2016 Lexus ES 350 — Race Organizer Review

2016 Lexus ES 350 sedan near San Francisco

In which your Race Organizer attends race meetings, compares ES to maternal Mazda6

We had our annual plan-the-next-race-season meetings at 24 Hours of LeMons Headquarters in November, and so I decided to follow up my Race Organizer Review of a refrigerator-white Lexus LS 460 F Sport with a Race Organizer Review of an optioned-to-the-hilt refrigerator-white Lexus ES 350. I planned to do a lot of driving on the deferred-maintenance highways and junkyard parking lots of the San Francisco Bay Area, and so the ES was going to be put through some exceedingly real-world sensible-car paces.

2016 Lexus ES 350 near San Francisco Bay Bridge

A couple of weeks before, my mother’s 10-month-old Hyundai Sonata got obliterated while parked in front of her house, the result of a Volvo 850 driver indulging in a few too many gin Rickeys and honking out on the gas pedal. My colleagues here at Autoweek think very highly of the Mazda 6, and LeMons racer Dave Coleman does a good job designing Mazdas, so I suggested to my mom that she take her insurance money over to the Mazda dealer and try out the 6. While there, she test-drove a creampuff trade-in 2014 Lexus ES and loved it… but the low-mile ES was still 10 grand more than the brand-new Mazda 6, and so she went with the Mazda.

2016 Lexus ES 350 with 2016 Mazda6

Because of this, I decided that comparing the ’16 Mazda 6 with the ’16 ES 350 made a certain type of sense, though my ES came with enough options to push its price tag to nearly twice what the 6 cost my mom. The short-version upshot of my not-so-scientific driving comparison goes like this: the ES 350 is way quieter and smoother than the 6, while the 6 is more fun to drive and has better controls on its electronics.

Lexus ES 350 on rough Oakland road

That makes the 6 sound like the better deal, but keep in mind that many of the streets of the East Bay look like the one in the photo above. The ES 350 deals with this stuff even more effectively than my daily-driver LS, and it cruises serenely over stretches of the Nimitz Freeway that will tear the suspension subframes out of ordinary machinery. On top of that, the rarity of any ES younger than about 20 years at the self-service wrecking yards I frequent says a lot about the success of Toyota‘s don’t-mess-with-what-works approach to the “luxury Camry” (to be fair, the current ES is more of a luxury Avalon).

Lexus ES 350 on a shopping trip

Of course, an invisible white sedan is just the thing to bring to the local wrecking yard for the big sale on Thanksgiving Day. After shooting the super-rare Buick Reatta inside, I headed to another yard and found the amazing “Mid Night Cruzer” custom van.

2016 Lexus ES 350 near Port of Oakland

The ES 350 is in no way an enthusiast’s car, although the garage combination of this car with, say, an Alfa Romeo Spider swapped with 3-liter quad-cam V6 out of a Quadrifoglio Verde Alfa 164 would be an ideal mix of logic and madness. Your chances of a ’16 ES staying alive for as long as internal-combustion vehicles remain road-legal are excellent, and you can’t say that about most cars.

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