2011 Lexus ES350 new car reviews

A Toyota by any other name will cost much more.

Better than: An H-body Buick
But not as good as: Infiniti G25
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 68.55

This full-size, front-wheel drive sedan is the Ritz-grade cousin to the make's plebeian Toyota Camry. The top-spec Camry XLE starts $7000 less, though it doesn't have the Lexus cachet or its available options: it’s the Ritz-Carlton to the Camry’s Ritz crackers. When was the last time, after all, that you saw a Toyota in a rap video?

Power comes from the corporate 3.5-liter aluminum V6 with 268 horsepower on tap, mated to a six-speed automatic. It tips the scales just over 3600 pounds, with 60 percent of that over the front wheels. Despite the heft, the EPA rates it at a reasonable 27 mpg highway.

Our tester came with some major option boxes ticked, including a $3535 "Ultra Luxury Package"—leather interior, wood-trimmed steering wheel, heated and cooled seats—and a likewise pricey navigation and premium audio package listed at $4065.

Other staff views

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

I think this is an example of why higher-end luxury cars still use rear-wheel drive: The steering on this one just felt flat, kinda like it was sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup instead of good, old-fashioned sugar. I have no problems at all with the Camry, but I'd expect a little more from something wearing a Lexus badge--and from something selling at this price point. While it's a little bit more money, I'd go with the GS350--same displacement but such a better chassis.

Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar

The ES350 feels like your grandpa's toyota from the second you get in it. Its fake-wood trim, ergonomics, dash layout and style, it all screams septuagenerian. This does not inspire confidence that it would tackle a track. And, though its brakes are strong and it has good power, that first impression remains true.

With such a large portion of the car's weight on the front wheels, our tester's all-season rubber felt overburdened on the front end at all times. The Lexus has numb steering, is light on grip and very heavy on the understeer. Those rock-hard rubbers are noisy, too: it's hard to take corners at even a modest speed without them howling a death shriek as the car starts to push. I got dirty looks from pedestrians while taking a left turn at 25 miles an hour.

It doesn't exactly hit it out of the park in the comfort realm, either. Yes, it has a smooth ride and is a confident straight-line cruiser (though you'll never have fun driving it). The cooled seats do nothing. Its trim finish is lacking durability: the "chromed" plastic on the driver's door was already peeling off at a mere 8000 miles. Even the most plebeian cars with a backup camera have lines to indicate the edges of the car, but the ES350 does not. The integrated navigation system and control screen is too bright at night and slow to respond to inputs.

So, is this understeering, uninspiring, undurable old-man car worth any more money than a well-equipped Camry? In a word: No. After some consideration, I realized what this car reminds me very much of: An H-body Buick from the mid-'90s.

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