You’ve seen “Uncle Bob” on “lottery changed my life” shows where a blue collar worker wins the lottery, and suddenly he and The Mrs. are off on a home-buying spree. Soon, the garage is filled with luxury cars and he’s dressed in kakis and a golf shirt, looking like he’s always been in the money. While the Lexus ES350 may be based on the middle class Camry, it looks much like Uncle Bob after elevating his living standards.
The ES comes to this lot in life honestly. The model was one of the two cars, alongside the LS400, that launched the brand in 1990. Since, it has been a dressier, better luxed-out Camry. But, that’s not a bad thing; the Camry is a well-built and comfy family car. The ES is just more comfortable in upscale neighborhoods and at valet stands.
It definitely looks the part as the untrained eye would have a difficult time separating the front-drive ES350 from the sportier rear-drive GS – and both share design cues with the jet-setting LS sedan like the trademark spindle grille, clean aero lines, and wrap-around taillamps. ES achieves a 0.27 coefficient of drag. Atomic silver paint and 18” wheels put a polish on it. It may be a fine suit on a working class gent, but he exudes class.
Up-level Camrys are pretty posh rides, but the ES350 takes luxury one toke further. Nothing your eyes see, fingers caress, or butt touches feels cheap. Leather feels like it was tanned in a tobacco barn, dashes are finely stitched, and the wood-and-leather steering wheel is a joy to hold. An analog clock is a nice touch. Dual-zone automatic climate control adds comfort, but I have no clue why our test car didn’t have heated seats. Big miss! Still, if a clock’s ticking, it’s the loudest thing in the cabin.
I’d like to trade the stupid joy-mouse infotainment controller for warmer thrones. It works, and the positive confirmation when it hovers above an input is reassuring, but I’d just prefer an easy-to-navigate touchscreen without having to work a computer. Big knobs for volume and tuning, plus voice commands, are appreciated. Fortunately, it’s all connected to navigation and a Mark Levinson audio system that’s near divinity in its sound quality. Safety is enhanced with adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross path detection systems.
You won’t win a jackpot of power in the ES350, but its 3.5-liter V6 flows out 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels through a an 6-speed automatic transmission. If you want a muscle car, buy a GS, but the ES scoots from 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds on the way to a 130 mph top speed. Turn the knob in the console to adjust the powertrain and exhaust note through Eco, Normal, and Sport. Choose the first to see 21/30-MPG city/hwy.
If still not convinced Uncle Bob has taken a good bath, shaved, and gone shopping at Barney’s, go for a drive. The chassis crosses rough roads with barely a rumble, steering is tight enough to be fun, and the car moves out belting a full-throated song. Four passengers and their luggage fit comfortably. Lexus may not have reached perfection with the ES, but it is definitely in pursuit.
A base price of $38,900 – $46,058 as-tested – puts the ES350 against the Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKZ, Acura TLX, Nissan Maxima, Genesis G80, and Kia Cadenza.
Watch Casey’s video review of the ES350 above, then follow him on YouTube and Twitter: @AutoCasey.
2017 Lexus ES350
Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
Powertrain: 268hp 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Comfort, Quality
0-60 mph: 7.1s
Top speed: 130 mph
Fuel economy: 21/30 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Georgetown, KY
Base/as-tested price: $38,900/46,058