Smooth moves in Lexus tweaks
Let’s look at two Lexus models – the ES 350 and the RC 350 – and the changes they have undergone for 2016.
The ES 350 is a strong-selling, comfort-oriented, midsize sedan whose conservatism resonates with its clientele. The smaller RC 350 is a sporty coupe with much more athleticism and power.
The ES 350, considered an entry-level luxury sedan – as long as you consider $38,000 an entry point – represents a corporate cousin of the Toyota Avalon. They share the same front-drive power train and architecture, along with identical wheelbases and tracks.
The ES 350, however, is more upmarket and has undergone a mild makeover for 2016. The newest riffs include more soundproofing, interior tweaks, and, most obviously, the all-in adoption of Lexus’ wasp-waisted signature grille. The ES 350 flirted with this grille look when the car was redesigned for 2013 but now has gone to the altar with it.
The new ES 350 I drove turned out to be a pleasing car. It was nicely assembled inside and out, as well as roomy, comfortable, quiet, and properly endowed with standard equipment.
While the ES 350 is more interested in furnishing a rich interior and cosseted cruising than a sport sedan experience, its engine performance and driving dynamics are hardly slow and sloppy. The 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic gearbox conspire to get the car from 0 to 60 in a presentable 6.5 seconds, and the suspension deals competently with brisk cornering. Steering precision and braking are up to snuff.
The comfort, refinement, sense of well-being, and coddle quotient in the tester were enhanced by options that helped swell the final price tag to $46,679. Besides $1,515 worth of electronic safety aids (blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, etc.), it benefited from a $1,670 package that included perforated leather interior trim, heated and ventilated front seats, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. There was a $2,650 package containing a navigation system and 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson audio. There was also a power rear sunshade ($210) and a heated wood-and-leather wheel ($450).
The top-performing RC 350 model I tested is powered by a variation on the ES 350’s 3.5-liter V-6 that employs direct injection to help reach 306 horsepower. It is joined this year by two additional engine options: a 2-liter turbo, which powers the new RC 200t, and a 255-horse version of the 3.5-liter V-6, which motivates another freshened model called the RC 300.
With a base price of $39,995, the rear-drive RC 200t offers a less costly alternative to the all-wheel-drive RC 300 ($42,610) and the RC 350, which starts at $42,790 in the rear-drive version I drove, and $45,015 with AWD.
The RC 350 proved a real funster. The games begin with a 0-to-60 time of well under six seconds, which bumps up the old heart rate a bit. That kind of acceleration is matched by the sporty coupe’s driving dynamics, which were enhanced, in the tester’s case, by the $3,385 F Sport package. Besides the sporty cosmetics, the package included serious go-fast gear, like adaptive suspension damping and sticky, high-performance, 19-inch tires.
Thus equipped, the tester did yeoman’s work during aggressive cornering calisthenics. The steering proved responsive, and the braking was prompt and well-modulated. While nicely equipped in base form (an eight-speed automatic gearbox and real wood trim), the tester benefited from nearly $11,000 worth of options.