- Powerful and velvety-smooth V6
- Plush ride
- Sumptuous interior
- High-end luxury features available
- Price increases quickly with options
- Unimpressive handling and braking
Despite what some luxury brands may be telling us, not all drivers are looking for bucket loads of horsepower and driving dynamics on par with sports cars. Some buyers are really only looking for a comfortable and luxurious ride that isolates them from the outside world. The 2011 Lexus ES 350 was made with these car shoppers in mind.
The ES 350 foregoes driver engagement and excitement and concentrates on a cosseting cabin with top-notch leather upholstery, rich wood trim and silence reminiscent of a bank vault. Its V6 engine adequately propels this entry-level Lexus, giving it performance numbers that are just average in this segment. The ES 350 is easy to drive and can be optioned with as many or as few technological features as buyers want, and this seems to be a winning formula for many entry-level luxury sedan buyers.
This ES 350 formula sees almost no adjustments for 2011. The only notable change is the recommendation to use standard 87-octane unleaded instead of the pricier premium fuel. The V6's rated power has dropped slightly as a result (from 272 horsepower to 268). But assuming that performance is not a primary concern, this should benefit the average ES 350 owner. As it stands, the ES continues to have just one main drawback, which is its tendency to get rather pricey as options are tacked on.
Among other sedans in the ES 350's price range, we count the 2011 Buick LaCrosse and 2011 Hyundai Genesis as the closest competition -- both offer similar features and levels of comfort but are a bit more responsive in terms of driving dynamics. You could also check out the 2011 Acura TL and 2011 Volvo S60, which are sportier still. It's worth considering all these models, but overall the Lexus ES 350 continues to be a fine choice for a luxury sedan.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The only change in store for the 2011 Lexus ES 350 is the V6 engine's new calibration for regular octane gas.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that is offered in a single well-appointed trim level. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, automatic wipers, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats, driver memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, an auto-dimming mirror, Bluetooth phone and music streaming capability, and an eight-speaker stereo with in-dash six-CD changer, satellite radio, iPod interface, auxiliary audio jack and USB audio jack.
The ES 350 options list is extensive, with many features grouped into packages. These options include xenon adaptive headlights, a self-parking system, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision system, heated and ventilated front seats, front passenger memory functions, upgraded leather upholstery, a power rear sunshade and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. The optional hard-drive-based navigation system includes a back-up camera, voice commands, real-time traffic updates and the Lexus Enform telematics system. A 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium stereo can be added to the navigation system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
Luxury is the name of the ES 350's game, and for the most part, Lexus has succeeded in constructing one of the most comfortable and inviting interiors in its price range. Materials are as good as you'll find, with supple leathers and real wood trim. The ES 350 is also stocked with features that we're more accustomed to finding in much more expensive luxury sedans.
Space is plentiful throughout the ES 350, with roomy rear seats and a trunk that can accommodate up to 14.7 cubic feet of cargo. Folding rear seats and a cargo pass-through also allow for the transport of longer items.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Lexus ES 350 includes stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Optional features include a radar-based pre-collision system and the "Lexus Enform and Safety Connect" emergency telematics system.
In recent Edmunds brake testing, the ES 350 came to a stop in a longish 133 feet from 60 mph -- that's 18 feet longer than a Hyundai Genesis sedan took in the same test.
In government crash testing, the ES 350 earned five out of five stars for frontal crash protection and front seat side crash protection. It earned four stars for rear side protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the ES 350 was awarded the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests. The IIHS notes, however, that these ratings were based on results from the Toyota Camry, which shares a platform with the Lexus.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2011 Lexus ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard for this front-wheel-drive car. The lowering of fuel requirements from premium unleaded to standard 87-octane fuel has also dropped power output slightly (from last year's 272 hp and 254 lb-ft), but 0-60-mph acceleration should still be right around 7.0 seconds, which is average for this segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy remains the same at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The 2011 Lexus ES 350 delivers a refined and serene driving experience. The V6 engine is smooth and sufficiently powerful, and if you're not particularly interested in sporty dynamics, the ES 350's isolated and soft ride will be to your liking. But if you do find yourself on a curvy road, know that the ES's wallowy handling and numb steering will be notable drawbacks. At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent, mostly devoid of wind, road or engine noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are absorbed with barely a hint of their presence reaching the passengers.
As far as entry-level luxury sedans go, the 2011 Lexus ES 350 remains a top choice, but it's not the only choice.