The new Lexus ES350: leveling up, in just the right way
If we think it’s a bit hard to explain the new Lexus ES 350, imagine how hard it is for Lexus to decide what changes to make for a car that pretty much sets the standards for a lot of things.
Lexus is—and has always been—one of the defining lines for comfort, quietness and isolation
from the world around it at anything approaching a normal entry fee.
In truth, it has out-quieted those far higher up the price ladder, and it did all this while maintaining a front wheel drive platform, which means giving away loads of sportiness credibility and dynamic handling.
Yet, it sells.
The front wheel drive platform means there is the ability to design more usable (and comfortable) space into the rear passenger area, which is exactly where many of the buyers in our market want it.
The ES model line has actually drawn people away from more expensive cars precisely because of this.
So, what is Lexus to do? Or more accurately, what did it do? Basically, we think Lexus leveled up.
We got to play with it in and about Nashville, Tennessee, around rolling hills, as well as along city streets.
Lexus gives everything you expect, but at a somewhat higher level. If it was quiet before, it is even more so now.
If you think it felt like a cloud before, again its moved up a bit here as well. Not huge jumps, just more slightly evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
The new car looks more exciting. It follows the visual cues of the more recent releases such as the aggressive (some say slightly overpowering) spindle grill, but it does so in a way that makes us feel it will age better than the younger, feistier IS models.
This is a good thing. This is, after all, a more mature car. The interior design seems to envelop you in craftsmanship and detail, kind of cocooning you in quality wood and leather.
Everything seems more thoroughly thought out than before, like you are sitting in a more holistically-produced package.
In some ways, it feels more like driving down the road in a nice suite rather than piloting a car.
Having made such references to pretty rooms bringing you down the road, the new ES is actually more dynamic than ever before. Not dynamic like the wonderful F-Sport ISs, of course, but much more than before.
There is less sideways movement at speed, and less bouncing over rough surfaces.
If you make a sudden turn that before would have had you rocking a few times, now you settle into stability much more quickly. And note that this isn’t done with a whole slew of electronic wizardry jumping in.
Its all just good old design and engineering. ES chief test driver Yoshiaki Ito told us they want a driver to feel like they have complete control. But they won’t allow the ES to be harsh or rigid; it just needs to be comfortable.
Making the driver feel in control adds to this feeling of comfort.
An extremely rigid chassis using different grades of high-tensile steel and alloy at different places has made the car lighter, but more stable and solid.
From this solid base, they tune the suspension for just the right combinations of comfort and handling, thanks to details like mounting the electric power steering on the rack or a special V brace behind the rear seat.
The center of gravity is lower, thanks to the better distribution of weight.
The whole car is longer (2.6 inches), lower (0.2 of an inch), and wider (1.8 inches) than the outgoing model.
Familiar but … clearly better. The ES is extremely familiar to those that know and love it, and the new car communicates that immediately.
The back seat will be welcoming and spacious, but just a bit better appointed, a bit more comfortable.
Getting behind the wheel will again feel familiar, but with the car responding a bit more quickly, acting with a bit more nuance.
When the designers spoke about what they wanted the new ES to feel like, they mentioned putting on your favorite tailor-made shirt.
I disagree just a bit. It feels more like what happens after you have spent time with your bespoke tailor: he has listened, and together, you have produced something that is as good technically as it was before, but now is just that much better.
It’s as if the tailor has surprised you with something that he knows you would like, while really paying attention.
This is the 7th Generation of the ES.
Front Wheel drive layout allows a more spacious rear seat area
Suspension Geometry was worked on in an attempt to make the car dive less on hard braking. Purely mechanical solution, but it works.