2007 Lexus ES350 | road test

Posted on Mar 4, 2007 by

The new ES350 in its new apparition is quite a departure from the frumpy styling of the model its replaces. This is so because has gone from pret-a-porter to haute couture with its new generation of vehicles thanks to its L-Finesse (short for leading-edge finesse) design philosophy. This gives the ES along with its new stablemates the IS300 and the soon to be seen 2007 LS a design language absolutely in tune with the times and contemporary too. The flab that spilled over all over the old model has been toned into athletic muscle transforming the ES from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. Well, it was not exactly ugly but that’s the phrase that came into my mind while putting pen to paper and I do not think I am widely off the mark, especially when casting my eye over the new ES.

Lexus is a seventeen year old company and while it does not possess a century of heriatge like BMW and Mercedes, it has to work that much more harder to create an intrinsic identity. While there is no disputing the fact that earlier models from Toyota’s luxury arm had more than just a touch of its German competition, now there is talk of ‘Japanese originality’ and it shows with its L-Finesse design philosophy. The new ES350 is European in design and style but borne out of Japanese culture and a need to create a distinct identity. Thus, L-Finesse appeals to world markets, especially the European market with a consistent global design message that is all so Japanese. I call it ‘Japorean’ (Japanese-European) inbibing the best that these culturally diverse regions have to offer.

A case in point is the kimono outline in the centre console, although I must confess that its effect was totally lost on me. What I really was sure about, though, is my reaction to the new ES350, so named to reflect the bigger 272-horsepower 3.5-litre V6. In a nutshell: inspiring and elegant. This is a car that can transport one from everyday humdrum travel to cocktail party with ease.

Al Futtaim Motors, the official importer of Lexus vehicles in the UAE provided us with a pristine example of the new ES350 Premium Plus model with all the bells and whistles including a navigation system with a rear camera; bluetootth hands-free phone system;front and rear sonar parking sensors; wireless door locking with SmartAccess etc etc. There are three distinct grades available: Premium, Premium Plus and Luxury. Even the entry-level Premium version is heavily loaded with full-grade leather and all the amenities of its other brethen. The only gizmos it does not have includes the satnav, bluetooth and rear camera. The price range starts at  AED 143000, peaking out at AED 161000 for the Luxury version which gets a DVD changer, 10-channel power amplifier and 14 speakers for the 300 watt Mark Levinson sound system over and above the standard equipment in the Premium Plus model.

Inside the ES350 is a swathe of expensive materials that have been entwined together to create an ambience spelling class and luxurious comfort. Materials, textures and colours have been integrated so well together that one (and that includes myself) would want to spend a lot of time coccooned in this car. Seats are leather (obviously!), with the steering wheel and gear shifter knob encompassing leather with wood. Talking of wood, there’s quite a bit of it on the centre console as well as inserts on the doors. And this is the real McCoy, no faux pas stuff from Lexus, mind you. The steering wheel incorporates functions for handsfree telephone and audio system. The instrument cluster is recessed with large dials providing clear information to the driver. The centre console is defined by the the large satnav screen (which is voice-activated should one so desire), below which sit the climate control buttons and the audio system. To make a stylish representation in something as humdrum as buttons and knobs, Lexus has provided rectangular and circular buttons alongwith rotary switches resulting in a blend of modern and traditional in an easy to see arrangement. Looks good and feels good too! The navigation display also acts as a screen for the small video camera located over the rear license plate.

I found front and rear legroom and hiproom generous, with headroom adequate for my 5′ 8″ frame, even with the power driver’s seat at its lowest setting. Drivers over six feet tall might find headroom lacking. The rears seats are not split and foldable but there is a pass-through from the trunk for long objects. The 14.7 cubic feet trunk is slightly larger than the outgoing model’s, and includes a full-size spare tyre under the floor.



On the Road

The ES350 is a competent and impressive car in many ways. Under the hood lies a 3.5-litre V6 developing 272 bhp at 6200 rpm and 344.2 Nm of torque at 4700 rpm, featuring dual variable valve timing which acts on both intake and exhaust valves to improve torque and fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. Lexus says the ES 350 has a zero-100 kph time of 7.1 seconds, but it doesn’t feel like a rocket when you try to launch it past an articulated truck on the Al Khail road in Dubai. What the heck, if one misses some explosive power to scare white van man, at least he gets a boy-racer touch in the cabin in the form of the pushbutton start. Play on, dude.

The ES350 inculcates some very sophisticated wizardry to eliminate cabin noise, and that makes the inside an unbelieveably quiet place. Engine noise and vibration is virtually non-existent at idle thanks to an improved active control engine mount that counters vibration in the low rev range. To further isolate irritating road noise, the window glass now is constructed with three layers of film sandwiched between two layers of glass, making the interior quieter. And finally, Lexus has given the underbody an insulation coating to further aid in controlling unwanted noise.

Front suspension setup consists of a McPherson strut with the rear suspension chores handled by a strut with multi-link.This, coupled with a wider track and slightly lower ground clearance, ensures surefooted handling. Testing the ES350 on the road leading to the Bab Al Shams resort saw it soak up the slight undulations in the road without any bothers. The poise of the ES350 on secondary roads is exemplary and even when thrown into corners with a touch of ambition results in no untoward experiences. The 215/55R-17 inch tyres doing a fantastic job on keeping the ES on the straight and narrow. Lexus, being a premium brand, had to ensure that ride is not compromised in any which way and the fallout is that some handling ability is sacrificed for ride comfort – and this car has a suprremely comfortable ride. But having said this, most drivers will find the power and handling to their liking – as we did.

A new six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode sends power out to the front wheels. This auto box is smooth and responsive but Lexus could do well to give it some more heft. Also, the gear shifter looks very spindly and fragil. Maybe a more macho shifter would give the ES that extra flavour. Having said that, it is a breeze to use and in manual mode, its takes driving to higher levels of enjoyment.

To rein in the 272 horses, it comes with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS,   electronic brake differential and Brake Assist to assure sure stopping power. In case one encounters sand on the road, the standard Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) come into play to help prevent the car from losing control. Being front-wheel drive, there is a hint of understeer when pushed to the limit, but then this is no wolf in sheep’s clothing and as such demands some respect in the way it is driven.

One of the new gizmos on the new ES350 are the headlamps that can swivel independently of each other when making a turn. In Lexus speak, this is known as Adaptive Front Lighting (AFS) headlamps, allowing the driver to see around corners and thereby increasing safety at night. Nice one this, and one that really does what it says can do. Safety features abound and standard are driver and front passenger knee air bags, front side air bags and side curtain air bags for all outboard passengers.

The new 350 is a capable and quite impressive piece of automotive flair and technology rolled in one. However, it still lacks the emotional tug – its just too clinical – and may need a bit more work in this regard. Even so, it is extremely refined with the expected comfort, first-class safety features and surprising performance.

Body Type: Sedan
Engine (litre): 3.5 V6
Power (bhp): 272
Torque (Nm): 344.2
Transmission: 6A
Prices starting from (in AED): 143,000-161,000

* Prices are indicative and may vary at the time of purchase. All prices are ex-Dubai showrooms. Please check with your local dealer for current prices and offers.


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