Wild, razor-edged vehicles with snow-shovel grilles and hungover headlamps no longer amuse me.
I think I fell from their demographic – hard.
For better or worse, kids, I rarely see a head-bobbing hipster in my mirror these days, ready for a hot date with Nirvana Snowflake. Darn.
In this screaming era of look-at-me lines and excessive everything, I kind of appreciate the smooth, somewhat timid Lexus ES350, a sedan that sets the standard for unprovocative.
Will a chair soon be the only thing that rocks in my life?
Maybe, but put the quietly virtuous ES next to the frantic Lexus RX350 crossover – a vehicle so blustery and exaggerated it could run for president -- and it looks like cool water on a hot day.
Granted, it’s been on the kitchen-counter for a while. My champagne-colored 2018 ES350 looked pretty much the way it did when it arrived as an all-new model in 2013.
It has aged pretty well, though.
While the ES – like virtually all Lexis – must wear one of those silly misshapen spindle grilles to stay in the club, its sleek headlamps dip gently into the front fenders without riling anyone.
Meanwhile, a long, substantial-looking hood with light character lines on its edges set the tone for the sedan’s clean, sober body.
No fake scoops, vents or video-game-inspired swirls and gee-gaws here.
One subtle character line above the ES’ door-handles cut across a body as basically flat as West Texas – without the dust.
Huge doors proudly confirm the car’s high-end grocery-getter status, while its top curved gracefully down to join a slightly raised trunk.
Likewise, the ES’ tires and wheels looked appropriately low-key: average-sized 225/45 rubber on turbine-style 18-inch alloy wheels.
Think of the ES350 as a finely knitted polo shirt in a world of psychedelic Hawaiian tank-tops.
Here’s the real deal, dudes and dude-ettes: At about $49,000, the ES is a highly reliable, reasonably priced entry into the near-luxury world – without the garish flash that might prompt your boss to wonder if you’re selling pot on the side.
Leave off some options and you can push that price down to $40,000 or less.
In fact, I think I finally cracked Lexi’s design-code: Tempt buyers under 50 with amped-up, over-the-top, cartoonish bodies, but placate the older core-customers with refined luxurious interiors.
The light-gray interior in my car, for example, was probably its strongest selling point.
A graceful two-tier dashboard in smooth, expensive-feeling plastic included a recessed area at mid-dash – a nifty little cave to shade the ES’ display screen.
Stuffed in there somewhere were pre-collision and pedestrian-detection systems, lane-departure alert, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Below the screen and a strip of polished wood, a horizontal center-stack with buttons and knobs for the car’s various functions flowed into a broad console with a positive, non-electric shifter (hooray).
Put your fist in the air for low-tech.
Although the door panels wore more of the elegant black plastic, the real stars inside were the light-gray leather seats with perforated, pleated centers.
Of course, as a mid-size luxury sedan, the ES offered excellent leg- and head-room in back – a seat big enough to sleep on, matter of fact, just in case one of your shiftless in-laws goes broke again and needs a place to crash.
Like too many Lexis and Toyotas, the ES sports the same powertrain it had years ago – in this case, Toyota-Lexus’ venerable 3.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic.
The smooth V-6 cranks out 268-horsepower, just as it did in 2013, and directs the power through an outdated six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.
As you probably know, the ES shares platform pieces and other hardware with the Toyota Camry – and is assembled at the same Kentucky plant that builds the Camry -- but feels more solid and sealed-up in motion.
Even under full-throttle acceleration, the modest V-6 and transmission doesn’t make much racket, though the transmission can be slow to downshift.
Nonetheless, they provided a reasonably strong surge from stops, hitting 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Lexus.
The down-side: ho-hum fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon overall.
Likewise, the 3,600-pound sedan’s main virtue when in motion was its smooth, silent ride.
Although the ES offers a sport mode button to slightly retune the engine, steering and suspension, it didn’t stray far from the car’s soft roots, stepping over bumps with lots of compliance and wheel-travel.
Push the car into a corner at moderate speeds and it leaned some, squirming a bit as speeds increased.
Find outr, the steering – while light and quick – felt as numb as my date’s toes the last time I went dancing. Sorry.
Still, if I had to drive to L.A., the ES would be high on my transport list.
By the way, my sedan contained about $10,000 in options, including 18-inch wheels ($880); navigation and Mark Levinson stereo ($2,615); parking assist ($500); and ultra-luxury interior package ($3,500).
Subtract all of that and you’ve got a solid near-luxury sedan for less than $39,000.
That’s hard to ignore – even in a car that avoids attention.
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- What I liked most: The ES’ overall quality and refinement.
- What I would change: Give the ES the more powerful V-6 and 8-speed automatic that are in the Camry XSE.
- MSRP: Base price, $38,900; as equipped, $49,255.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway and 24 mpg overall.
- Official color: Atomic Silver.
- Odometer reading when tested: 4,809 miles.
- Weight: approximately 3,600 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 192.7 inches long/71.7 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
- Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2018 Lexus ES350 in a few words: Though outdated in some respects, the subtle ES still offers good value.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile basic warranty and six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain protection
- Final assembly location: Georgetown, Ky.
- Manufacturer’s website:
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