2013 Lexus ES 350 Starts at $36,995, Hybrid at $2,750 Premium

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Test drives of the front-drive mid-size cars shows that once again, these are well-equipped, quiet luxury models.

Lexus today announced prices for the revised 2013 ES 350 due in dealerships in August. The base price, if base applies to the well-equipped sedan, is $36,995 including delivery. Lexus claims that this is a decrease of 1.7% compared to the outgoing model.

The ES 300h hybrid sedan –  the first hybrid in the ES line – starts at $39,745, which is a premium of $2,750 compared to the ES 350, and the lowest markup for a hybrid in the Lexus line. With its 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, the ES 300h is expected to earn EPA fuel economy ratings of ~40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. The ES 300h generates 200 total system horsepower between the gasoline engine and electric motors.

Both of the new ES models are based on – and use the same gas and hybrid powertrains – as the 2013 Toyota Avalon, which seems an unusually strong car from both technical and design viewpoints. Avalon will not only give Ford Taurus, Buick La Crosse and Chevrolet Impala strong competition next year in a full-size car segment once dominated by the Detroit Three, but it will challenge the new Lexus ES as well.

Power for the ES 350 is from a 3.5-liter V6 engine with variable valve timing for the intake. It is rated at a more than sufficient 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,700 rpm. The six-speed sequential-shift automatic transaxle is electronically controlled and provides flawless shifts. The optional paddle shifter is great fun, but the computer overrides driver inputs that would work the engine close to its redline with a ‘ding-ding’ chime that says in essence “no you are not getting that downshift.”

Preliminary ES 350 EPA-fuel economy estimates of 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined are almost identical to those of the Toyota Avalon, which is EPA-rated at 21 city, 31 highway and 25 mpg combined. This is not exactly world beating – for comparison consider the Buick La Crosse, which now comes standard with a mild hybrid or e-assist system and  is rated 25 city, 36 highway and 29 combined,

The original ES 300 Lexus, along with the LS 400, established the Japanese carmaker as a leader in plush, quiet and affordable luxury automobiles, all qualities then scoffed at by German automakers until it became apparent 20 years ago that Lexus was a force to be reckoned with in the U.S. luxury market.

A day of test-driving both of the front-drive mid-size cars shows that once again, these are well-equipped, quiet luxury models. However, Lexus engineers have abandoned the plush ride that made its name, for a distinctly German chassis setup that verges on the harsh and intrusive. Lexus executives claim that this is what customers want – which could come as news to the one million existing ES owners.

The latest ES 350 is about 1 inch longer in overall length at 193 inches, and adds 2 inches to its wheelbase, now 111 inches – with most of the added legroom going to rear passengers. When riding on the optional all-season tires 225/45R18 (215/55R17 standard) the ES tracks straight at all speeds, but the lack of sidewall compliance that results from the trendy looking 45-series aspect ratio tires results in a jolting ride. This unwanted firmness is noticeable from the wheel reaction to low amplitude, high velocity tar strips, as well as larger amplitude frost heaves and pothole and broken pavement jolts. This I will bet will be a surprise to those familiar with previous iterations.

In a partially successful attempt to improve turn-in response slowed by the longer wheelbase, the steering ratio is quickened to 14.8:1 (down from 16:1) for the electric power steering, which like all electric steering setups is marshmallow soft on center. Four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist (BA), Traction Control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) comprise an excellent technical package of electronic driving aids that makes the car idiot resistant.

For the foolish and fate tempting – including myriad distracted drivers on their cellphones –  ES has a class-leading 10 airbags as standard equipment, including driver and front passenger knee, front and seat-mounted air bags, as well as rear seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats are designed to limit excessive head movement in rear-end collisions, helping to decrease the severity of these injuries

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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