|When Lexus first burst upon
these shores in 1989 (1990 for Canada) with their all-new and
all-fabulous LS400, hardly anyone noticed that there was another
car in the Lexus lineup.
The ES250 was the entry-level
Lexus. While a good car, it simply didn't measure to up the
standard the LS400 had set for the marque. Based on the Camry of
the day, Toyota really didn't go all-out to give it it's own
identity. It was simply a smoother, quieter and more luxurious
Camry. And back then the Camry was just a mid-pack family
sedan. It looked the part, too. But it captured a few
dollars for the fledgling marque from people who couldn't afford
the big Lexus, so on that basis it can be considered a success.
Toyota certainly realized this.
For the new "baby" Lexus, they made sure that it would be well
distanced from the all-new -- and greatly improved -- Camry due
for the 1992 model year.
The new ES debuted to rave
reviews. Although there was still some resemblance to the Camry,
the ES had clearly staked out its own, upscale territory.
A 4-door was the only body style
produced. The ES300 came in one trim level – well equipped.
Initially, a leather package, power moonroof, CD player and
heated front seats were the only options.
One engine, a 3.0 liter DOHC V6
rested in the engine bay. A smooth, 4-speed automatic did the
shifting for the vast majority of ES300's, but a 5-speed could
be had as well. They are not easy to find. There were some
engine upgrades in 1994 that boosted power a bit and supposedly
quieted the already silent engine even further. Unfortunately,
the 5-speed was dropped that year, too.
As new model years came and went,
Lexus added items such as traction control and a CD changer to
the option list.
Clearly recognizing the need to
give the ES300 a distinct identity from its sister the Camry,
Toyota must have devoted a lot of design time to the ES300. They
Sure, if you look really hard you
can pick up hints of the Camry here and there, but the ES300 has
a much sharper, cleaner and sportier look than the everyday
Camry. In fact, the Camry looks downright dowdy next to an
ES300. The ES300 has that expensive, crafted, jewel-like look
that is difficult for automotive designers to capture.
Bold, dual beam projector
headlights adorn the sharp front end. The beltline elegantly
flows down the body to a slightly upturned C-pillar, finishing
up with a slightly flared decklid. The rear end houses two
massive red and orange tallights. How did they make such large
taillights look so delicate? Stare at the rear of an ES300 for
awhile and you'll see subtle design characteristics unfold
before you. Neat stuff.
Like all Lexus models, the ES300
sports a deep and lustrous paint job - among the best in the
business. Wheels were initially attractive 15-inch alloys,
increasing to 16-inches in 1994.
|1992 New model,
1993 No major changes
Engine revisions gain 3hp, cut noise; dual airbags
1995 double-piston front brake
calipers added; wheels and tires increase from 15"
to 16"; A/C goes CFC-free
1995 Headlights and
taillights mildly revised; revised lower front
bumper and air intake; chrome wheels available
1996 Last model year for this design, no major
If the exterior of the ES300 is
satisfyingly distinct from the Camry, the interior look is even
Using the same electroluminescent technology,
premium materials, and harmonious colors and textures as the
LS400, the ES300 presents a warm, inviting and luxurious cabin
that would never be mistaken for a Camry.
The dash is wonderful at night,
but at certain angles in bright sunlight it can be difficult to
read. Everything is easy to reach and all controls are intuitive
to operate. A tachometer, speedometer, gas and temp gauges
reside in the instrument bin.
All are equipped with comfortable
bucket seats, adorned in premium cloth or soft leather. A
console sports the transmission lever and cup holders.
You can't help but notice how
well everything fits together. It is quite obvious that a lot of
thought and deliberation went into the interior.
Perhaps the ultimate tribute one
could pay to the ES300 is that it gives up very little to the
much more expensive LS400 in the comfort department. It's
tighter and less opulent, but it costs a whole lot less, too.
One place that the ES300 comes up
short is in the headroom department. There just isn't a
lot of it in this car, especially when equipped with a moonroof.
Even sub-six-footers can brush the roof in front. In the back,
forget it. It strikes us rather odd that this is the case. We
suppose it's the price paid for that sleek roofline, it even
drops total interior volume into the compact class.
For a relatively short wheelbase,
there is plenty of legroom front and rear. Four adults will have
no problem getting comfortable in the leg and knee room
department. The seats are pleasantly firm and stay comfortable
for long stretches. Carrying five adults is best left to short
Visibility is good, and the
pillarless glass on the doors lends to an airy open feeling.
As you would expect, everything
is power-assisted. Cruise control, tilt and remote illuminated
entry and are all standard. Every ES300 is equipped with a
factory alarm system. Trunk space is good, but unfortunately the
rear seat does not fold forward for increased cargo hauling
versatility. It does offer a narrow pass-through in the center
of the seat, which helps with long, narrow items. The trunk is
well finished, so you probably will want to borrow your
neighbor's pickup for any trips to the garden center!
Handling and Performance
Smooth, quiet, refined. These are
the characteristics most attributed to all Lexus', and with good
reason. The ES300 is among the quietest cars we've ever driven.
The ride, while not in the league of the LS400 or other
super-luxury sedans, is smooth and controlled. Refinement oozes
everywhere in the driving experience.
Clearly, fling-me-about handling
prowess was given second billing to the ride experience. Pushed
hard you'll see typical understeer and a fair amount of body
roll. It's a tad soft, but certainly not floaty or mushy. It all
stays pointed where you want to go, and handles very
predictably. Unless you're into racing up mountain canyon roads
or attacking the back twisties, you'll never see the handling
limits this car offers.
It does all this on industry
standard McPherson struts front and rear. Apparently Lexus knows
a little something about fine tuning these things.
A 3.0-Liter 6-cylinder engine
generating 185hp (188hp in '94 & '95) provides the motive power.
This is an exceptionally smooth and quiet motor. It delivers
pleasing sounds when pushed and never looses composure. It moves
the car briskly, but the ES300 is not the class-leader in the
acceleration department. Premium fuel is required on pre-'94
The automatic transmission is
smooth and unobtrusive. You'll hardly know it's there. We could
not find a manual transmission ES300 to test, but contemporary
accounts reported nice feel and smooth operation, but not
outstandingly so. If that's sounds wishy washy, that because it
is -- we just can't give you a first-hand opinion on it.
Camrys field a good stick, but it's not in the Honda league.
Despite big discs all-around,
braking distances are a bit long for this type of automobile,
but still good. Brake feel and modulation are excellent, and
stops are always straight and true. ABS is standard on all
As we indicated earlier, this is among the
quietest cars we've ever driven -- right up there with its big
brother LS400, which is almost tomb-like in it's quietness. The
engine is almost completely muted and wind noise doesn't enter
until you reach high speeds.
For such a premium
technologically driven and up-market car, it is amazing to us
that 1992 and '93 models made do with only a river-side airbag.
Dual airbags didn't make the equipment list until the 1994 model
year--when automakers were forced to adopt them for all cars.
All model years possessed front and rear shoulder belts and ABS
brakes as standard equipment.
Government crash tests on a 1996
model resulted in a 5-star (excellent) rating for the driver and
a 3-star (good) rating for the front passenger.
Simply being in the luxury
category makes routine service and maintenance a bit more
expensive than average. We're not entirely sure why this is
always true. Apparently they figure that you must have some coin
if you're buying these kinds of cars, so you won't mind if
you're charged more for parts and service. This is a universal
practice; just as the ES300 is a Camry underneath, most other
luxury cars share parts with their less-expensive siblings,
Lexus waited until the last
minute to make the ES300's air conditioning system CFC-free. If
not already done, pre-1994 cars will need to have their systems
converted at a cost of $300-plus.
Normal maintenance charges are
above average. Timing belt replacement comes up at 70,000 miles
and should run you a rather pricey $650-$800 at a dealer. Brakes
and other routine service items weigh in a bit more than a
Camry, too. Part of this is due to the high labor rate that many
Lexus dealers charge. Must be part of that "Lexus Experience"!
As with most Toyotas, if you
properly maintain an ES300, you'll rarely be surprised by
something that goes wrong. Lexus clearly raised the bar on
luxury car reliability the first year they came here, and have
maintained that reputation ever since. Compared to, say, a
Mercedes, well, there's just no comparison. While a Benz may be
well-engineered and put together like a bank vault -- and
will last forever if taken car of -- they tend to develop small
annoying problems at a much higher rate than any Lexus.
There are really no major weak
spots in the reliability record of this car. An excellent
bumper-to-bumper factory warranty of 4-years/50,000 miles
accompanied every ES300 when new, but all of these models are
now out of the original bumper-to-bumper warranty period. The
original powertrain warranty extended to 6-years/70,000 miles,
so you may find a later year model with some factory coverage
still in effect.
A benefit of Toyota's excellent
reliability record is that you can purchase an extended warranty
from many sources for the ES300 at relatively low rates.
And there is also the alternative
of going to a Lexus dealer and purchasing one of their
"certified" vehicles. These are generally the best trade-ins and
lease returns that come into the dealer. These vehicles offer
the comfort of a very strong factory-backed warranty. There's no
free lunch here, however, and you'll pay premium prices for
Click here for more Lexus Certified information.
There are two ways to look at
this. Many opt for the practical approach of dismissing the
ES300 as nothing more than a dressed-up, expensive Camry. After
all, you can purchase a used top-of-the-line Camry XLS for
thousands less than an ES300.
The other school of thought
distances the ES300 from the Camry and values the ES300 for what
it is -- a fine, and refined, luxury sedan. No Camry has the
sharp exterior look or the sumptuous cabin of the ES300, or the
status of the Lexus nameplate.
Said When New
|"Whereas the ES250 was
but another conservative, boxy Japanese sedan, the ES300
is one of the sportier, more graceful-looking entries in
its class."......Car & Driver 2/92
"....you'll find that the
ES300's skidpad and slalom times are actually a tick
better than the Ultimate Driving Machine's.".....Road &
"The few seeds of
discontent include a fair degree of body roll and seats
that could use deeper bolstering. A high sill makes
loading this Lexus' spacious trunk a difficult maneuver
is also a disappointment.".....Motor Trend 9/91
"The ES300 behaves much
like the Camry in routine driving--competent but not
exciting.".......Consumer Reports 5/95
"It was a warm day, and
the ES300's a/c huffed and puffed for quite some time
before it cooled the
passengers....."....... Automobile 10/91
"Impressively quiet, even
at speed, the ES300 is as luxurious as a $26,000 sedan
can be.".........Road & Track 1/92
Trim Levels: None
Styles: 4dr Sedan
Dimensions & Capacities
Weight: 3500 lbs.
Length: 4dr 187.8"
EPA Class: Compact
Cargo Vol : 14.0 cu. ft.
Fuel: 18.5 gallons
Engines: 3.0L (6cyl-185/188hp)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/overdrive;
Brakes: Front/rear disc w/ABS
Performance (auto trans)
0-60mph: 8.6 seconds
(a/t) 8.0 seconds (5spd)
1/4 mile: 16.7 seconds
Top Speed: 130mph