2009 Lexus ES 350 Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D ES350

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2009 Lexus ES 350
New Car Test Drive

The Lexus ES 350 is a mid-size sedan that celebrates smoothness, quietude and sophistication. The Lexus ES doesn't suffer the hard ride of a German sports sedan. You can safely sip a cappuccino on the way to work. The ride is smooth, the engine is smooth, the six-speed automatic is flawless, everything is quiet.

The ES 350 is quick and responsive, benefitting from a newly developed 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. Lexus says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, a solid performance. Yet the ES 350 is also certified to the Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II (ULEV II) standard.

Changes for 2009 are minor, including a new exterior color and some slight pricing alterations. The ES was redesigned for the 2007 model year.

The Lexus ES series has come a long way. When Toyota launched its premium Lexus brand in late 1989, its entry-level model was the ES 250, with a thinly disguised Camry chassis and powertrain under a mildly upgraded body and interior. With each succeeding generation, the ES has better met the needs of the entry-luxury segment, with more room, more space, more power, and more standard equipment. And more safety features.

Lexus presents the ES and IS as a one-two challenge to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G35 and M35, Audi A6, Saab 9-3, Volvo S60, and a host of domestics in this popular class. The ES is designed to emphasize ride quality and smoothness, while the IS is oriented around sharp handling and is designed to be a driver's car. The ES uses front-wheel drive, while the IS is rear-wheel drive. We like both, depending on the mood and the task at hand.

The 2009 Lexus ES comes as one model, the ES 350. Model Lineup
The Lexus ES 350 ($34,470) comes with high-grade fabric upholstery, 10-way power front seats; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; power glass sunroof; eight-speaker AM/FM/6CD, satellite compatibility, and MP3/iPod input jack; programmable SmartAccess keyless entry; and all the other amenities one would expect for the price. Tires are P215/55 all-season radials on 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels.

The Premium Package ($1,280) adds leather seating, rear-seat side-impact airbags, Bluetooth wireless technology, auto-dimming exterior mirrors with automatic tilt-down, and a memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel and exterior mirrors controlled through the SmartAccess system. The Premium Plus package ($1,280) adds a power driver's seat cushion extender, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, and front passenger seat memory. The Ultra-Luxury Package ($3,880) combines the contents of the Premium and Premium Plus packages, and adds a panorama glass roof, perforated leather seating, power rear sunshade, adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with HID headlamps, navigation with rear backup camera, wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, and 10-spoke graphite-finish alloy wheels.

Options include park assist ($500), a power rear sunshade ($210), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), full-size spare tire ($205), wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($330), rear side-impact airbags ($250), Bluetooth audio ($300), and HID/AFS lighting ($815). Buyers may also choose navigation by itself ($2,650), or with a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system with six-CD changer ($4,250); both include Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera.

The Pebble Beach Edition is a package ($2,970) featuring a semi-aniline leather interior, a wood and leather steering wheel, and Liquid Graphite-finish wheels. Exclusive badging and floor mats display The Lone Cypress logo of California's Pebble Beach Resorts. Other standard equipment will be roughly equivalent to the Premium Plus package. Additionally, three Personalization Program accessory packages exclusive to the Pebble Beach edition will allow owners to add a set of matched luggage, Callaway golf equipment, or Viking cooking gear. Exterior colors will be limited to an exclusive Truffle Mica, or the standard-issue Tungsten Pearl or Obsidian.

Safety features that come standard on the ES 350 include dual front airbags, dual front knee airbags, front side-impact airbags (for torso protection), curtain airbags (for head protection), electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and a tire-pressure monitor. A two-chamber passenger airbag is designed to stop the passenger's upper body and torso with minimal facial contact and neck stress on deployment.

The optional Pre-Collision System ($2,600) includes a radar-based cruise control that automatically maintains a preset distance between the ES 350 and the car ahead. If the system senses an imminent collision, it retracts all the outboard seatbelts and initializes the brake system for full panic-braking power. (But it doesn't close the windows and the sunroof like the similar system from Mercedes-Benz). Walkaround
The ES 350 continues the Lexus L-Finesse design theme seen previously on three concept cars and the GS and IS sedans. The entire form seems to emanate from the grille and flow back over the car in hard lines. The look brought a new level of slickness, with a wind-tunnel-proven drag coefficient of just 0.28, making the ES 350 inherently quieter and more fuel-efficient than before.

The grille is subdued, the headlamp units are smaller and less obtrusive, and the accent line along the side is raised to suggest more musculature under the skin. The ES 350 looks like it belongs in a Lexus showroom.

In fact, the ES 350 has been consciously upsized to roughly the same dimensions as the original 1990 LS 400. The wheelbase, at 109.2 inches, is more than two inches longer than that of the 2006 ES 330; the body is wider by 0.4 inches, the track is wider by 1.2 inches, and the body has crisper, shorter overhangs along with a new front, side and rear appearance that's much more upscale than any previous ES. The ES 350 is also about 110 pounds heavier than the ES 330 due to the addition of more safety features and standard equipment.

About the only exterior customizing you can do other than paint and wheels is a choice of forward lighting, from standard projector beam to optional high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with an adaptive lighting function, which swings the headlamps through an arc of up to 15 degrees when turning. There are 10 exterior colors to choose from, plus the Pebble Beach Edition's exclusive Truffle Mica. Interior
The ES 350 is roomy and comfortable. It has as much rear head and shoulder room, and more rear legroom, than the 1990 LS 400, and its rear floor is flat and can accommodate large American feet under the seats.

The interior of the Lexus ES represents a quantum leap over pre-2007 models. The driving ambience is superb, with good sightlines, hooded instruments and crisp graphics, a 10-way power seat and standard tilt/telescope steering wheel. Fit and finish inside are exemplary.

The real wood trim is from a matched set that is serial-numbered for future replacement, if necessary. The thick, fat steering wheel is a pleasure to use. There are three interior colors to choose from, in cloth or two grades of leather.

The instrument panel and center stack are more driver-centered, engaging and involving than on previous generations. The instruments are deeply tunneled, using white LED lighting and the Optitron electroluminescent displays that are part of all Lexus models, with their eye-pleasing startup routine. The trip computer monitors a dozen functions. The ES features push-button engine starting and the SmartAccess key fob.

With 14.7 cubic feet of cargo space, the ES nearly matches the trunk size of the original LS 400 flagship.

The ES is insulated well. At cruising speeds, it's extremely quiet, in part due to its acoustic-control laminated windshield. Driving Impressions
The ES 350 benefits from an all-aluminum engine with all the latest technologies built in. This engine is a honey and comes paired with a six-speed automatic.

The ES 350 is quick to respond, the engine is as smooth and quiet as you would expect, and the transmission operation is flawless, automatic or manual mode, downshift or upshift. Engine and transmission are linked by several electronic modules and the electronic throttle, and there were no glitches we could find. The engine and transmission are isolation-mounted with an electro-hydraulic system to cancel vibration at idle. Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds, which is competitive in the segment.

Traction control and electronic stability control adds to the driver's confidence. The front struts and multi-link rear suspension are both very well isolated from the rest of the car, making for a quiet, smooth ride, with greater control of pitch and body roll than in pre-2007 models. We'd like a little more steering feel in corners and on the highway, but otherwise the speed-related power steering is good and solid.

The brakes are average in size for this class, but we saw no sign of brake fade after a hard workout. The ABS, traction control, and electronic stability control are programmed to intervene early to keep the car going in the intended direction. Summary
The Lexus ES 350 is quick and quiet at the same time. It's screwed together better than a Swiss watch, and it has sex appeal. With its new design and all the new standard equipment, the ES 350 ranks among the fiercest competitors in the entry-luxury segment. We think it's an excellent choice among luxury sedans, particularly when comfort and ride quality are priorities.

New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Hawaii.

Model as tested
Lexus ES 350 ($34,470)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Fukuoka, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Lexus ES 350 ($34,470)
Safety equipment (standard)
front airbags, front side-impact airbags, front knee airbags, side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, traction control, tire-pressure monitor
Safety equipment (optional)
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
power glass sunroof; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; dual-zone automatic climate control; eight-speaker AM/FM stereo with six-CD changer, satellite compatibility, and MP3/iPod input jack; 10-way power front seats with high-grade fabric upholstery; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; programmable SmartAccess keyless entry; foglamps

Engine & Transmission
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
272 @ 6200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/solid disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, anti-roll bar
Suspension, rear
independent, multi-link with Chapman struts, coil springs, hydraulic shocks

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality 5 / 5
Overall Quality - Mechanical
5 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
4 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
5 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
4 / 5
Overall Quality - Design
4 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Design
2 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Design
3 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
3 / 5

Overall Dependability 5 / 5
Powertrain Dependability
5 / 5
Body & Interior Dependability
5 / 5
Feature & Accessory Dependability
4 / 5

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, “Not Available” is used in its place.

J.D. Power Ratings may not include all information used to determine J.D. Power awards, visit the Car Ratings page to learn more about awards and ratings.