After the first couple of days in our test 2013 Lexus ES 350, I was still unable to hit the EPA highway estimate of 31 MPG. “Don’t worry,” I told myself, “You’ve got a long road trip in the middle of the week that’ll set things straight.”
But it didn’t.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I normally trounce EPA highway estimates. When tracking my family’s fleet on Fuelly, I always mark my highway/city mix as 70%/30%, but even that 30% is driving in a small town with no truly long traffic lights and little idle time. Our Nissan cube, rated by the EPA for 31 MPG highway, has averaged 36 MPG after more than two years being driven by me and my wife. My 2006 Ford Ranger was rated at 27 MPG highway by the EPA, and though my long-term Fuelly tracking currently matches that number almost exactly thanks to some heavy tires I recently installed and the truck’s fast-approaching 100,000-mile service interval– which includes new spark plugs– my mileage has routinely hovered in the 29-31 MPG range for much of my ownership of the truck.
Coming into the Lexus ES 350 and knowing its Toyota Camry/Avalon roots should make for a fuel-sipping ride, I fully expected to repeat my usual performance and match– or perhaps best– the EPA highway figure. But here I was, two days in, driving mostly 45 MPH highways and still unable to do better than 25 MPG. Disappointing.
Surely, I thought, it’s just me, so I hit the interstate and set the cruise at the 70 MPH limit for a two-hour jaunt down to Nashville on day three. While the instantaneous MPG estimate displayed in the ES 350’s gauge cluster routinely got into 30+ MPG territory– and even stayed there for a while on flatter sections– during the trip, it was not enough to bring my average for the week above the EPA highway estimate of 31 MPG. After probably less than 20 minutes of city driving time and the return trip home, the on-board trip computer reported my average had climbed well above the EPA combined estimate of 24 MPG, however, pegging just shy of 28 MPG.
Perhaps with another long day of highway cruising, I could have beat the EPA highway figure, as I am wont to do. But the experience has left me doubting my abilities as a fuel miser. Okay, and perhaps my experiences with the Toyota Prius V the week before I had the ES 350 didn’t help things. Maybe the answer with the ES 350, much like the Prius V, is to stop babying it in search of better fuel economy numbers and just drive the darn thing like it’s my own.
Following that line of reasoning, the final few days of my test week did not see the drop in average MPG I had initially expected upon returning to low-speed commuter duty, despite a few, shall we call them, “spirited moments” behind the ES 350’s wood-trimmed wheel. It could be that the car is engineered to return its best fuel economy when driven in such an average manner. Or it might be that the EPA testing methods are getting better at predicting what kind of mileage I can actually expect, since I did, after all, end the week roughly 3.5 MPG above the EPA combined figure.
Folks who spend better than $40 large on such nicely appointed cars as the Lexus ES 350 may not place fuel economy at the top of their list, but it’s probably in the mix. Whether its supple ride, bumpin’ sound system, the sweet Lexus Enform suite, and luxurious interior trim is enough to make fuel economy an also-ran is something only individual buyers can decide for themselves.
Disclaimer: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.