2012 Lexus ES 350 iGuida

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Lexus ES Electric Cars

2012 Lexus ES 350

Last Updated: Oct 12, 2011

What’s in the driveway? The doyen of entry-premium cars. The Lexus ES 350 for years was the reasonably priced luxury car against which all rivals were measured.

A competitor that was quieter or more comfortable than an ES 350 deserved the silk-pajamas award. One with higher resale value was a residual superstar. Alas, a competitor that handled better was merely midpack.

The 2012 ES 350 in the driveway is ample proof that this lovely sedan hasn’t lost an iota of the refinement and quality that made it a class benchmark. The question is: who still wants this style of spongy luxury? The last time the ES finished as high as No.

2 in sales in its competitive set was 2006, when it was runner-up to BMW 3-Series and its much broader lineup. The 3-Series is still the category sales leader, but the ES has been lapped by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti G, Cadillac CTS, and Audi A4. What do all those interlopers have that the Lexus does not? Rear- or all-wheel-drive-based European-flavored road manners. Younger-skewed styling.

And newer basic designs.

The 2012 ES 350 is basically a gussied-up version of the 2007-2011-genertion Camry V-6 sedan from Lexus’s corporate parent, Toyota. Don’t hold that against it. The roomy well-built Camry was an excellent starting point, and Lexus remains convinced the 2012 ES has enough extra jewelry and brand prestige to justify a 20 percent premium over its Toyota cousin.

But Toyota has redesigned the Camry for model-year 2012, giving it a new look but retaining the basic front-wheel-drive architecture used by the outgoing model — and by the 2012 ES 350. Other than addition of a Touring Edition trim package the Lexus stands pat for model-year 2012, awaiting its own remake for model-year 2013.

Every 2012 ES 350 employs a 3.5-liter V-6 used in numerous other Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Output is decidedly middling for the entry-premium class, but the ES seems to squeeze more performance from its 268 horses and 248 pound-feet of torque than many engines with gaudier power numbers. Lots of credit goes to the smooth six-speed automatic transmission. The 2012 ES 350 in the driveway wears a dignified business-suit shade called Nebula Gray Pearl.

The cabin is nicely matched in light-gray semi-aniline perforated leather complimented by Espresso Bird’s-Eye Maple trim.

How much does it cost? Base price for the 2012 Lexus ES 350 is $37,600, including Lexus’s mandatory $875 destination fee. The cabin comes swathed in leather upholstery, genuine metallic accents, and real wood trim.

The front seats have 10-way power adjustment and are heated; the driver’s side features memory. The steering column is a power tilt/telescope unit, the windshield wipers automatically turn on when it rains, and keyless remote unlocking and pushbutton ignition allows you to enter the car and start it without removing the keyfob from your purse or pocket.

Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity, USB iPod interface, and a power moonroof are standard, too. Just one wheel and tire combination is offered: 17-inch alloys wearing modestly sized 215/55R17 all-season rubber.

The ES 350 in the driveway sparkles with an additional $8,237 in options. Almost half that goes to the $4,065 Navigation System/Mark Levinson Audio Package. It includes a navigation unit accessed both by voice command and a large dashboard touch-screen that also displays a backup camera.

It adds the Lexus Enform safety-alert and concierge service and a cracking 14-speaker, 5.1-channel sound-system upgrade by high-end audio brand Mark Levinson.

Our test car also has the $3,535 Ultra Luxury Package, which enhances the upholstery with richer semi-aniline leather with contrasting stitching and adds wood to the steering wheel and transmission shift knob. It replaces much of the roof with dual-panorama glass panels (the front opens), adds xenon headlamps that swivel with the steering, and doses the alloys with a … Liquid Graphite finish. Rounding out the extra-cost spiffs are the $500 Intuitive Park Assist, which doesn’t automatically park the car but encircles it with ultrasonic sensors that audibly and visually warn of nearby obstacles.

A cargo net ($64) and trunk mat ($73) bring the total manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the 2012 Lexus ES 350 in the driveway to $45,837.

Is it worth it? Just. There’s no questioning this car’s ability to cocoon you and yours for hours in tasteful refinement. There’s little room to criticize its quality, no cause to carp about its powertrain or fuel economy.

But the 2012 ES 350 is a six-year-old design and that’s ancient in auto years. If you’re the type who updates your wardrobe by surrendering to what’s new in the window at Brooks Brothers, this is the near-luxury car for you. You can spend lots more and not be as pleased.

But if you possess a jot of imagination, wait to see what Lexus does with the next-generation 2013 ES.

What’s to like? This really is an impressive powertrain. The V-6 is as smooth as they come and though the transmission isn’t a trendy seven- or eight-speed unit, it is remarkably adept at choosing the right gear for the situation at hand, then seamlessly shifting to furnish exactly the throttle response required for more power.

And with ratings of 19/28 mpg city/highway, 22 mpg combined, the 2012 ES 350 is among the most fuel-efficient entry-luxury car of this size and power, and it uses regular-octane gas. It arrows up the Interstate and glides effortlessly around town, too.

Road, wind, and mechanical noises are mostly rumors. The cabin coddles and soothes. Flooded by natural light from the panoramic glass roof, it’s a cheery place. Every surface you’re likely to come in contact with is covered by pillowed padding flawlessly stitched. The seats are soft yet supportive.

Special mention is due the sofa-like comfort and roominess of the rear bench. Nothing blocks the driver’s outward visibility, and virtually every interaction with the gauges and controls bespeaks a sense of thoughtful design. No Bluetooth system is easier to link-up or operate and no navigation system is less frustrating to program, thanks in large measure to what Lexus calls casual-language-based voice recognition.

And despite its age, the 2012 ES 350 doesn’t look all that dated. The eye of an artist is evident in the subtly complex contours of the dashboard, for example (the Lexus designer who shaped it told me his inspiration was the gentle folds of a kimono). The cabin’s wood and metal accents have the feel of fine furniture. There’s a gemlike quality to the careful use of brightwork on the grille, door handles, sideglass surround, and rocker panels. You’ll swipe at the lustrous paint to be sure it isn’t still wet.

And those 10-spoke Liquid Graphite wheels do look sharp.

What does it need? Too bad those handsome wheels don’t bespeak a suspension that buttons things down better when the road gets sinuous or wavy. Must the trade-off for this level of bump absorption and near-silent running be a body that bobs and nose that plows in anything approaching a hurried pace?

Is it too much trouble to superimpose guidelines on the rear-view camera display? The best systems have overlays that predict your path, so you can more easily judge your course when backing up. And what penny pincher specified interior door panels that feel hard and hollow and are covered in – gasp — Camry-grade fabric. Poke around and some plastic panels reveal the same downmarket cast.

Granted, you don’t regularly touch these surfaces, but when you do, the contrast with the rest of the cabin’s opulence is shocking.

Lexus ES Electric Cars

Which brings us to the elephant in the garage: is the 2012 ES 350 really distinct enough from a top-of-the-line 2012 Camry XLE to justify its price premium? The Camry XLE comes with leather upholstery and a standard-size moonroof, though it isn’t available with Lexus wood and metal accents, Mark Levinson audio, panoramic roof, or as generous a warranty. You’ll sacrifice Lexus prestige and the dealer experience, too.

But optioned with the same powertrain and Toyota’s next-generation navigation system a 2012 Camry XLE V-6 lists for $33,105. It’s enough to give the gimlet-eyed shopper pause.

What’s Lexus say? “The ES 350 entry luxury sedan continues to be a Lexus favorite with its comfortable cabin and smooth ride.”

What do you say? That’s an endorsement as reticent as the car itself.

What’s next for the Lexus ES? To reassert itself, the redesigned 2013 ES must be more stylish, even more luxurious, and use even less gas. Lexus will again base it on the Camry platform, which means the next-gen ES will be saddled with a front-wheel-drive configuration that won’t match the top competition for optimal sportiness. Lexus fields the rear- and all-wheel-drive GS sedan to fight that battle.

But the automaker seems committed to tightening up the ES’s steering, handling, and body control. And expect it to get a toned-down version of the redesigned 2012 GS sedan’s gaping, aggressive grille.

Look for a slightly roomier interior, too, but very little additional overall size or weight. The next-generation in infotainment is probable, and that spells deeper smartphone interface and wider connectivity opportunities. A four-cylinder engine isn’t really in this car’s market profile, though Euro rivals are turning to turbocharged fours and one might become necessary.

Expect the 2013 ES to bow with a V-6 that’s slightly more powerful than today’s 3.5, with an automatic of more than six speeds. A gas-electric hybrid version is quite likely, also.

Vital statistics

2012 Lexus ES 350

Base price, including manufacturer’s $875 destination fee: $37,600

Price of test car including options: $45,837.

Size: 191.7 inches long, 109.3-inch wheelbase, 3,605-pound base curb weight

Engine: 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6; 6-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive

Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/highway, 22 mpg combined city/highway (EPA ratings)

Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 6/70,000 powertrain

Automotive journalist Chuck Giametta has covered the auto industry for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide books and magazines, and as Managing Editor of iGuida.com. This test vehicle was provided by the manufacturer.

Lexus ES Electric Cars
Lexus ES Electric Cars
Lexus ES Electric Cars
Lexus ES Electric Cars
Lexus ES Electric Cars
Lexus ES Electric Cars

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