I mentioned in my intro to our 2013 Lexus ES 350 tester that it’s based on the Toyota Avalon. That car has a reputation as a “bankermobile,” as it is popular with that demographic because of its combination of value, space, and luxury. If that be the case, the ES is for whomever owns the bank.
People who have landed in such positions want a few things from an automobile. They want something that looks stately, though perhaps not stuffy. They want a well-screwed together interior that is all-day comfortable. They want an audio system that sounds as good at low volumes as it does cranked up. And, being that they’re still bankers, after all, they want to know they didn’t get ripped off. I’d feel confident in saying our Lexus ES 350 hits the mark on all of these criteria.
In any given parking lot, the ES 350 looks confident, but not boisterous. Clean body lines with a hint of sporty character make the car attractive at any angle under just about any lighting condition. It’s a handsome design that will reward the eye who, perhaps out of boredom during a lunch break, scans the office parking lot looking at other people’s rides, but it does not scream “LOOK AT ME! OVER HERE!” For a great many drivers who work in a professional office setting, such conservative good looks are an asset.
Having driven our ES on an all-day trip during our week-long test, I can attest to the interior’s all-day comfort. The NuLuxe seating looks and feels as good as any leather, and the 10-way power adjustable driver and front passenger seats with adjustable lumbar support make it easy to find a comfortable position. At 6’3″, I scooted the seat all the way back, but I had ample legroom. An annoyance in some lesser cars is that I’ve always preferred a steering wheel somewhat close to me, so thankfully, the ES 350′s wheel tilts and telescopes through a fairly wide range of positions. Helping the all-day comfort, especially during the cold temperatures we experienced during that day-long trip, were heated seats that waste no time in warming your buns. Also making the car all-day comfortable: its suspension’s ability to soak up road imperfections with aplomb.
The eight-speaker premium audio system produced clear, intelligible sound at low volumes as well as high. With the volume maxed out, highs remained crisp and bass remained clean. Driving down the highway with the volume set at a low enough level to allow for quiet conversation between front-row occupants, the music was still audible, and DJs’ voices were clear and understandable. Partial credit in the latter situation goes to the ES 350′s superb noise dampening, no doubt, but I’ve always been told the true measure of a car audio system’s quality is its ability to be heard plainly at low volumes as well as it is at high volumes, and the ES 350′s audio system can lay claim to that attribute.
Finally, there’s the question of value for the money. At our tester’s MSRP of $43,684, I think you could do a lot worse for a stately front-wheel drive sedan. The starting MSRP of Lexus’ own IS 250, though a smaller, harsher, sportier sedan, is only about $1,000 less than the $36,100 starting price of the ES 350. A comparably equipped Volvo S80 would set you back at least $3,000 more than our tester’s $43,684. So would the Audi A6– and it would have a smaller, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine instead of the ES 350′s smooth, confident, naturally aspirated V6. Among front-drive luxury cars, the ES 350 is a solid value undercut only by marques with less prestige. But then, we suspect few people would cross-shop a north-of-$40k Lexus ES 350 with a south-of-$30k Ford Taurus, even though they ostensibly could fill the same role as a large, quiet family sedan.
Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.