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2006 Lexus ES 330 review

March 29, 2006 11:58 AM EST | Lexus , Luxury Brands , Sedans | Email to Friend

View large imageA supple ride and a gorgeous interior make this one entry-level luxury sedan that you'll never want to upgrade from.

Pros
Comprehensive array of luxury and convenience features, superb ride quality, silent cabin, advanced safety technology, excellent reputation for reliability.

Cons
Bland driving characteristics, many of the most desirable options are expensive, no split-folding rear seat.

What's New for 2006
Other than new availability of satellite radio, there are no changes to the Lexus ES 330. Stated horsepower for the car's V6 engine is slightly lower than last year, however, due to Lexus' adoption of new SAE engine testing procedures.

Introduction:
As one of the most affordable cars in the Lexus lineup, the ES 330 is meant to attract people looking for something a little bit more special than the usual Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. It offers a luxurious cabin, a soothing ride and many features not found on more plebian cars. The history of the ES can be traced to Lexus' first year, 1990, when the ES 250 debuted. It was marketed as an "Executive Sedan," though we're pretty sure that executives saw it for what it was: a thinly veiled Toyota Camry with a price premium. Admittedly, the ES 250 was a stopgap plan for Lexus, and an improved ES 300 arrived in 1992. Though again based on a Camry platform, this one had much more distinctive styling, and remained popular for many years.

The ES was last redesigned in 2002. The latest version is again similar to the Camry (also redone in 2002), though its appointments reflect the high levels of comfort, convenience and refinement that have become trademarks of Lexus luxury. Lexus says that it didn't develop the car to be all things to all people, and we feel that there's a certain amount of honor in acknowledging a car's limitations. Many people simply don't give a darn about the performance potential of an automobile. A car is a conveyance, not a form of entertainment, and if they're lucky enough, their vehicle will also convey to onlookers the idea that they've achieved a certain level of success. For those consumers, the ES 330 should have tremendous appeal.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The five-passenger, four-door ES 330 is sold in just one trim level. Many luxury features are standard, including power front seats with memory, automatic dual-zone climate control, a power moonroof, HomeLink, a full set of auto-dimming mirrors, one-touch up-and-down windows on all doors, leather seating and burled walnut or golden bird's eye maple wood trim. Other optional items include a DVD-based navigation system with voice activation, a premium Mark Levinson audio system, satellite radio, a powered rear sunshade, heated and ventilated seats, HID headlights and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Power-adjustable pedals with a memory function are also available. An available 17-inch wheel and performance tire option dresses up the exterior appearance, while also providing a bit of an improvement in the handling department.

Powertrains and Performance:
The ES 330's 3.3-liter V6 engine is rated at 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. It sends its power to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. An adaptive variable suspension system is optional, and helps the ES balance a silky-smooth ride with respectable cornering ability.

Safety:
The ES 330 has solid NHTSA crash test scores, earning five stars (the best possible) in every category except for rear-side impacts, which warranted four stars. It has also earned a "Good" rating from the IIHS for front-offset impact safety, its highest rating. The ES 330 comes with a full complement of airbags, including seat-mounted side airbags for front passengers and side curtain airbags for all outboard passengers. Lexus offers standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), a stability control system that helps prevent dangerous spins and skids, is optional, and includes traction control and BrakeAssist.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The ES 330's cabin is quite warm and inviting. In terms of the overall design and the materials used, you're not likely to find anything better in this class -- the leather is soft, the wood trim is rich and every surface the driver is likely to touch returns an impression of quality. Besides that, the backseat is roomy, the trunk is large, and there should be enough luxury features to keep you and your occupants content.

Driving Impressions:
Around town, the ES 330 floats plenty and absorbs road anomalies, providing a cushion-soft ride. When pushed harder, it offers little to get excited about -- the handling limits are quite modest, though we expect most owners won't be too concerned with that particular aspect. Although cars like the Acura TL, Chrysler 300 and Nissan Maxima have more powerful engines, the ES 330 should prove sufficiently quick for buyers who are more interested in tranquility than maximum performance.

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