The common refrain from Lexus' luxury rivals is that the entry-luxury ES sedan is nothing more than a tarted-up Camry. Toyota product planners prefer to think of it the other way around — that the Camry is a Lexus with less content.
Indeed, the 1992 Camry — the first Toyota that had the fingerprints of American engineers and product planners on it — had to be good because it was going to share its platform with a Lexus. They knew this because the stopgap ES 250 was based on the previous-generation Camry, and it did not measure up.
In hindsight, some Toyotans have whispered that the 1992 Camry was "too good" and that hitting the price-cost-profit targets was impossible.
Even though this is an iconic vehicle, the Toyota Museum does not have one. Instead, I borrowed a 61,000-mile example from Toyota product engineer Chris Cocores. He obviously is proud of his 15-year-old car because it is in better shape than many mid-sized sedans just off the dealership lot.
While underpowered compared to today's mid-sized competition, the 2.2-liter four-banger has plenty of pep, and freeway speeds arrive surprisingly quickly. Perhaps that's because first and second gear are short. Perhaps it's because the electronically controlled throttle button is set to "power." Yes, there actually is a difference in response between the "power" and "econ" settings.