Traditional luxury get a fresh look.
Three decades ago Toyota began considering how it might best serve premium customers, in a bid to go head-to-head against Lincoln and Cadillac. It was determined that a new brand was necessary, thus Lexus was born.
Today, Lexus is one of the top selling luxury brands in America and perennially finishes atop most major consumer and industry rankings including Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.
Earlier Lexus models looked suspiciously like their European counterparts, especially Mercedes-Benz. Over the intervening years the brand expanded and evolved, retaining the pillowy soft rides in many of its vehicles, while bringing in an assortment of performance models to take on European rivals.
The brand has also taken a third approach by delivering a line of hybrid vehicles with five such models now in the mix. All three approaches — traditional, performance, and green — collectively define what is arguably an American brand.
2014 Lexus ES350
One of Lexus’ entry points is the ES350. It is a large, front-wheel drive sedan that retails from $36,470. Seating five passengers, the 2014 Lexus ES350 has value written all over it.
Indeed, it is chock full of standard equipment and when various safety, luxury, navigation and convenience packages are included, its cost still comes in below $45,000. That price point matches such American models as the Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKS, while coming in lower than comparable models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
The Lexus ES line has been around since 1992 when the first models were called the ES300, corresponding to the 3.0-liter V-6 engine originally used. Lexus followed up with the ES330 (3.3-liter V-6) before moving to the current ES350, powered by a 268-horsepower V-6.
The current model was redesigned for 2013 and now features a spindle or hourglass grille in keeping with the brand’s design language. Crisper lines, rock panel ornamentation and wrap around tail lamps with dual chrome exhausts give the latest edition a sportier look.
The test model was equipped with optional 17-inch 10-spoke wheels ($110), dressed in a “liquid graphite” finish.
Cabin Features and Amenities
Inside, the ES350 offers seating for five with pillow soft bucket seats up front and a very supportive bench seat in the rear. A rear window power sunshade provides privacy with optional rear side window sunshades also available. Rear seat room is very good for three passengers and excellent for two.
Up front, the ES350 features a French-stitched dashboard trimmed in leather. Leather seating, piano black trim and chrome touches add to this model’s persona. Atop the center stack is an available 8-inch color screen, part of a navigation package ($2,625) that includes voice command, a backup camera, Lexus Enform — what integrates navigation and telematics.
An App Suite can be accessed, with large icons for Pandora radio, movie tickets, Yelp, and the Bing search engine, among others.
The test model came with a luxury package ($1,370), composed of heated and ventilated front seats, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel column, power side mirrors, and bamboo trim.
The bamboo trim separates the upper and lower portions of the dashboard and wraps the steering wheel. Lexus calls the wood “sustainable” a description for already felled bamboo.
The Lexus ES350 comes with a long list of standard comfort features including push button start/stop, 10-way power driver and front passenger seats, heated side mirrors, a moonroof, Bluetooth connectivity, and automatic dual zone climate control. You also get automatic headlamps, integrated fog lamps, satellite radio, and power accessories.
Additional comfort and safety features added to the test model were: a power trunk, parking assist, a trunk mat and cargo net, high intensity discharge headlamps with LED daytime running lights, and blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert.
Engine and Transmission
What Lexus does not offer customers is choice when it comes to the powertrain. A 3.5-liter V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic. Moreover, front-wheel drive is it. If you want all-wheel drive or real-wheel drive for that matter, you’ll be directed to the IS250 or IS350, with the CT200h filling your hybrid needs (see: Seductive: 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport).
All three start out well below $40,000. Oh, yes, there is also the ES 300h, a hybrid version of the ES350. So, if you’re in a Lexus dealership trying to figure it all out, be prepared to review several models if you’re shopping toward the lower end of the price range.
The ES350’s motor also powers the Toyota Avalon and is available in other Toyota products including the Camry and Sienna. It is responsive enough in the ES350 and without the added weight of all-wheel drive, it moves the ES350 with ease.
That the sedan is a relative lightweight helps (3,597 pounds) which explains why it gets a robust 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway running on regular grade gasoline. That’s well below the Buick LaCrosse (3,906 pounds) and the Lincoln MKS (3,829 pounds).
Step on the gas pedal and you may notice a slight amount of torque steer despite being equipped with front and rear stabilizer bars. Slight pulling to either side is evident, but likely hardly enough to scare buyers away.
What the ES350 does have is four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts and gas pressurized shocks all around. Four-wheel power assisted brakes are standard.
Lexus also serves up three driving modes for the sedan: Eco, Normal and Sport. Throttle response and engine power are adjusted to either deliver more or less power with a corresponding adjustment in fuel economy.
Sport mode hastens the gear changes and provides more dynamic throttle mapping. I believe most owners will simply leave it in Eco mode to reap the best gas mileage.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The 2014 Lexus ES350 is the sales leader among the three entry-level models and for good reason too: it meets the requirements of a significant number of premium car shoppers. And even its weaknesses can be easily overcome by considering other models within the expansive Lexus fold.
See Also – Luxury Pioneer: 2017 Lexus ES