For model year 2013, Lexus redesigned the ES 350 midsize luxury sedan, adding the signature spindle (hourglass) grille, improved handling and 4.1 inches of additional rear legroom, thanks to the switch to the longer wheelbase of the Toyota Avalon platform.With this switch from the Camry architecture, the wheelbase increased by 1.8 inches, but the overall length increased only one inch. New for 2014 is a package featuring high-intensity-discharge headlamps with LED daytime running lights and fog lights ($565), with the “L” design language continuing in the front and rear lights.Bamboo interior trim is now available, as well as heated and ventilated leather front seats, both included in a Luxury Package for $1,370. The package also brings a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel (with bamboo); Lexus memory system for the driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel; and remote keyless entry-linked memory. Lexus ES models now offer Siri Eyes Free Mode for iPhone 4S and 5 with voice command for placing a call, text messaging and email, playing iTunes, getting directions, hearing notifications and calendar events, adding appointments and reminders, and performing a web search.The starting price for the ES 350 with a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission is $36,470 with standard faux leather seating, moonroof, dual climate controls, and luxurious roominess.Lots of options are offered, from wheel locks for $70, to a power trunk lid for $$400, or an Ultra Luxury Package ($2,935) with bamboo trim, climate-controlled seats, driver’s seat/mirror/steering wheel memory, power rear sunshade, and semi-aniline premium leather seating. There are nine available exterior colors and three interior colors, with gray or parchment pillars and headliner, and black-textured dash and door panels. The dark texture helps to reduce glare from the dash and windshield.My tester came in the Silver Lining Metallic color with black leather interior and 17-inch, split 10-spoke wheels in Liquid Graphite ($110). In all it had $6,822 in options, including a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert ($500); power rear sunshade ($210); the Luxury Package; intuitive parking assist ($500); bamboo- and leather-trimmed shift knob, and heated bamboo-and-leather steering wheel ($300); and trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks ($242). The car also had the navigation option ($2,625), which came with a backup camera, eight- inch VGA screen, casual-language voice recognition, single DVD/CD player, Lexus Enform 2.0 with Safety Connect (automatic collision notification, stolen-vehicle location, SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance), destination assist and eDestination, including a one-year subscription, and subscription-free App Suite. App Suite provides Bing, iHeart Radio, Pandora, Facebook Places and more.The Lexus Premium Audio System has automatic sound levelizing, MP3 connectivity (mini-plug) and eight speakers. Bluetooth technology and USB audio plug are standard.Its sound was average, and the on-screen controls were the usual time-consuming, annoying digital technology, with no way to program a desired frequency. Scrolling, searching or scanning are the only options provided. All functions, including climate, multimedia, and phone, were managed using a remote touch (mouse/joystick-style) controller with a wrist-rest and finger pad located at the front of the center console, within easy reach for even my short arms. I like not having to remove my hand from the controller or reaching for a touch screen, which I find very distracting. The drive-mode controller also occupied a small area at the front of the center console. ES 350 offers three driving modes; Eco, Normal, and Sport. For this review, I used Normal, which balances power, fuel economy and ride comfort.Eco mode helps conserve fuel, but limits power for acceleration and climate control. The ES 350 is EPA rated for 21 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. I managed 26.3 mpg combined, driving mostly around the surface streets near home. As a bonus, the ES 350 doesn’t require premium fuel – cheaper regular gas works just fine. The front center console had two cupholders and a small bi-level storage compartment under the armrest with two ports and one outlet, which wasn’t much storage for a driver and passenger with multiple devices.Door pockets were small and didn’t include bottle holders. Rear passengers had two cupholders, two seatback pockets and no door pockets. There were air vents on the back of the front console, along with one outlet.Rear passengers have lots of legroom (40 inches) and headroom (37.5 inches), the same as the front passengers. Front legroom was 41.9 inches, and the 10-way power front seats were fairly comfortable, although the lumbar support wasn’t as firm as I prefer.The ES 350 has 10 air bags, including seat-mounted side impact air bags front and rear, side-curtain air bags front and rear, and knee air bags for the driver and front passenger. Lexus also includes energy-managing crumple zones and side door beams. Smart-stop technology adds another layer of protection in the event of mixed signals (accelerator and brake pressed simultaneously) or electrical malfunction causing acceleration in spite of the brake being pressed. Also called brake override, the system applies braking to overcome the acceleration command, to bring the vehicle to a safe stop. The rear seat was stationary, with a pass-through behind the middle seatback/armrest. All three seats had anchors and tethers for child safety seats, as well as having adjustable headrests. The trunk was wide open with only small intrusions from the rear wheel wells, and could accommodate enough luggage for a weekend road trip, equipment for the beach or groceries for several weeks.A temporary spare tire and tools were nicely hidden under the floor mat, and the cargo net was stored in a zippered pouch attached to cargo hooks near the trunk opening.My ES 350 was a pleasure to drive, with almost effortless steering, smooth cornering and turning, and quick acceleration (when needed).This is a luxury sedan, not a sports car, and aside from some tire noise on rough surfaces, the ride was quite smooth. The ES 350 also comes with Personalized Settings, allowing the driver to change such things as the lock/unlock beep volume, remote A/C activation, the number of clicks to remotely open the trunk, and a host of other convenience features. Total sticker price of my tester was $44,202, including options and $910 freight.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at email@example.com.