By Joe Wiesenfelder on September 28, 2006
While Mike Hanley was slaving away at his Lexus ES 350 review, I got to spend a good week in the car myself. We agree about the quality and the various improvements that have come with the 2007 update, but our opinions differ in some areas.
I made a Chicago-Detroit round trip and emerged little worse for wear, unlike Mike, who had problems with the car's seat cushion. (My own "seat" has more cushion than it did when I was Mike's age, which might explain the difference in experiences.) Like Mike, I logged average gas mileage just under 30 mpg on Interstate 94. Considering that most of the Grand Slab between Cars.com HQ and Detroit has a speed limit of 70 mph, actual speeds around 80 mph and enough construction slowdowns to turn a pacifist to murder, 30 mpg is truly excellent performance. It may equal the EPA's exact highway figure, but those estimates are based on 55 mph speeds and are frequently ... delusional.
Most of my problems with the ES 350 might seem minor, but it depends on where you're coming from. Mike is right to criticize the lack of backseat reading lights, a serious oversight in a luxury car. I'll take the lighting gripe further: The overhead cabin lights are now all LEDs rather than conventional bulbs. They issue a cold white light that is not bright enough — seriously, not even close to being bright enough. I had the same problem with the Lexus GS sedan, and I'm appalled to see it here, too. It's a phenomenon that's too common in the automotive business: People get so excited about the benefits of an "innovation" — like the longevity and low power requirements of LEDs — that they don't notice it fails to do the basic job intended.
I also was disappointed with the optional adaptive cruise control, whose grille-mounted radar allows the car to slow down automatically if the car in front of you does so. Though it lets you choose among three following distances, the shortest isn't short enough. It may be more conservative and safer, but the gap it leaves between you and the car ahead is an invitation for another car to pull in. Each time someone does, the system nails the brakes, and after this happens a dozen or so times (which it did in a startlingly short period), you give up and turn the expensive feature off.
If you're contemplating an ES 350 purchase, do yourself a favor and check out the cabin lighting at night before you buy. I find it unacceptable, and there's no elegant solution. Ignoring that, the new styling and equipment have me more enthusiastic about this model than I've ever been.
Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a Cars.com launch veteran, leads the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe