NewsArts & Culture / December 9, 2016

Lexus ES350 Is Like A Toyota Camry After Winning The Lottery

The ES is just a little more comfortable in upscale neighborhoods and at valet, Lexus, Lexus ES350, Totota, Toyota Camry2016-12-09T00:00:00-05:00
Lexus ES350 Is Like A Toyota Camry After Winning The Lottery

You’ve seen “Uncle Bob” on “lottery changed my life” shows where a blue collar worker wins the lottery, and suddenly he and The Mrs. are off on a home-buying spree.  Soon, the garage is filled with luxury cars and he’s dressed in kakis and a golf shirt, looking like he’s always been in the money.  While the Lexus ES350 may be based on the middle class Camry, it looks much more like Uncle Bob after elevating his living standards.

The ES comes to this lot in life honestly.  The model was one of the two cars, alongside the LS400, that launched the brand in 1990.  Since, it has been a dressier, better luxed Camry.  But, that’s not a bad thing; the Camry is a well-built and comfy family car.  The ES is just a little more comfortable in upscale neighborhoods and at valet stands.

Atomic Styling

It definitely looks the part as the untrained Lexus fan would have a difficult time separating the front-drive ES from the sportier rear-drive GS – and both share design cues with the jet-setting flagship LS like the trademark spindle grille, clean aero lines, and wrap-around taillamps.  ES achieves a 0.27 coefficient of drag to enhance fuel economy and interior solitude.  Atomic silver paint and 18-inch wheels put a polish on it.  It may be a fine suit on a working class gent, but he exudes class.

Up-level Camrys are pretty posh rides, but the ES350 takes luxury one toke further.  Nothing your eyes see, fingers caress, or butt touches seems cheap.  Leather feels like it was tanned in a tobacco barn, dashes are finely stitched, and the wood-and-leather steering wheel is a joy to hold.  An analog clock is a nice touch.  Dual-zone automatic climate control adds comfort, but I have no clue why our test car didn’t have heated seats.  Big miss!  Still, if a clock’s ticking, it’s the loudest thing in the cabin.

I’d like to trade the stupid joy-mouse infotainment controller for warmer thrones.  It works, and the positive confirmation when it hovers above an input is reassuring, but I’d just prefer an easy-to-navigate touchscreen without having to work a computer while driving.  Big knobs for volume and tuning, plus voice commands, are appreciated.  Fortunately, it’s all connected to navigation and a Mark Levinson audio system that’s near divinity in its sound quality.  Safety is enhanced with adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross path detection systems. 

Flowing Power

You won’t win a jackpot of thrust in the ES350, but its 3.5-liter V6 flows out 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels through a an 6-speed automatic transmission.  If you want a muscle car, buy a GS, but the ES scoots from 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds on the way to a 130 mph top speed.  Turn the knob in the console to adjust the powertrain and exhaust note through Eco, Normal, and Sport.  Choose the first to see 21/30-MPG city/hwy.

If still not convinced Uncle Bob has taken a good bath, shaved, and gone shopping at Barney’s, go for a drive.  The chassis crosses rough roads with barely a rumble, steering is tight enough to be fun, and the car moves out belting a full-throated song.  Four passengers and their luggage fit comfortably.  Lexus may not have reached perfection with the ES, but it is definitely in pursuit.

A base price of $38,900 - $46,058 as-tested – puts the ES350 against the Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKZ, Acura TLX, Nissan Maxima, Genesis G80, and Kia Cadenza.

Toyota Camry Is Reliably Competent

The Lexus ES350 may be Camry’s upscale sibling, but a Camry is a solid choice at a more affordable price.  But, I’ll stop you right now; if you’re looking for an exciting sport sedan, go on to another review.  However, if what you’re looking for is a car that’s as reliably competent as the keeper of America’s nuclear codes, then Toyota has your ride. 

NASCAR Inspiration

You’re not likely to see spicy Sriracha in the bodywork, but it’s not a bland meal either.  Toyota’s designers try to give the car a little more attitude.  Check the gaping lower grille section that could have come from NASCAR, chiseled-in foglamp slits, and deft body sculpting.  LED Lo and High Beam headlamps shine brightly ahead of 17-inch alloy wheels and our car’s Ruby Flare Pearl paint. 

And, the cabin is a bastion of Japanese technology, but also with forms inspired by natural materials and forces.  Butter cream hued seats and doors wear a pleasing shade accented by dark woodgrain on the dash.  Folded and wavy stitched dash materials are inspired by nature.  Blue instrument backing adds flair – as does a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, power moonroof, and Mercedes-style gated shifter.

The touchscreen infotainment system, flanked by proper volume and tuning knobs, as well as voice controls, is stoked with navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone/audio streaming, and Siri Eyes Free.  JBL speakers aren’t up to standards set by Bose or Harman/Kardon, but wireless phone charging in the console keeps devices streaming.  Safety is enhanced by a backup camera, forward collision alert, and rear cross traffic alert systems.  The Technology Package adds forward crash mitigation, adaptive radar cruise control, and lane departure alert.

Pair of Powertrains

All of this is moved by a pair of powertrains.  A V6 is available, but I’d choose the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in our car.  The engine puts out a spirited 178 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque, routed to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission.  Go light on the throttle to see 24/33-MPG city/highway.

In city driving, the four-cylinder is the best choice and provides excellent fuel economy.  But, that’s not the total picture of the Camry’s excellence.  Tight steering and a four-wheel independent suspension system that balances comfort with handling elevates the car beyond its family car raising.  Fling it over rough pavement and all you hear is the suspension lapping it up with zero drama.

The Toyota Camry may be one comfy vanilla bean, but it’s a class act and makes it easy to see why the sedan is the best-selling car in America.  It exudes competence in every facet.  I’d love a more exciting body design, and a bit more power, but you can’t have everything.  A base price of $23,070 - $32,637 as tested – challenges the Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, and VW Passat.

Storm Forward!

Watch Casey’s video review of the ES350; follow him on YouTube and Twitter:  @AutoCasey.


2017 Lexus ES350

  • Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
  • Powertrain: 268hp 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed auto trans
  • Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
  • Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
  • Brakes f/r: disc/disc
  • Must-have features: Comfort, Quality
  • 0-60 mph:  7.1s
  • Top speed:  130 mph
  • Fuel economy: 21/30 mpg city/hwy
  • Assembly: Georgetown, KY
  • Base/as-tested price: $38,900/46,058


2017 Toyota Camry XLE

  • Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
  • Powertrain: 178hp 2.5-liter I4,6-speed auto trans
  • Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
  • Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
  • Brakes f/r: disc/disc
  • Must-have features: Comfort, Competence
  • Fuel economy: 24/33 mpg city/hwy
  • Assembly: Georgetown, KY
  • Base/as-tested price: $23,070/32,637



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