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Lexus fills its 2007 ES with more luxury

2007 LEXUS ES 350
ON SALE: April
BASE PRICE: $33,900 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 3.5-liter, 272-hp, 254-lb-ft V6; fwd, six-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3580 lbs
0 TO 60 MPH: 6.8 seconds
FUEL MILEAGE (EPA COMBINED): 25 mpg

The ES rides on 17-inch alloys; a tire-pressure warning system is standard. The interior features an abundance of wood and leather. And thanks to a nearly flat floor, the back seat is roomy.
When Toyota launched its Lexus luxury-car lineup in 1989, it did so with two vehicles, the flagship LS 400 followed closely by the smaller ES 250. At the time Lexus officials thought the smaller ES wouldn't be as popular as the more luxurious sedan. But sales of the ES soared, creating what has become the near-luxury segment now populated by cars from several makers. Last year Lexus sold 67,577 ES models vs. just 26,043 LS models. So much for the marketing experts.

Nearly 20 years later the Lexus lineup has eight different models—including a full slate of sport/utility vehicles—but the ES remains a stalwart. Like many of us as we move up in age, the ES has grown, too. The fifth-generation ES carries the 350 moniker, reflecting the 3.5-liter V6 now providing the power.

The increase in power is welcomed as the Camry-based car rides on a wheelbase more than two inches longer and one inch wider than the model it replaces. That extra space is primarily given to the cabin, where both front- and rear-seat passengers enjoy more hip-, shoulder- and legroom.

While the ES exterior is the latest example of the Lexus L-finesse design theme of a long hood, sweptback cabin and short rear overhang, it is the interior of the car we most enjoy. As we have come to expect, the ES cabin is about as quiet a place as you can find on the highway today. Even at cruising speed, virtually no wind or road noise is detected. White-on-black gauges—Lexus calls them Optitron—are bright and clear and have a precision look to them not unlike a fine watch. Optional wood trim and leather seats outfitted our test vehicle.

However much we enjoy riding in a Lexus, the driving experience can be somewhat less rewarding. The ES is not a sports car, and it will have trouble igniting passionate gasoline-fueled flames with its personality. But the V6 engine makes 272 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque, more than enough power for the buyers who will seek this car out. Lexus says a 0-to-60-mph run takes 6.8 seconds—several ticks quicker than the car this model replaces—and at no time during our daylong test drive did we feel the ES is underpowered.
The power is routed to the front wheels via a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence and sequential shift. A computer picks the gear ratios depending upon engine horsepower and torque output. The shifts are quick and smooth, even while negotiating some rather hilly roads, and if you choose to shift yourself the transmission will stay in gear even as you bump against the 6400-rpm limit.
The ES may be the baby Lexus, but it comes loaded with all the electronic goodies customers expect in a luxury car. Keyless entry and a push-to-start ignition system are standard as is dual-zone automatic climate control. A power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 10-way power front seats make it easy to find a comfortable driving position.

Also standard are stability control and traction control systems that use throttle and brake intervention to keep the car pointed in the right direction. Eight airbags are standard in the ES 350, with two more airbags—rear-seat side units—optional.A backup camera is available if you order the navigation system. You can also order what Lexus calls the first intelligent adaptive front lighting system where both the left and right headlight bulbs swivel at the same time when the driver steers into a corner.

The ES 350's standard sound system has a six-disc in-dash CD changer, MP3 player and an iPod input jack. But the optional Mark Levinson 300-watt, 14-speaker system is terrific.It would be the first option we would tick off if this car were headed to our garage. The system can play DVD audio and video, which can be viewed on the seven-inch color touch screen when the car is parked.

The ES might have created a new segment, but with all the appointments of this latest model, the term near-luxury in no way does the car justice.

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