Susan Frissell

Long the benchmark in the near-luxury category, the Lexus ES has remained pretty much the same; other than upgraded technology and a few exterior tweaks, the ES 350 is just a plain nice sedan. While hard to fault, the ES doesn’t always inspire. In all fairness, that is said by an auto enthusiast. The ES 350 applies to the “everyman,” the driver who wants easy, dependable and trouble-free. This is where the ES shines. And all Lexus products, for that matter.

Offering relaxed driving, easy to operate features and lots of amenities, the ES 350 seems to hold its own, year after year. For 2015, a special edition has been added to the lineup: the Crafted line ($40,440). Lexus also offers a hybrid version (300h). Standard backup camera is also new for 2015.

Near-luxury vehicles are reasonably priced, often starting around $35,000, but when adding all the goodies, the price soars into the $40,000 price range.

The ES offers what most would view as several “pros,” including a smooth V6 engine with plenty of power to move out, an easy-to-maneuver driving experience, luxury and high crash test scores. Most owners don’t find many “cons,” however, when reading comments of those who have owned more than one ES, aren’t as complimentary about the 2015 model. Some have called the latest edition “cheap” when describing the interior, uncomfortable seats, and a hard ride. This writer did notice the hard ride, and after coming out of the Hyundai Genesis the week before, it was noticeable. Others have described shaking and rumbling when in Drive or Reverse in the ES. Some reviewers were surprised at the ‘cons,’ and when comparing the ES to the RX, for instance, were surprised they both came out of Lexus.

The Lexus ES 350 gets upgraded upholstery for 2015, as well as a standard touchscreen Display Audio interface. If you opt for the superior Mark Levinson sound system, you’ll get the latest in technology that makes for better sound quality. Lexus’ Enform Remote system is also on board, and drivers can remotely view and control features by way of an App. The optional Lexus Enform App Suite gives you Slacker and iHeartRadio 4.0.

All in all, the Lexus ES 350, despite the competition, is a consistent performer. Yes, the styling although much improved over previous years, isn’t a contest winner. It will never be ‘exciting,’ but it is well-mannered. And if you opt for an ES, you know what you’re getting.

Interior room is ample, although backseat room isn’t as generous as say, the Hyundai Genesis. The latest ES iteration shares its platform with its cousin the Toyota Avalon. Again, there is so much competition in this marketplace category of near-luxury that it’s a hard choice. Our guess would be that any ‘car buff’ isn’t going to opt for an ES. Rather, they’ll head for the Infiniti Q50 (although also a disappointment in some categories), or a BMW 3-or-5 Series. Genesis may be able to better compete with its German competition, and the Acura TLX, for instance, appeals to the high-tech among drivers. Also nice, and not to be overlooked are the Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300. Perhaps a different audience.

Two trim levels are available in the ES 350 for 2015, and both are well-equipped. Our test ES came equipped with several options, including: Blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert $500; High Intensity Discharge headlamps with DRL, $565; Power rear sunshade, $210; Luxury Package (perforated leather-trimmed interior, heated/ventilated front seats, Espresso bird’s eye maple wood interior trim, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, Lexus memory system for driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel remoter keyless entry-linked memory, $1,370); Hard disk drive navigation system with backup camera, 8-inch VGA screen, voice command, single DVD/CD player, remote touch controller, Lexus Enform destination assist w/1 year subscription, App Suite, $400; One-Touch Power Trunk, $400; Intuitive Parking Assist, $500; and Wood and leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel, $330.

Standard equipment is also plentiful, as expected and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, heated mirrors, cruise, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-way power front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, perforated “NuLuxe” upholstery, auto-dimming review mirror, rearview camera, Safety Connect emergency communication, Display Audio interface, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, 8-speaker sound system w/CD player, satellite, HD radio, auxiliary audio jack and iPod/USB audio. LED foglights are also standard, as are xenon headlights, and three-mode adjustable drive settings.

Consumers are not going to do without when opting for the ever-popular ES 350.
The ES 350’s V6 engine offers plenty of power for most drivers. Front-wheel-drive is standard faire with stability and traction control. Safety equipment is plentiful and includes the usual side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and Lexus’ Safety Connect (priming of seatbelts and brakes for pending collision).

The ES gets a perfect five-star rating when tested by NHTSHA, and a “good” in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.

We like the analog clock, adopted by many today, thanks to its introduction years ago in Infiniti models. It may not be as easy to read, but it is classy. Controls are easy to use and we are now used to Lexus’ mouse-like controls that work the audio system, etc. Once you pick it up, it’s intuitive. Space abounds and those blessed with long legs will find the ES comfortable on long trips.

On highway drives, the ES’ interior is quieter than say the Genesis. There isn’t much road noise or wind drag. There is, however, abrupt bumps when navigating less than perfect roads. We were surprised at the hard ride in the ES. It is an easy car to maneuver, though and parks beautifully.

Driving impressions are always satisfactory with a Lexus product. Smooth and responsive is the order of the day. Which means something in a world of uncertainty; yes, there are still some things we can count on. Wind noise is at a minimum-less than the Genesis-but don’t expect complete isolation. This is a good thing for enthusiasts, of course. Steering is accurate and effortless.

MSRP: 37,550; total vehicle price $44,145, destination $92
Engine: 3.5-liter 268 hp., Four Cam 24-valve, V6, all aluminum with engine construction and dual VVT-i
Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/OD, automatic manual
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 71.1 in.
Curb Weight: 3,549 lbs.
Tires: 215/55R17 all-season
Wheels: 17-inch aluminum alloy split 6-spoke
EPA Fuel economy: 21/31/ mpg., 24 mpg.
Fuel Tank capacity: 17.2 gal.
Warranty: 48 mths/50,000-mile Basic; 72 mths/70,000-mile Powertrain; 72 mths/unlimited Corrosion Perforation; 48 mths/unlimited roadside assistance; 12 mths/10,000-miles maintenance