The 2011 Lexus ES 350 is considered one of the automaker's entry-level sedans, but nothing about it felt entry-level. It was so well-equipped my grandmother was bragging to the entire East Coast that I had the "nicest Lexus on the market!" I didn't have the heart to correct her.
While the ES 350 was luxurious, its lack of some family-friendly features such as sufficient cupholders and storage compartments had me questioning just who their target market was for this midsize sedan.
To say it handled beautifully would be an understatement. The V-6 engine gave this mom all the pep I could want. Thankfully, braking was as effortless and smooth as accelerating. Despite my somewhat aggressive driving, I averaged around 20 mpg during my weeklong test drive.
Ventilated leather seats and the walnut wood-trimmed interior turned my not-so-glamorous life into something a tad more shiny. For that one week, my automotive life was almost perfect. Its solid doors reminded me that my kids in the backseat were safe, even if I should happen to speed (a little) down the freeway.
The ES 350 has a starting MSRP of $36,725. My test car was equipped with several optional features, including the Ultra Luxury Package, pushing its price up to $44,500.
Lexus isn't known for taking risks. This gives its cars, including the ES, a somewhat classic look. The ES 350 is undeniably sleek and beautiful, but it lacked that sporty, head-turning element.
Because it's a sedan, it sits low enough to the ground that my 2-year-old could climb in and out of it by herself. However, the roofline was so low that my 9-month-old developed a permanent bruise on her forehead from me hitting her head on the door frame every time I tried to maneuver her out of her child-safety seat. Sorry 'bout that, baby.
While deep and somewhat cavernous, the trunk was easily accessible. The trunk is sizable. It swallowed my humongous double jog stroller with room to spare. It also features a pass-through to the cabin to accommodate longer items.
The Lexus ES 350 has a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that's paired with a six-speed automatic. For the 2011 model year, the engine has been revised so it now uses regular gas. It gets an EPA-estimated 19/27 mpg city/highway.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
The ES' interior was so beautiful that I found myself fearing what my brood would do to it during our test drive. Luckily, it was as sturdy as it was sparkly.
In the front row, the comfy optional leather seats were heated and ventilated. Legroom wasn't lacking as my tall husband was able to fit in the front passenger seat with a rear-facing child-safety seat behind him in the second row. However, he struggled to find a comfortable seating position because of the adjustable lumbar support.
Almost every control in the sedan is accessible by voice commands. This was novel at first, but after spending about 20 minutes (unsuccessfully) yelling in unison with my 2-year-old daughter, "Add phone," we gave up on the voice-controlled system and went the old-school touch-screen route. The touch-screen made access to the navigation system a breeze, which made my driving experience much safer. I was no longer forced to rely on my smartphone to navigate through the Los Angeles' convoluted freeway system. This left my hands free to drive.
While I loved the Lexus' interior, I definitely felt that I was not the target market. A prominent ashtray in the front row was my first tip-off. Second, was the serious lack of cupholders and bottleholders. There are two cupholders for the front row and two more in the second row's fold-down center armrest. While that might work for two adults in the backseat, it renders them completely useless when the back row is filled with two full-size child-safety seats. Without car seats, this car could comfortably fit five people (as long as they hold their own beverages).
The cabin's storage compartments also were less than desirable. While there was a deep center console that housed the MP3 jack and USB input, the glove compartment and door pockets were small and difficult to use. I found myself wishing that the ashtray was a multipurpose storage compartment.
The optional panoramic moonroof is a show-stopper in this car. I'm pretty sure that it stole my 2-year-old's heart. She couldn't get enough of it.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2011 Lexus ES 350 has received the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In IIHS' rear crash test, the ES 350 received the second lowest score of Marginal. It received four stars out of five in a rollover crash test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It hasn't undergone NHTSA's frontal and side-impact crash tests.
While the ES 350's backseat is spacious, it will only fit two child-safety seats. Both of my girls are in convertible car seats; when in the rear-facing position, this car seat takes up a lot of space. The front passenger seat did have to be moved forward a tad to accommodate the rear-facing convertible behind it, but there was enough legroom for my 6-foot-2-inch husband to fit comfortably in the front seat. My older daughter had plenty of legroom in the second row when she sat in her forward-facing convertible.
The ES has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. The anchors are buried in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. The seat belt buckles are on stable bases, making it easy for an older child in a booster seat to use them independently.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Lexus ES 350 includes front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control and 10 airbags, including driver and front passenger knee airbags, side curtains for both rows and side-impact airbags for both front and outboard rear seats.
Optional features include adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction of a turn, Lexus's Pre-Collision System, which retracts the front seat belts and preps the brakes if it senses a collision, and Lexus Enform and Safety Connect, an emergency communication system that comes in the form of a handy SOS button. Just knowing that help was a button push away helped put my mind at ease while driving alone with my little ones.