A cocoon of serenity
With the introduction of nine retooled models in 2012, one could consider Lexus to be in the midst of a product renaissance, which they describe to as "progressive luxury." That credo leads them in their quest to produce innovative, luxury performance vehicles incorporating advanced technologies.
The latest rendering of the quest is the 2013 ES 350 and its hybrid counterpart, the ES 300h. The ES line accounts for 25% of all Lexus sales, so to say that this sixth-generation ES is an important milestone is an immense understatement.
The guiding tenets for re-visioning the ES were, "Neo Luxury" and "Neo Smart." From these precepts, Lexus engineers and designers pursued advanced technologies and advanced safety, along with a driver-focused cabin.
And incidentally, that cabin is now equally as commodious as that of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class; and similarly well equipped.
Spindle grille denotes familial genes
Lexus has adopted a dramatic grille design to denote their new generation of vehicles. Described as a "spindle grille," the ES' centrepiece was inspired by the frontal hardware of the exotic Lexus LF-LC supercar concept.
While only its grille resembles the rolling artwork that is the LF-LC, the new ES is a sharp looker in its own right that's nicely proportioned and accurately assembled. While restyling the vehicle, Lexus lengthened it by 25 mm and extended its wheelbase by 45 mm.
The expanded dimensions enabled an increase in interior real estate, resulting in class-leading rear-seat legroom; and "yes," it's remarkably accommodating back there. The generosity bestowed upon rear-seat occupants doesn't come at the benevolence of those riding first-class.
The amount of "stretch" room up front is exceptional and can be maintained without sacrificing limbs belonging to those seated behind. But it wasn't just space and sheetmetal that was addressed for 2013.
Smoother vault-like ride dynamics
In addition to giving the new ES more visual pizzazz and upgraded interior environs of greater capacity, Lexus reduced road and wind noise, which was arguably already one of the quietest cars in its class.
Obsessive attention to detail was applied to driving dynamics - and various other operational and design aspects of the ES - by the most highly trained and skilled Lexus engineers, known as Takumi, or maestros. The results enhance the driving pleasure of the vehicle and the comfort that one experiences within.
Same smooth V6 power
While the 2013 ES 350 is essentially new from the ground up, its circulatory system isn't, but that's not a disappointment by any stretch.
The vehicle continues to be powered by a 3.5L DOHC V6 gas engine producing 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm. In keeping with what works well, a 6-speed automatic transmission directs the punch to the car's front wheels. There is no all-wheel-drive option available.
And unlike many other cars in the midsize luxury segment, there are no paddle shifters to eliminate the need to reach for the stick to set your own shift schedule.
Behind the wheel
I harbour a fondness for the 2013 Lexus ES, believing it to be a true luxury car that's not parading as a sports sedan as well. There's no split focus on what this car's mission is.
Ultra quiet, comfortable cruising is its raison d'être, and it's accomplished with great aplomb and at an attractive price. Although not yet announced, I don't expect any big surprises either way from the current ES 350 ask, exclusive of 2012 incentives.
Passing, or even catching, a BMW 5 Series on a twisty road is not what this car will do. Still, it's stable and secure in the corners provided it's not pushed with great zeal. There will be protest for sure, but that's not unexpected and is easily accounted for.
Given that the ES loyalist has a mean age of 63 and that the conquest market Lexus is targeting has a mean age of 55, they have properly oriented this vehicle. But hey, I'm still a few ticks away from 55 and I think of myself as immature - as many others think of me - and I may be in age denial, yet I like this car and find it enjoyable, if not soothing, to drive.
You don't have to be pensioned to enjoy this car, but it helps.
And that's the real strength here. It's not about one-upmanship; it's about arriving rested and content, not frazzled and wound-up like a cheap watch. I think that Lexus is onto something. Being cocooned in quiet comfort while wasting away in traffic helps make the withering somewhat enjoyable.
And when the road opens up, there's plenty of punch under the hood to keep the drive sufficiently exhilarating for the loyalist and conquest alike.
Expect to see the new ES 350 in Lexus showrooms by mid-August.
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