I don’t know about you, but I have enough excitement in my life — familymatters, girlfriend matters and, of course, the awful four-letter word,w-o-r-k.
So it’s always a welcome relief at the end of the day, after having racedwith the rats, to strap into a soothing sophisticated piece of machinery likethe Lexus ES 300.
This is not a car for Dale Earnhardt wannabes. This is a car for swift,comfortable transport. Even if it’s not the most daring sheet-metal sculptingjob under the sun, this car sets the standard at the bottom end of the luxurycar field. This is the car the other automakers aim for.
And this year, Toyota has raised the standard.
The styling is no radical departure, but then Lexus customers aren’t aradical bunch. The styling is an improvement over the previous model, however.A rounded greenhouse and crisper lines around the flanks help move it awayfrom its previous blobby looks. The sculpted hood helps give the front apowerful presence.
It might not look longer, but it is, having grown 2.4 inches. According toToyota, this gives the car more legroom than a BMW 5-series or Mercedes-BenzE-class. Certainly, it’s roomier than the previous model, particularly forrear-seat passengers.
But cars aren’t bought for legroom alone. There are many factors. In thisregard, the ES 300 is like an obedient butler, catering to your every whim.
The engine, Toyota’s familiar four-cam, 24-valve 3.0-liter all-aluminum V6,gets its power bumped up to 200 horses and 214 foot-pounds of torque. Theresult is sufficient to briskly whisk away worries (except for, say, speedingtickets. Top speed is 141 mph. Zero-to-60 takes 8.6 seconds). In typical Lexusfashion, there’s little to be heard here but silence. There’s no road noiseand little engine noise. Forget tire noise. This isolation chamber is free ofrattles and bothers.
The “Adaptive Variable Suspension” has settings from cushy to kidney belt.This car seems happier at thesofter and of the spectrum, although thesportier setting eliminates the body lean present in other modes. Braking isgreat, courtesy of four-wheel discs with anti-lock. The ride overall iscomfortable and the handling competent, with the adaptive suspension provingmore useful than gimmicky.
Inside, the refined feel of the suspension and drive train is mirrored inthe interior layout. Comfy front bucket seats covered in optional leathertreat its occupants better than some the world’s finest thrones. Heaters areavailable for the optional leather seats.
The center console design is one for which Lexus has set the standard, onethat other luxury marques have copied. It is a study in making the complicatedlook simple, housing climate controls and an excellent 195-wattAM/FM-cassette/CD player. Controls are easy to understand and operate. The oneglitch is the omission of an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, an important onefor the ES 300’s older customers.
The best part is tha t this new ES 300 feels better than ever. The chassisis stiff, which pays dividends when you open the power moon roof. Safety isimproved as well, with stronger bumpers, standard anti-lock brakes andtraction control.
If there’s anything that’s missing, it’s glitches. But then, that’s whyLexus, and the ES 300, constantly top the J.D. Power owner satisfactionsurveys. That’s the joy of this car: Like that dutiful servant, this ES 300helps make the world a little easier to get along in. You might even want toname it Jeeves.
That stated, it can also be said the Lexus lacks character, but we’resplitting hairs here — after the day I just had, this car goes down like hotchocolate after the storm of the century.
Lexus ES300Standard: 3.0-liter double-overhead cam 24-valve V6, four-speed electronicallycontrolled transmission, four-wheel independent MacPherson-strut suspension,front and rear stabilizer bars, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes withanti-loc , 205 /65R15 V-rated tires with aluminum wheels, dual front air bags,dual outside power mirrors with defoggers, auto on-off headlights, theftdeterrent system, walnut interior trim, power windows with driver’s side autodown, retained accessory power, power door locks, keyless entry, power frontseats with driver’s lumbar support, tilt wheel, overhead console, front andrear cupholders, automatic climate control, 195-watt, seven-speakerAM/FM-cassette audio system, rear glass-mounted radio antenna.Options: Leather trim package with driver’s seat memory, in-dash six-CDchanger, power moon roof, “Adaptive Vehicle Suspension,” wheel locks, floormats, trunk mat.Base price: $29,900As tested: $34,922EPA rating: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highwayTest mileage: 21 mpg