into Lexus ownership here in the Philippines.
Engine: V-6, 3456cc, dohc, 24V, Dual VVT-i 6-speed AT
Max Power: 277 bhp @ 6200 rpm
Max torque: 255 lb ft @ 4700 rpm
0-100 km/h: 7.5 sec.
Top Speed: 230 km/h
Fuel Mileage: 5.9 km/l City / 10.4 km/l Highway
+: Comfort really is the king
-: More rear amenities like an ottoman
Price as tested: PhP 3,708,000
C! Rating: 8.5/10