Despite corporate protests to the contrary, the entry-level Lexus ES – over the course of five distinct generations – simply couldn’t shake its Camry roots. Given that this is America, where consumers rarely engage in an informational deep dive to divine the origins of their purchase, Lexus sales weren’t impacted by those more proletarian platforms. But as a writer whose background and income are more appropriate to a Toyota showroom, the price gap between a Camry and the Lexus ES always seemed excessive. Thankfully, in the 2013 Lexus ES 350 the pricing gap between it and a Camry may not have narrowed, but one can identify both a more distinctive design and more discerning feel in this all-new ES.
Of course, the above perception is helped in no small way from having just exited a Toyota Avalon Limited with a $42K – and change – window sticker. The newest Avalon is beautiful, well-appointed and carefully tuned, but it’s still FORTY-TWO LARGE coming from a showroom with hard chairs and (invariably) marginal coffee. Today’s Lexus ES, with a base price of roughly $37K – including destination – and an as-tested sticker of $43,000 seemed, by way of contrast, almost cheap. Of course it isn’t, but anything over $40K should do a credible job of distancing itself from the more volume-oriented people movers.
With Lexus the differentiation begins with 4-door sheetmetal more organic than Camry, and almost coupe-like. You won’t – to be sure – confuse this with VW’s Passat CC, but neither will you immediately think ‘Camry’ when spotted in traffic. We think the 2013 ES is closer visually to the last-gen Toyota, often regarded as more attractive than the grocery-getter currently on Toyota showrooms. Along with curves and coupe-like overtones is an almost athletic stance to the Lexus, undercut only by a modest 17-inch wheel/tire combo. Eighteens are an option, but we doubt you’ll confuse the fitment of same with a ‘Dub’ edition.
Inside, the ‘perforated leather-trimmed’ interior, the most visible portion of the ES Luxury Package ($1,370 – or roughly $25/month!), is both comfortable and supportive. The seating position itself, with multiple adjustments on both driver and front passenger seats, seems higher than in the aforementioned Avalon, where the seats put you almost beneath the 4-door’s beltline. We enjoyed the higher hip point of the Lexus, and can often forget – given our weekly diet of sports coupes and SUVs – just how nice a more conventional 3-box sedan can be in traffic.
Beyond the Luxury Package, our test Lexus was equipped with the Hard Disk Drive Navigation complemented by an 8-inch screen, Lexus Enform with App Suite Destination Assist, and eDestination. At just over $2,600 ($50 per month!) the Nav package was the most significant step in arriving at the $43K window sticker. And while we appreciate navigation as much as anyone, if your spouse/partner/associate (pick one or all) has an iPhone, why bother? Roughly $3K would get you a mountain bike…or an upgrade your old one.
Under the hood is Toyota’s tried-and-true 3.5 liter DOHC V6. With all-aluminum construction and variable valve timing, the V6 is as unobtrusive as internal combustion will get. And while its 268 horsepower may be usurped by any number of direct – or indirect – competitors, its combo of responsiveness and efficiency is tough to trump. With the same drivetrain – and slightly less weight – than the Toyota Avalon, we’d fully expect the Lexus to match its EPA estimates, even with your pedal periodically into the metal.
Putting the power to the road is a 6-speed automatic. And holding the road is a subtly tweaked all-independent suspension and quicker steering ratio. Both are augmented by the ES’ stiffer structure and the aforementioned 18-inch wheel option. Although not spec’d as a ‘sport’ sedan, the ES is adequately responsive and composed for the target demographic: First wives with good – albeit not great – divorce attorneys.
With attractive sheetmetal, comfortable interior and iconic reliability, the newest ES can be most things to a wide swath of clientele. Of course, competition from virtually everywhere is heating up. A well-optioned Accord is some $10K less dear, and similar money (around $40K) will buy you a nicely-equipped Hyundai Genesis. But in uncertain times there remains this certainty: In the near-luxury segment Lexus’ ES remains a gold standard. And this newest ES only embellishes it.