The ES may be among the most forgettable of Lexus' cars, but it's also the most popular — by a long shot.
It's a strange situation. The softly sprung ES doesn't get a lot of attention from the motorhead press, but it sells in huge numbers. More than half of the cars Lexus sold last month were ES models, which is a big reason this vehicle has come to define the Lexus brand.
Consider this: Lexus builds a supercar, the LFA, but people still don't think of Lexus as an exotic brand in the mold of Ferrari or Lamborghini. It also builds some fun sports sedans, like the IS and GS, but it's not a sporty brand in the sense of BMW.
In fact, so much of Lexus' reputation is built around this one car, the ES, that it makes for major news when the bread-and-butter sedan gets a redesign.
That's just what happened this year.
The all-new 2013 ES is built on a fresh platform — based on the Toyota Avalon instead of the Camry — which means it has a longer wheelbase and a more spacious back seat.
It also has the same personality of the old ES, which is wonderfully dull.
This is the way luxury cars should be. It feels like a tank covered in velvet and suede, with the rare combination of a cushy, comfortable, silent cabin along with solid construction that seems like it's built to withstand the eternities. It's a great feeling.
For driving enthusiasts, it's still a vanilla car. If you want something to get your pulse racing, the IS or GS would be a better choice, as the ES is designed more for floating down the highway than carving through corners.
And, while it looks more aggressive than the Camry-based car it's replacing, it's still understated. The styling is more about elegance than flash.
One of the most appealing parts of this car is its new starting price of $36,100, which is actually lower than the old model. That's a rare thing indeed.
For that price, it comes with the standard luxury features buyers expect in this class, including a push-button starter, 10-way power seats, dual-zone climate control and a whopping 10 airbags for safety.
One notable absence is leather seats. The base model comes with something Lexus calls NuLuxe, which should please PETA protestors. If you want real leather, you'll have to buy the $1,370 luxury package.
Beyond the standard features, Lexus makes several cool innovations available on this car.
If you're backing out of your driveway, for example, sensors can tell if there are cars in the street driving toward you. If you accidentally start to back out into traffic, you'll hear a beep as a warning.
Other nifty features include a panoramic glass sunroof, a built-in windshield deicer that can melt snow and ice, and a suite of "apps" that can connect your car with Internet services such as Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, Pandora and Yelp.
Overall, it's good to see that Lexus has kept the formula from changing too much on this car, even as it undergoes a major overhaul. The bigger back seat and extra trunk space are great additions, but the qualities that have made it a sales leader — and the heart of the Lexus brand — are all still in place.
Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.
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What was tested?
2013 Lexus ES350 ($36,100). Options: Blind spot monitor ($500), HID headlamps ($515), rear seat sunshade ($210), luxury package ($1,370), navigation package ($2,625), intuitive parking assist ($500), wood and leather shift knob and steering wheel ($330). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $43,045.
Why buy it?
It's bigger and all-new this year, but it doesn't lose the soft, comfortable driving feel that made it a big seller in the past.
Why avoid it?
Leather seats are no longer standard equipment.