6. August 2014
The last-generation Lincoln Continental. The ninth. That, a knowledgeable friend suggested to me, is the vehicle that the Lexus ES—now the ES 350—has effectively replaced in the market. Or, as he explained, people who might have otherwise purchased a Lincoln Continental in the late ‘90s (this vehicle had its run from model year ’95 to ’02) would now buy the ES. He was, of course, correcting for age, meaning that he wasn’t suggesting that someone who would buy a Continental in, say, 1999 would be the same person who would be buying an ES 15 years later. (Nor would a person who might have purchased an ES in 1999—that would have been a third-generation car, the ES 300, possibly the Coach edition of the car—be likely to buy an ES 350—the 6th generation of the car today. The first gen, in case you are wondering, the 1990 ES 250, went on sale in the U.S. in September, 1989, and the second generation, the ES 300, showed up a mere two years later.)
What my friend was saying is that the ES 350, like the Continental, is a large, comfortable front-drive car. (I had thought that the Continental was a rear-drive car, as the Lincoln Town Car was; that car had three generations, rolling off into the sunset in 2011. Just to add a bit of confusion to things, there was another rear-drive Lincoln available from model year 2000 to 2006. There is a rear-drive Lexus that also happens to have the “LS” nomenclature.)
OK. Let’s simply get back to the 2014 ES 350.
When you buy a four-door sedan nowadays, you sometimes discover that when you have someone open one of those second-row doors and climb in, you, if you are behind the wheel and a caring person, need to adjust your seat so far forward that you hope like mad that the airbag won’t deploy because you’d find that it would probably bruise and suffocate you before it was fully inflated.
That is not an issue with the ES 350.
For this generation, the wheelbase was increased by 1.8 inches (to 111 inches) and that space pretty much went into the back seat. While the math may seem a bit bizarre, according to Lexus, the increase in rear leg room compared with the previous generation ES is 4.1 inches. Or what might be more meaningful: the front leg room is 41.9 inches and the rear is 40 inches, which is to say that there is sufficient room back there so that your backseat passenger is actually going to be comfortable while you are able to drive without getting overly intimate with the steering wheel. (Should, however, you like to move your driver’s seat around, know that there 10-way powered seats are standard, and 12-way heated and ventilated powered front seats, which allow the front cushions to extend an additional 1.4 inches for those who have long legs and are interested in a bit more support, are available.)
The point is that the cabin is roomy and comfortable.
There are real knobs that can be used for things like adjusting the radio, as well as steering wheel-mounted controls. Assuming one opts for the navigation system (and it is hard to imagine that one would buy a car in this category without one), there is not only the obligatory 8-inch VGA screen in the center of the instrument panel, but also the “Remote Touch Interface,” or a square knob that allows moving the cursor around the screen to select things like audio stations or for navi setup. While it may sound awkward, it really isn’t, as there is an arm rest adjacent to the knob so that the knob comes readily to hand.
And while we’re in this consumer electronics-type space, know that the car when equipped with navigation comes with Lexus Enform, which brings to bear all of the apps that you may find necessary should you need reservations, movie tickets, or even emergency help.
The car has a 3.5-liter V6 engine (3.5—ES 350: get it?) and a six-speed automatic. It propels the 3,549-pound car quite nicely. Lexus claims a 0 to 60 time of 7.1 seconds, which can be translated as: You can get off the freeway ramp onto the freeway without a problem.
The car has a another knob (this one is a nice big metallic one) that allows you to adjust the powertrain response and climate control setting to ECO or Sport (Normal is a default), with the first to eke out a bit more mileage from the fuel (and it is worth noting that the car operates on regular gas, not premium) and the Sport a bit more saucy.
It is rated at 21 city, 31 highway, and 24 mpg combined. I never saw anything close to 31, but the 24 figure was absolutely real.
Roomy, comfortable, responsive, handsomely styled. No, this is not the car that one would buy if they’re looking for a premium marque and rear-drive performance. This is the car that one would buy if they’re looking for something that is well executed and that will get them to where they need to go in an upscale manner.
The ES model has been a mainstay for Lexus from the start. And this current one simply underscores the fact that they really do pursue continuous improvement.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and heads
Transmission: Six-speed, electronically controlled
Steering: Electric rack and pinion
Wheelbase: 111.0 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 71.7 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Coefficient of drag: 0.27
Seating capacity: 5
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 21/31/24 mpg