2012 Lexus ES 350 Sedan - FROM $36,725
As far as entry-level luxury sedans go, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 remains a top choice, but it's not the only choice.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Lexus ES 350 is unchanged.
Judging by most of the advertisements you see for luxury cars, you'd think that most folks shopping these brands moonlight as stunt drivers, what with the power slides and flat-out attacks on curvy mountain roads. But the reality is that plenty of premium-badge buyers aren't driving enthusiasts and are just looking for a well-built car that'll provide them with the latest convenience features, a comfortable ride and isolation from the noisy and harsh outside world. For this majority, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 is a worthy choice.
Favoring luxury over outright performance, the ES 350 entry-level luxury sedan offers a coddling cabin furnished with high-grade leather upholstery, rich wood accents and enough insulation from noise and vibration to please most anyone demanding some peace and quiet. Its V6 engine is smooth and will likely strike most drivers as strong enough for a luxury-themed sedan with no sport-sedan pretenses. This is apparently a winning combination, given the sustained popularity of this Lexus. As it stands, the ES continues to have just one main drawback: It gets pricey as options are tacked on.
We'd count the Buick LaCrosse and Hyundai Genesis as the ES 350's closest rivals in terms of features and levels of comfort, though they are a bit more responsive in terms of driving dynamics. You could also check out the Acura TL and Volvo S60, which are sportier still. It's worth considering all these models, but overall the 2012 Lexus ES 350 continues to be a fine choice for a luxury sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that is offered in a single well-appointed trim level.
Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, automatic wipers, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats, driver memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, an auto-dimming mirror, Bluetooth phone and music streaming capability, and an eight-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The ES 350 options list is extensive, with many features grouped into packages. These options include xenon adaptive headlights, parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision system, heated and ventilated front seats, front passenger memory functions, upgraded leather upholstery, a power rear sunshade and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. The optional hard-drive-based navigation system includes a back-up camera, voice commands, real-time traffic updates and the Lexus Enform telematics system. A 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium stereo can be added to the navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard for this front-wheel-drive car.
At an estimated 7 seconds flat, the 0-60-mph acceleration of the Lexus is average for this segment. EPA fuel economy estimates are 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Standard safety equipment for the 2012 Lexus ES 350 includes stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Optional features include a radar-based pre-collision system and the Lexus Enform and Safety Connect emergency telematics system.
In an Edmunds braking test from 60 mph, the ES 350 came to a stop in a longish 133 feet -- some 18 feet longer than a Hyundai Genesis sedan took in the same test.
In testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the ES 350 was awarded the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests. The IIHS notes, however, that these ratings were based on results for the Toyota Camry, which shares a platform with the Lexus.
Interior Design and Special Features
Luxury is the name of the ES 350's game, and for the most part, Lexus has succeeded in constructing one of the most comfortable and inviting interiors in its price range. Materials are impressive all around, with supple leathers and real wood trim. The ES 350 is also stocked with features that we're more accustomed to finding in much more expensive luxury sedans.
Space is plentiful throughout the ES 350, with roomy rear seats and a trunk that can accommodate up to 14.7 cubic feet of cargo. Folding rear seats and a cargo pass-through also allow for the transport of longer items.
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 delivers a refined and serene driving experience. The V6 engine is smooth and sufficiently powerful, and if you're not particularly interested in sporty handling dynamics, the ES 350's isolated and soft ride will be to your liking.
But if you do find yourself on a curvy road, know that the ES's wallowy handling and numb steering will be notable drawbacks. At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent, mostly devoid of wind, road or engine noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are absorbed with barely a hint of their presence reaching the passengers.