Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the status of navigation availability on the Lexus ES 350. It is an optional feature and comes with a one-year trial subscription to NavTraffic.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Lexus detractors pillory the ES 350 as little more than a rebadged Toyota Camry XLE. But an initial drive of the re-engineered 2013 ES lineup challenges that claim, even though much of the platform and powertrain are shared with the Camry.
The basics: The wheelbase matches that of the Toyota Avalon full-sized sedan, rather than the Camry, giving it extra interior roominess.
The carryover 3.5-liter engine develops 268 hp and is rated at 21/31 mpg in city/highway driving without modern features such as direct injection. It also runs on 87-octane gasoline.
Although it has been panned as a soulless, soporific appliance, the ES 350 zips to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and turns a 15.1-second quarter-mile time.
The carryover six-speed automatic transmission is a bit behind competitors' seven- and eight-speed automatics, but shift quality is smooth. The car's sport mode maintains ride comfort while increasing stability through hard corners, but there is no mistaking the ES for a sport sedan.
Notable features: For the first time, the ES line gets a hybrid. The ES 300h uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine that delivers power to the wheels via a motor-generator and an electronically controlled planetary gearset that mimics a continuously variable transmission. It is the same system used in the Toyota Camry.
For increased body rigidity, Lexus has reinforced the instrument panel, added floor braces and a rear strut bar and used more ultra high-strength steel throughout.
Standard features include 10 airbags, 17-inch wheels, SmartKey, and Bluetooth connectivity. The standard 10-way power driver and passenger seats come with faux-leather seating surfaces and improved cushioning for the pelvis and hips.
The base model comes with a moon roof, and there's an optional panoramic frameless glass roof that retracts one panel over another. The base audio system includes a CD player, high-definition radio, eight-channel digital amplifier, auxiliary jack, satellite radio hookup and eight speakers.
For drivers who forget their high beams are on at night, the ES 350 automatically dims them when headlights or taillights are detected ahead. The optional blind spot monitor system detects objects from the rear bumper when backing out of a parking space. The interior paneling on the hybrid edition includes bamboo wood trim.