As a member of the midsize luxury sedan class, the 2011 Lexus ES 350 provides a smooth and quiet ride, with a plush and comfortable interior and a laundry list of standard features. Despite these selling features, reviews consistently note that the ES 350 is not the ride for the driving enthusiast, offering numb steering and little feedback from the road, as well as less-than-sporty handling. But for those seeking driving tranquility over spine-tingling excitement, the ES 350 may be the natural choice.
The 2011 Lexus ES 350 is available in only one trim. It comes with a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine with Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence. 2011 brings one particularly significant modification to the ES 350, adjusting the engine to use 87-octane regular unleaded in lieu of the previously recommended premium fuel. This can save some money at the pump for Lexus owners—money they may need if they are going to add available features, which can quickly inflate the price of the ES 350. Although the change in recommended gasoline has dropped the power a bit for this year’s model, the engine still produces 268 hp at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. Matched with a six-speed electronically controlled transmission with intelligence, the ES 350 delivers an estimated 19 mpg city/27 highway, with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds. Both the engine and transmission are touted for their smooth and quiet shifting and performance—with reviews noting that the engine will still have plenty of power for most, able to show respectable acceleration from a complete stop or when passing on the highway. Independent MacPherson struts and front and rear stabilizer bars smooth out the bumps in the road, supporting the ES 350’s mission to provide a serene ride. Steering and handling feedback, however, as well as the underwhelming power-assisted disc brakes, seem to be the weak links in the ES 350.
The interior of the ES 350 continues to be a strong suit in 2011, insulating the driver and passengers from road, wind and engine noise. In fact, Lexus even notes that they have taken 88 steps to reduce vibration that could create intrusive noise or a rougher ride. The ES 350 comfortably seats five, with 10-way power adjustment and a memory feature for the driver’s seat settings (an optional driver’s power-adjustable seat cushion is available, as well). Standard leather covers the well-padded seats, with optional heating and ventilation for the front. The rear seat provides an almost flat floor for comfort, although taller passengers may find the headroom a bit tight. The rear seat also offers a pass-through to the trunk, with its 14.8 cubic feet of storage. Consumers should note, however, that the practical trunk space is impacted by the curve of the hinges, as well as the shape of the opening, which can make it awkward to fit bulky items.
Standard features in the 2011 ES 350 include power moonroof, windows, locks, cruise control, pushbutton start/stop, and SmartAccess for easy entry (the key fob communicates with the system, unlocking the doors with the touch of a handle). Driver ergonomics are addressed with the power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, which includes controls for audio, trip computer, multi-information display, and voice control for navigation (if equipped with the option). The car incorporates a number of standard luxury features, as well, with dual-zone climate control, heated side-view mirrors with integrated turn signals and puddle lamps, an illuminated entry system and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Standard technology in the 2011 ES 350 includes Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone use and wireless music, as well as a USB and iPod/MP3/WMA port and a trial subscription (90 days) to XM Radio. The ES 350 also comes equipped with a standard 8-speaker Premium Sound System and in-dash 6-CD changer, although the stereo can be upgraded with an optional Mark Levinson system. Electroluminescent Optitron gauges and a standard multi-information display offer easy-to-read data from the trip computer, as well as an ECO driving monitor, which tracks driving behavior for fuel efficiency.
Beyond the standard features in the 2011 Lexus ES 350, there are numerous options that can supplement the comfort, luxury and safety of the vehicle. Some are sold individually, while others are put together in packages. Some of these features include a hard drive navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen, as well as a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo that can also play DVDs on the navigation screen. Lexus also offers its Enform system with Safety Connect, a telematics system providing roadside, emergency, and navigation aid as needed by subscription. Optional safety features include a backup camera, parking assist (to warn drivers of objects close to the rear or front bumpers) and dynamic radar cruise control (which maintains a preset distance from the car ahead when using cruise control), as well as HID headlamps with adaptive front headlights (which turn into a curve for better illumination) and an available pre-collision system (which prepares for an unavoidable front crash by readying the brake assist system and retracting the front seatbelts).
The 2011 ES 350 provides numerous standard safety features, as well, including SmartStop (a brake override system) and antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control. A tire pressure monitoring system for the 17-inch wheels, as well as front foglights and 10 airbags, is also standard.
Although the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet assessed the 2011 Lexus ES 350, the similar 2010 model earned five (out of five) stars for front crash tests and side driver tests, and four (out of five) stars for side rear passenger tests and rollover tests. The ES 350 received a similarly high grade from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While the IIHS had not conducted a roof strength test on the luxury midsize sedan, it did award the ES 350 its highest score of Good for front and side crash tests for the 2007-2011 model years.