Our test location couldn’t have been more fitting — barely 30 minutes south of San Francisco’s international airport, right along the coast in a tiny hamlet called Half Moon Bay. You can be in downtown San Francisco in less than an hour from here, yet — as we put the all-new Lexus ES 300 through its paces on curvy two-lane roads — I notice a surprising lack of cars on the road. Not what I expected from suburban San Francisco.
And not what I expected from the Lexus ES 300. At first glance, the stately sedan looks like it’d drive a bit like a boat. Oh, it’ll provide a comfortable ride, you think, but is there any fun
to be had behind the wheel?
The answer: Yes. Lexus completely redesigned the entry-luxury 2002 ES 300 from the ground up. The 3.0-liter 210-horsepower engine is powerful and smooth, albeit a bit hesitant when you put the pedal on the floor. Even so, it gets the 3,400-pound vehicle to 60 mph in just a hair over 8 seconds. Meanwhile, the four-wheel independent suspension — which is mounted to anti-vibration subframes — provides increased rigidity and, thus, tighter handling. The ES 300 is also longer, taller, and quieter than its predecessor.
The sedan borrows many interior features from Lexus’ flagship LS 430, including walnut trim, a seven-speaker premium audio system, dual-zone climate control, and auto-dimming mirrors. Available as an option is the same adaptive variable suspension, which adjusts the ride from comfort to sport (or an intermediate setting) at the touch of a button. In our tests, the differences among the settings were so noticeable that it was almost like driving three different cars. Pretty neat.
The ES 300 goes on sale in October. Prices will start in the low $30,000 range.