Photo: 2015 Lexus ES 350 Photo 1
ES doesn’t surprise or delight, but it does its job
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Chalk it up to jet lag-induced delirium, but I felt like I already knew everything I needed to know about the Lexus ES350 waiting for me in the airport parking lot before I even opened the door. The La-Z-Boy softness of its seats, especially the headrests. The well-assembled, if boring, interior. The reassuring “thunk” of the door closing. The silence of the cabin at speed. Even that little “dink” sound the Enform infotainment system makes when you move the strange square cursor thingy around.
It was a really weird out-of-body type situation paired with the sort of revelation that maybe only comes after 24 bleary hours of travel: This is the Big Mac of luxury cars, and I almost certainly mean that as a compliment. After all, it’s not for nothing that McDonald’s has that whole “billions and billions served” thing going for it, right?
Stay with me here: You know exactly how the burger is going to taste before you take the first bite. It’s an exceptionally adequate, infinitely reproducible experience. Its most marketable asset is its perfect consistency. And how long do you think about a Big Mac after it’s done its job — after you’re done eating it?
That’s what the ES350 is like. By design, it is a luxury car for people who don’t care about what they’re driving, provided it meets all the basic luxury flavor groups: smooth, golf club space, leather, quiet, positive dealership experience, and sound system.
The ES350 offers such a pleasant (if sterile) overall experience that there’s nothing about it, good or bad, that really sticks with you once you’re done driving it. In a sense, this boringness is liberating; before, during and after your drive, you’re free to think about the things that really matter, like how you’re going to totally crush that business presentation or how to improve your short game or whatever.
I think some part of me always understood, at least in the abstract, why this normcore luxury formulation appealed to a big segment of the car-buying public — even if Lexus’ purposefully bland approach was a big turn-off to me as an enthusiast. After a grueling slog through airports and days spent in airplane cabins, this perfectly forgettable, mentally un-taxing bit of automotive isolation made perfect sense.
Photo: 2015 Lexus ES 350 Photo 12
ASSOCIATE EDITOR WESLEY WREN: Lexus is more than capable at building exciting cars — but this is not one of them. It is incredibly comfortable, not slow, and on the cheaper side of luxury, but it doesn’t exactly have the flair of almost any other luxury sedan.
Let’s start with the confusing parts about this Lexus: instead of having a touchscreen infotainment system, it has an awkward-to-use mouse-like thing. If this car were from 1998, it would be the holy grail of technological advancement in the automotive field—but its 2015 and we have touchscreens. I can recognize that the infotainment system is inset into the dash so much that it would make for an awkward experience to reach it, but that could have been resolved without using a mouse.
Short of that, the car was exactly what one would expect out of a Lexus sedan. The ride was smooth and quiet, and the braking was firm enough. The car should come with a no-spill guarantee on the window, because it will do exactly that. Everything about the car is incredibly smooth, but also kind of milquetoast. If you’re looking for budget-luxury excitement, the Cadillac ATS might be a better fit — though, I doubt it gets much smoother than this ES 350.
Photo: 2015 Lexus ES 350 Photo 11
Options: Hard disk drive navigation system with backup camera, 8-inch VGA screen, voice command, single DVD/CD player, remote touch controller, Lexus enform destination assist, App Suite ($1,795); Luxury package including perforated leather-trimmed interior, heated and ventilated front seats, espresso bird’s eye maple wood interior trim, power tilt-and telescopic steering wheel, Lexus memory system for driver’s seat, outside mirrors, steering wheel, and remote keyless entry-linked memory ($1,370); high intensity discharge HID headlamps with DRL ($565); blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert ($500); intuitive parking assist ($500); wood- and leather-trimmed shift knob and heated wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($480); one-touch power trunk ($400); power rear sunshade ($210)