Lexus ES

Debut: 2012
Maker: Toyota
Predecessor: ES350 (2006)

 Published on 7 Jun 2012 All rights reserved. 

Save some Buicks and Lincolns, Lexus ES can be described as the least respected nameplate in the world of luxury cars. Since the very beginning, the ES has been derived from none other than Toyota Camry. This dictates its mechanical layout, i.e. front-wheel drive, nose-biased balance and unsophisticated all-strut suspensions, hence the unremarkable driving dynamics. While other Lexus models like IS, GS and LS pursue engineering excellence to match their German rivals, the ES is content to target aging customers and company car buyers who care more about comfort and value for money than technology or driving excitement. Admittedly, Lexus manages to find 100,000 such customers every year.

This year's new ES – the 6th generation – does not deviate from the proven formula. Yes, it is built on the platform of new Camry, sharing its engines (3.5-liter V6 and 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid), transmission, suspensions, steering and most of the mechanicals that you cannot see. However, judging from its exterior and interior packaging, it has no traces of its roots at all. The fact is, this car looks as elegant and high-quality as any other Lexus. Its tasteful styling is day-and-night different to the last two generations. The "double-spindle" grille might not be up to everyone's taste, but the rest of the design is stylish and finely detailed. At some angles, it even has a strong resemblance to the flagship LS!

Inside, the full-width dashboard seems to be inspired by BMW 7-Series, while the prominent transmission tunnel has some Jaguar XF in it. An LCD monitor is deeply recessed in a binnacle located above the center console. Wood and metal accents are aplenty. Stitched leather trim on the dash delivers a top-notch feel. Complaints are few, and they are mostly related to the use of technology. The mouse-style control for infotainment system on transmission tunnel is never as intuitive to use as rivals' rotary knobs, especially when the car is in move; The analogue clock on the center console is out of place with the modern theme; Finally, it would be better to see TFT instrument panel instead of conventional dials, especially when Dodge Dart has that equipped as standard.

Forget those picky complaints, this cabin is a nice place to be in. It offers all the creature comfort you may ask for, such as a pair of comfortable front seats with heating, cooling and 10-way adjustment and a quality Mark Levinson 5.1 audio system. Space is generous, too, especially for rear passengers. This ES runs a 2820 mm wheelbase, 45 mm longer than the Camry's and identical to the forthcoming Toyota Avalon. The move is an attempt to promote sales in China, where the ES is sold mainly as a company car and driven by chauffeurs. The extra wheelbase boosts its rear legroom by a massive 105 mm, whereas rear headroom grows by 18 mm. Such a roomy cabin moves it further away from the comparison with BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-class and Audi A4, giving its target customers a solid reason to make the purchase.

A refreshing packaging aside, the ES does not represent a huge leap in mechanical aspects. On the contrary, the revisions it made to the chassis and powertrains are rather modest. The body shell's drag coefficient has been lowered marginally from 0.28 to 0.27. The chassis uses more high-strength steel, extra bracing and spot welds to cut kerb weight by 23 kilograms. The all-strut suspension remains, with only minor tweaks in springs, dampers and bushings etc. Because of its Camry roots it is not served with air springs, adaptive damping and aluminum suspension components as in the case of other Lexus. The electrical power steering has its ratio tightened by 8 percent. Still, 14.8:1 is by no means quick in a class full of drivers' cars, and the feel it delivers is as numb as in Camry. That is not the way to narrow the gap from its German rivals.

On the road, the new ES does display a better handling and ride manner than its predecessor. Its new active engine mounts and other NVH suppression works manage to deliver excellent running refinement. However, a new BMW 328i is just as refined these days. Jump from the BMW into the comfortable driver seat of ES and you will be shocked with its lack of interaction. The steering, the chassis response and the brake are all slow and inert. Try to up the game by switching the so-called "Drive Mode Select" system to Sport mode, you will get a weightier steering without more feel or quicker response. The throttle reacts keener, but the automatic gearbox – still comes without paddles or a truly overriding manual mode – is still reluctant to react. What about body control? The suspension is fully passive thus the control system has no effect on it. This mean a soft and loose ride remains soft and loose. Ridiculously, the Sport mode turns the instrument reading to red (as in Opel Insignia OPC). I guess it is used to alert you the lack of body control.

Considering the car is not supposed to be sporty, its performance is not lacking. ES350 needs about 6.5 seconds to sprint from rest to 60 mph. Its 268hp 3.5-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission are carried over unchanged from the old car. While the combo is a little bit outdated – with neither direct injection, auto stop-start nor smart alternator – it does the job well in a smooth and tractable manner. The old-fashioned V6 also sounds nicer to ears than many modern turbocharged motors. As for fuel economy, Lexus found a slight improvement by using a taller final drive ratio and lower drag coefficient.

A new addition to the range is ES300h, where h stands for hybrid, of course. Its powertrain is carried over intact from the Camry Hybrid. In other words, a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-pot engine combines with 2 electric motors and a CVT. A system output of 200 hp is not much, but it nearly doubles the mileage from the V6, so you can recoup its price premium from fuel saving in less than 50,000 miles. That said, the four-cylinder noise is not something to be proud of on an executive car.

As before, the best way to drive the Lexus ES is to sit back and enjoy its relaxing manner. This might sound boring to keen drivers, but older drivers and chauffeurs will definitely appreciate that.

Length / width / height

Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque

Suspension layout
Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4895 / 1820 / 1450 mm
2820 mm
Inline-4, Atkinson cycle,
electric motor
2494 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
156 hp (engine)
141 hp (motor)
200 hp (combined)
156 lbft (engine)
199 lbft (motor)
All struts
1660 kg
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4895 / 1820 / 1450 mm
2820 mm
V6, 60-degree

3456 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
268 hp

248 lbft

6-speed automatic
All struts
1610 kg
5.8* / 6.0**
14.2* / 14.7**

Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT

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