The Lexus ES 330 is the smoothest, quietest car in its class. Smooth and quiet are good because it can be a rough, noisy world out there at times. This quietude can be shared with others. The ES 330 is a four-door mid-size luxury sedan that seats five.
Last year's ES 300 becomes the ES 330 for 2004 due to the introduction of a larger and more powerful 3.3-liter V6 engine. The 2004 Lexus ES 330 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph nearly a full second quicker than last year's model, which is a significant improvement that can be felt by the driver. More important, the ES 330 is more responsive when driving around town. The five-speed automatic transmission has been revised for 2004 for smoother shifting and improved response. Our overriding impression of the engine and transmission, however, is their smoothness. The Lexus ES 330 is so smooth that at times it feels seamless in operation.
The 2004 model year brings a host of other advancements that improve on this luxurious mid-size sedan. Among them: new and improved airbags, an upgraded passenger seat, and an enhanced navigation system.
The ES 330 delivers a compelling combination of quality, comfort, refinement, and value. Lexus has a reputation for exceptional quality and behind the high-quality fit and finish is a great deal of careful design and detail work. Living with this car is easy. It's loaded with features that make life more convenient. The lighting package, for example, is extensive, so when you shut off the car and open the doors the interior and perimeter of the car are illuminated so it's easy to see when you're getting out at night.
The Lexus ES 330 is based on the Toyota Camry, but is distinguished by unique styling. The rake of the ES 330 combined with its streaked-back headlamps make a striking statement. The front end seems to slope down in one continuous curve, from the top of the windshield, over the sculpted hood and tidy dark grille, down to the smooth air dam under the almost seamless front bumper. The headlight cluster suggests silvery eyes pulled back at the corners.
Tail lamps trimmed in silver echo the design, stretching around the corners, as if reaching to meet the headlamps. Nine-spoke alloy wheels complement the styling. Chromed door handles are easy to grab and do not require awkwardly flipping your hand over as they do on other models such as the Infiniti I35 and Audi A6.
Lexus designed its ES sedan to be the safest car in its class. The passenger compartment is reinforced in critical areas and front and rear crush zones are designed crumple to absorb the impact of a crash.
You see and feel the quality. It can be felt in the solid sound the doors, trunk and hood when they're closed. But sometimes the quality is hidden: The underbody is smooth, nearly flat, contributing to exceptional aerodynamic efficiency (with a coefficient of drag of just 0.28), and the car is constructed using advanced composites and resin-steel sandwiches to further minimize the intrusion of noise.
The Lexus ES 330 presents a warm, inviting interior. It has a warmer ambience than the German cars, namely the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3 Series. The ES 330 operates in that middle ground marketers refer to with terms such as "near luxury" or "entry luxury." It's more luxurious than the top trim levels of mid-size sedans such as the Toyota Camry XLE, but it's not as plush as true luxury sedans such as the Lexus LS 430.
The first thing that grabs your eye in the ES 330 is the California walnut wood trim, a dark hue with hints of red. It harmonizes with the brushed aluminum trim, however. All of the trim materials exude a high-quality look and feel. The standard steering wheel and shift lever are covered with stitched leather and look very nice. An all-walnut handle for the shift lever and a walnut-trimmed steering wheel are available for an even more prestigious appearance. Regardless, the steering column is manually adjustable for tilt.
The standard leather upholstery is quite nice and is available in ivory, charcoal, or black. The seats are very comfortable and the seating position is excellent, with lots of front-seat legroom. Optional power-adjustable pedals are a good idea for shorter drivers because they help them to find a good driving position without sitting too close to the airbag-equipped steering wheel. The seats are relatively flat, without large bolsters, making getting in and out easier. The driver's seat comes standard with 10-way power adjustments. For 2004, the power-adjustable front passenger's seat has eight settings, including power lumbar adjustment. The shape and construction of the front seats is borrowed from the flagship LS 430.
The ES 330 is about 10-percent larger inside than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the front seats of the Lexus offer significantly more hip room than the Mercedes. The ES 330 does not offer as much headroom as the Mercedes or the Infiniti I35, however, and six-foot drivers may wish for more.
The rear seats are roomy, and this is a comfortable car for four adults. Five is a crowd, but it'll work for short distances, like going to a restaurant, particularly if a member of the Little People is sitting in the rear center position. Overall, it's roomier and more comfortable (with more hip room and leg room) in the back seats of the Lexus ES 330 than it is in the back of a Mercedes C320 sedan.
The driver's seat offers good visibility out front. The self-dimming outside mirrors offer a good view rearward and seem larger than those on Mercedes-Benz cars. The inside rearview mirror is self-dimming (electrochromic) and features a digital compass. The slope of the rear window doesn't allow a panoramic view, though it fills the rearview mirror. The mirror is mounted so close to the headliner that adjusting it requires an awkward grab at its bottom edge. An optional power rear shade filters out the blazing sun, whether driving or parked.
The clean-looking instrument panel features three round, deeply recessed pods with highly legible analog gauges in white-on-black graphics illuminated when the key is turned. Centered is a large analog speedometer. A digital trip computer at the bottom of the speedometer displays range, average fuel consumption and other functions, controlled by a pair of buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. Similarly, a digital odometer with two trip odometers is displayed in the right pod with big analog fuel and temperature gauges. On the left is a big analog tachometer.
The optional navigation system has been improved for 2004 with improved graphics, a larger database of points of interest (5 million compared with last year's 2 million), and new convenience functions. It's a powerful system, but like most of these systems requires some experience and study to master. It raised, rather than lowered, our stress while we were learning how to use it. Technophobes should avoid this option as they may become frustrated and simply not use
The Lexus ES 330 delivers a smooth, refined driving experience with a smooth engine and transmission, a smooth-riding suspension, smooth brakes, and extensive measures designed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
The 2004 model's 3.3-liter V6 engine, which replaces the previous 3.0-liter V6, produces 225 horsepower and 240 pounds-feet of torque (compared with last year's 210 hp and 220 lbs.-ft.). The larger displacement endows the ES 330 with better performance. The increased torque improves the car's responsiveness in everyday driving situations. According to Lexus, the ES 330 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. It's a responsive engine, but the ES 330 is not lightning quick. The ES 330 has an EPA City/Highway fuel economy rating of 20/29 mpg and is certified by the government as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV II).
The transmission was revised for 2004 for smoother shifting and it shifts very smoothly. Upshifts in normal, everyday driving are almost invisible, but the transmission is responsive when driving aggressively. Downshifts are responsive but smooth, a big improvement over last year's transmission. Also, less downshifting is needed with the increased torque and wider power band of the larger engine. It's best to put it in Drive and leave it there. The gated shifter allows manual shifting and an indicator displays the selected gear on the instrument panel, but shifting manually is a clunky proposition due to the gates.
The ES 330's suspension is tuned for a smooth ride. It filters out vibration and contributes to the ES 330's exceptional quiet and smoothness. Summer tires come standard, while all-season tire are a no-cost option (both size 215/60VR16). If it snows or rains a lot where you live, get the all-season tires; if you live in the Sunbelt, the smile states, then the summer tires should offer better grip on dry pavement. The four-wheel independent strut suspension is designed to minimize body roll and allow precise handling. The speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a very nice touch: light, but with good feel, effortless around town. There is very little, if any, torque steer. (Torque steer is a phenomenon of front-wheel-drive cars felt as a slight tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration.) Overall, the ES 330 handles well, but it is tuned more for ride quality than sporty handling. Its front-heavy weight distribution (61 percent front/39 percent rear) limits its cornering potential, but the front-wheel-drive ES is the conservative Executive Sedan. Serious driving enthusiasts may prefer the similarly priced IS 300 (or a BMW 330i), with rear-wheel drive and an available five-speed manual gearbox, but the IS 300 does not offer the smooth ride quality, amenities, and overall refinement of the ES 330. Most drivers will be happier with the ES 330.
The optional Adaptable Variable Suspension ($620) is worthwhile for drivers who are interested in adjusting handling and ride quality. The system automatically and continuously changes the shock absorber dampening rate at each wheel in response to road conditions, vehicle speed, and steering and braking inputs. Overall, the system is tuned very nicely, and provides a great ride under all conditions. The driver can switch among four stiffness settings by moving a thumb wheel on the center console. The firm setting is relatively firm, but not as firm as a sports suspension: It tightens up transient response (quick lane-change maneuvers) but transmits more vibration into the cabin when driving on rough neighborhood roads; it works best when driving at high speeds or when whipping along mountain roads. The softest setting works very well at low speeds in the neighborhood, filtering out all of these undulations, and we liked it for that, but it's on the squishy side for other conditions. The middle two settings were just right everyday driving conditions.
The brakes are very smooth, effortless, yet sensitiv
The 2004 Lexus ES 330 represents an improvement over last year's model, mostly in terms of quicker acceleration performance. The ES 330 delivers a smooth, refined ride. Its engine and transmission are smooth and its brakes are smooth. The cabin is very quiet. Lexus quality and attention to detail pervade.
If you want a smooth and quiet mid-size luxury sedan, you cannot do much better in this price range than the Lexus ES 330.
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