2012 Lexus ES350 – worry-free luxury. What’s not to like?

When news of the arrival of the 2012 Lexus ES350 sedan spread through my gang of car enthusiast pals and family, one of my sharp-witted friends quipped, “Sure can’t have too much of a boring car, can we?”  That comment may be a bit harsh, but the truth is all the many strengths the Lexus ES350 possesses are what keeps it off the radar of driving enthusiasts.

Lexus has worked tirelessly to build an impeccable reputation for luxury and reliability and the premium brand has consistently earned the highest levels of customer satisfaction.  The ES350 is a superb example of Toyota’s – er, Lexus’s corporate prowess in building fine cars with broad appeal.

For the uninitiated, the ES350 is Lexus’s luxury version of the Toyota Camry, a car that impressed us mightily when we tested it recently.  If you love Camry’s and are looking to move up to the luxury market, the Lexus is just the ticket.

Everything we loved about the Camry is ‘translated’ into the Lexus, but at a noticeable notch higher in luxury and quality.  Visually, the Lexus strikes the same conservatively handsome profile as the bread-and-butter Camry.  A broad, 4-bar chrome grille with a signature “L” badge is the major styling cue. This distinctive front profile (shared with the full-size Lexus LS460) that is the main feature that visually distinguishes the Lexus from the Camry.

Inside the ES350, the cabin offers a comfortable sense of luxury without pretense.  Our test vehicle came with rich, perforated leather upholstery in a ‘Parchment’ colour that contrasts nicely with the deep metallic blue paint.  Wood grain finish adds an upscale touch to the centrestack, console and door armrests, with chrome trim accents subtly livening up the interior.  Our unit came with the optional Ultra Premium Package with Navigation (a pricey $10,050) that includes an impressive two-section panoramic sunroof that contributes to the cabin’s bright and spacious ambience.

Behind the wheel, the Lexus immediately makes the driver comfortable.  The front seats are heated and ventilated with a fan, and are comfortable enough that they’re not noticeable even after long hours of travel.  In typical Lexus fashion, the main instruments – a speedometer and tachometer – are large and legible, and the array of buttons to control the multitude of audio (AM/FM/CD/Aux/satellite radio), navigation and HVAC functions are superbly simple to understand quickly.  If you’re put off by the complexity of a dizzying myriad of controls that some luxury cars force drivers to grapple with, the Lexus is refreshingly simple to operate.  Kudos to Lexus interior designers.

Driving the Lexus ES350 is the perfect luxury experience for many potential buyers.  The ride is cushy, the cabin is appropriately silent, and on the highway, road and wind noise is blissfully absent.  The downside of all this luxury car goodness is that it lacks even the slightest streak of sporting athleticism.  The steering provides little feedback and is over-boosted.  In fast turns, the car dutifully follows orders, but not happily.  The same suspension that delivers a controlled, but pillowy ride is too soft to give anything that resembles the crisp, responsiveness that enthusiast drivers seek.  (For some reason, the bare-bones 4-cylinder 2012 Camry LE we tested a few weeks ago, as snooze-inducing it was to drive, seemed more agile and lighter on its feet than this more expensive Lexus variant.)  If you’re one of those old school car lovers who bemoan the loss of ‘traditional’ American luxury cars, fear not.  The ES350 drive’s just like your father’s Buick.

While the ES350 luxury sedan may not be a sporting car, it is a fabulously comfortable and economical long distance sedan.  During our time with the Lexus, we loaded up the car with four adults for a day trip to Banff and our passengers remarked on the car’s pleasing comfort and excellent build quality.  With its large panoramic sunroof, the Lexus was the perfect vehicle to show our out-of-town guests the majestic Canadian Rockies.

In June, Toyota announced the Lexus ES350 ranked highest in the Entry Premium category for the second year in a row in J.D. Power & Associates’ 2012 Initial Quality Survey. The 2012 Lexus ES350 is the perfect mid-size luxury sedan for many people.  It’s build quality, proven reliability and low operating costs make it easy to recommend for those who seek a worry-free ownership experience above all else.

The Specs

2012 Lexus ES350

Type of vehicle:  Mid-size luxury 4-door sedan

Engine: 3.5-litre 6-cylinder

Power: 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Brakes: 4-wheel disc brakes,  ABS with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist

Tires: 215/55R17 all-season, full-size spare

Price: $42,150;  As-tested:  $54.250 (includes Ultra Premium Package with Navigation, $10,050, Freight/PDI $1950, AC excise tax $100)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 10.9 city, 7.2 highway (regular unleaded)

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