2013 Lexus ES 350 Review and Road Test
2013 Lexus ES 350 stays true to its entry-luxury sedan mission
Scores High: Luxurious and roomy interior, comfortable ride, extremely refined engine and transmission
Scores Low: Isolated driving experience, some confusing controls, price climbs rapidly with options
Total Car Score Analysis
For car buyers seeking a reliable and comfortable entry-level luxury sedan, the Lexus ES has been high on the consideration list since its introduction nearly 25 years ago. Now in its sixth-generation, the all-new 2013 Lexus ES maintains its successful formula — front-wheel drive, six-cylinder power, leather and wood appointments and a long list of standard luxury equipment.
But Lexus has made a big change for the 2013 model, as the all-new ES is built on a significantly larger and more advanced platform that is lighter, stronger and much more spacious than its predecessor. Combine those desirable qualities with innovative electronics and a long list of safety features, and the ES 350 shows no signs of giving up its best-selling title.
Unfortunately, Lexus’ history of emphasizing luxury over driver engagement continues as well, creating a rather detached and emotionless experience for those behind the wheel of the 2013 ES 350. The engine is smooth, but unexciting, and the comfortable ride turns into sloppy handling when the sedan is driven with any enthusiasm. Of course the car’s sales record suggests Lexus knows its audience well, and given the new ES 350’s latest improvements it should appeal to that audience even more.
Unlike most of its entry-luxury competition from Europe and America, the 2013 Lexus ES 350 only arrives with one powertrain choice — all models are front-wheel drive with a standard V6 engine. Under the hood is the automaker's familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine, carried forward nearly unchanged from last year and rated at 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission with a traditional gate on the center console (there are no steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but the driver may take manual control of the gearbox by moving the lever to the left and enacting sport mode).
While 268 horsepower sounds rather impressive on paper, the ES 350’s engine and gearbox aren't tuned to maximize performance. As is often the case with a front-wheel drive vehicle sporting a powerful V6, wheelspin is easy to achieve from a standstill. Unfortunately, acceleration seems to fall off quickly after the initial rush of power. To perk things up, and offer more operator control, Lexus has fitted the electronically-controlled transmission with a three-mode dial. By default, it runs in Normal mode — shifts are buttery smooth and very comfortable. Move it over to Eco mode and the air conditioning compressor’s activity is restricted while throttle response is delayed to conserve fuel — the ES 350 turns unresponsive and lethargic. Our favorite mode was Sport, as throttle response is quickened and the steering is firmed up.
The ES 350’s overall ride is very comfortable in a straight line, regardless of the road surface (there are independent MacPherson struts and coil springs at all four corners), but body roll and narrow all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels limit its cornering capabilities. Braking was initially strong, but there was noticeable fade after several repeated stops. Thanks to a sleek drag coefficient (.27) and generous insulation, cabin noise levels are low on nearly all road surfaces.
According to the manufacturer, the Lexus 2013 ES 350 will earn 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway/24 mpg combined. Regular unleaded fuel is recommended.
Interior Design and Function
The Lexus ES has always coddled its occupants with a very comfortable and plush cabin, but the automaker really upped the luxury appointments with the all-new 2013 ES 350. Unlike the outgoing model, which shared its platform with the Toyota Camry, the completely redesigned model is now built on the larger Toyota Avalon chassis. While the ES’ outside dimensions only grow marginally, the interior has benefitted dramatically — rear seat passengers enjoy four more inches of legroom.
In terms of design, owners of last year's ES 350 would hardly recognize the cabin of the 2013 model. Fresh and modern in appearance, it retains an electroluminescent analog gauge cluster, but the rest of the dashboard comes from a clean slate. The navigation display has been moved to the top of the dash, under its own hood, with a small analog clock directly below it (set between the center climate control vents). Basic audio and HVAC controls occupy the rest of the center stack. While Lexus’ design goals may have been more important than ergonomics in the new ES, the primary controls remain easy to access and use.
Most prominent in vehicles equipped with navigation system is the Lexus Remote Touch interface system immediately to the right of the console shifter. Utilizing haptic technology feedback (a system that uses resistance and vibration to help the user move the cursor around the screen), Remote Touch functions much like a computer mouse on a small fixed pad — we found it works well, but there is a learning curve. (It should also be noted that Lexus, like many automakers, blocks many functions of the navigation system while the vehicle is in motion.)
Passengers in all positions, especially the rear seats, will find the ES 350 cabin very comfortable. Outward visibility is excellent, and the available panorama glass roof dramatically increases ambient light within the cabin (optional shades, on the side rear windows and back glass, provided the opposite effect for passengers seeking a bit more privacy).
Primary Features and Options
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is sold in five different trim levels, each adding a bundled package of luxury equipment over the base model.
Standard models include leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition, brown walnut or espresso bird's-eye maple interior wood trim, 10-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger seating, an eight-speaker premium audio system and 17-inch alloy wheels. The first option package includes heated and ventilated seats plus a wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel (and shift knob) and a full-size spare tire. The second package adds navigation, Bluetooth and an integrated backup camera, while the third option package introduces a power rear sunshade and parking assist. The top trim level is upgraded with a Mark Levinson audio system, semi-aniline perforated leather, adaptive xenon headlights and a panorama glass roof.
Standard safety equipment includes front, side, curtain and knee airbags (for the front passengers). Stability control, traction control and electronic brake force distribution are also standard. Lexus Enform with Safety Connect is optional.
While most optional equipment may be bundled in a trim level, Lexus also offers many of the features a la carte. The optional equipment list includes power rear sunshade ($210), rear spoiler ($319), pre-collision system and dynamic radar cruise control ($1,500), 17-inch E-Sport alloy wheels ($1,250) and parking assist ($500).
It's Perfect For…
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is vanilla transportation in a world full of unique flavors. While other automakers boast powerful engines, oversized brakes, wide tires and sporty driving dynamics, Lexus focuses on what most buyers in this segment really care about — a luxurious and comfortable ride. For more than two decades the automaker has been refining the formula with its ES series. For 2013 it is one step closer to perfecting it.
Buyers looking for a very comfortable and competent front-wheel drive luxury sedan, with an extensive and responsive dealer network, need look no further. Spacious, reliable and safe, the 2013 ES 350 makes very few compromises. However, those seeking for a sport sedan with an engaging driver experience should look elsewhere.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Lexus ES 350
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $36,725
Options on Test Vehicle: Starfire Pearl exterior paint ($0), Parchment Leather Trim with Brown Walnut Accent ($0), Navigation System/Mark Levinson Package with Additional Options ($8,100) and Destination ($895).
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $45,720
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.