2018 Lexus ES 350 Test Drive

2018 Lexus ES 350

Wild, razor-edged vehicles with snow-shovel grilles and hungover headlamps no longer amuse me.

I think I fell from their demographic – hard.

For better or worse, kids, I rarely see a head-bobbing hipster in my mirror these days, ready for a hot date with Nirvana Snowflake. Darn.

In this screaming era of look-at-me lines and excessive everything, I kind of appreciate the smooth, somewhat timid Lexus ES350, a sedan that sets the standard for unprovocative.

Will a chair soon be the only thing that rocks in my life?

Maybe, but put the quietly virtuous ES next to the frantic Lexus RX350 crossover – a vehicle so blustery and exaggerated it could run for president — and it looks like cool water on a hot day.

Granted, it’s been on the kitchen-counter for a while. My champagne-colored 2018 ES350 looked pretty much the way it did when it arrived as an all-new model in 2013.

It has aged pretty well, though.

While the ES – like virtually all Lexis – must wear one of those silly misshapen spindle grilles to stay in the club, its sleek headlamps dip gently into the front fenders without riling anyone.

Meanwhile, a long, substantial-looking hood with light character lines on its edges set the tone for the sedan’s clean, sober body.

No fake scoops, vents or video-game-inspired swirls and gee-gaws here.

One subtle character line above the ES’ door-handles cut across a body as basically flat as West Texas – without the dust.

Huge doors proudly confirm the car’s high-end grocery-getter status, while its top curved gracefully down to join a slightly raised trunk.

Likewise, the ES’ tires and wheels looked appropriately low-key: average-sized 225/45 rubber on turbine-style 18-inch alloy wheels.

Think of the ES350 as a finely knitted polo shirt in a world of psychedelic Hawaiian tank-tops.

Here’s the real deal, dudes and dude-ettes: At about $49,000, the ES is a highly reliable, reasonably priced entry into the near-luxury world – without the garish flash that might prompt your boss to wonder if you’re selling pot on the side.

Leave off some options and you can push that price down to $40,000 or less.

In fact, I think I finally cracked Lexi’s design-code: Tempt buyers under 50 with amped-up, over-the-top, cartoonish bodies, but placate the older core-customers with refined luxurious interiors.

The light-gray interior in my car, for example, was probably its strongest selling point.

A graceful two-tier dashboard in smooth, expensive-feeling plastic included a recessed area at mid-dash – a nifty little cave to shade the ES’ display screen.

Stuffed in there somewhere were pre-collision and pedestrian-detection systems, lane-departure alert, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

Below the screen and a strip of polished wood, a horizontal center-stack with buttons and knobs for the car’s various functions flowed into a broad console with a positive, non-electric shifter (hooray).

Put your fist in the air for low-tech.

Although the door panels wore more of the elegant black plastic, the real stars inside were the light-gray leather seats with perforated, pleated centers.

Of course, as a mid-size luxury sedan, the ES offered excellent leg- and head-room in back – a seat big enough to sleep on, matter of fact, just in case one of your shiftless in-laws goes broke again and needs a place to crash.

Like too many Lexis and Toyotas, the ES sports the same powertrain it had years ago – in this case, Toyota-Lexus’ venerable 3.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic.

The smooth V-6 cranks out 268-horsepower, just as it did in 2013, and directs the power through an outdated six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.

As you probably know, the ES shares platform pieces and other hardware with the Toyota Camry – and is assembled at the same Kentucky plant that builds the Camry — but feels more solid and sealed-up in motion.

Even under full-throttle acceleration, the modest V-6 and transmission doesn’t make much racket, though the transmission can be slow to downshift.

Nonetheless, they provided a reasonably strong surge from stops, hitting 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Lexus.

The down-side: ho-hum fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon overall.

Likewise, the 3,600-pound sedan’s main virtue when in motion was its smooth, silent ride.

Although the ES offers a sport mode button to slightly retune the engine, steering and suspension, it didn’t stray far from the car’s soft roots, stepping over bumps with lots of compliance and wheel-travel.

Push the car into a corner at moderate speeds and it leaned some, squirming a bit as speeds increased.

Moreover, the steering – while light and quick – felt as numb as my date’s toes the last time I went dancing. Sorry.

Still, if I had to drive to L.A., the ES would be high on my transport list.

By the way, my sedan contained about $10,000 in options, including 18-inch wheels ($880); navigation and Mark Levinson stereo ($2,615); parking assist ($500); and ultra-luxury interior package ($3,500).

Subtract all of that and you’ve got a solid near-luxury sedan for less than $39,000.

That’s hard to ignore – even in a car that avoids attention.

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2018 Lexus ES 350

  • What I liked most: The ES’ overall quality and refinement.
  • What I would change: Give the ES the more powerful V-6 and 8-speed automatic that are in the Camry XSE.
  • MSRP: Base price, $38,900; as equipped, $49,255.
  • Fuel economy: Rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway and 24 mpg overall.
  • Official color: Atomic Silver.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 4,809 miles.
  • Weight: approximately 3,600 pounds.
  • Length-width-height: 192.7 inches long/71.7 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds.
  • Spare tire: Temporary compact.
  • 2018 Lexus ES350 in a few words: Though outdated in some respects, the subtle ES still offers good value.
  • Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile basic warranty and six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain protection
  • Final assembly location: Georgetown, Ky.
  • Manufacturer’s website: www.lexus.com
  • E-mail me at terry@carprousa.com

Photo Credit: Lexus

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1 Comment
  1. Bruce Robertson 1 week ago

    We have one of these, a dream of my wife’s for many years. I quietly wondered about her sanity until the day she brought it home. I wonder no more. What a delightful vehicle to drive and ride in. I prefer trips in the 350 vs. our Big Engine F150 now.
    Good review and spot on.

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