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1998 Lexus ES 300 Overview
Who's number one? Calling one car the best in any particular category is a tricky proposition, because there's always the random variable of individual tastes to consider. In the entry luxury segment, for example, we're inclined to prefer the BMW 328i, simply because we find it the most gratifying to drive. There are plenty of other tempting choices too--the Acura TL, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, INFINITI I30, the new Cadillac Catera and the all-too-frequently overlooked Mazda Millenia. But for all-around excellence in this competitive realm, the new Lexus ES 300 strikes us as a pacesetter. Maybe even the pacesetter. Yes, this is a re-design, rather than an all-new car. But it's improved in every respect--a little more character to its styling, stiffer chassis, reduced curb weight, better handling, more power, improved aerodynamic efficiency and more room inside. And, more remarkable, Lexus has trimmed a tidy $2500 from the base price, thank you very much. That's a can't-miss recipe for success, and it also raises a question: how'd they do that? The universal emphasis on cost engineering adds an intriguing new dimension to our job: trying to figure out where the manufacturer did the whittling. That's always tough sleuthing, because you can bet they're not going tell you, and in this case it's difficult indeed. About the only things that are readily apparent are the ES 300's new reflector headlamps, which are substantially cheaper than the previous projector beam setup, and a simple pushbutton reset for the trip odometer instead of the electric reset used on the '96 model. But these cost cuts don't detract at all from the finished product. The new headlamps actually enhance the new front end appearance, in our opinion, and also do a better job of lighting in the immediate vicinity of the car. And the new LS 400-style electroluminiscent instruments, among the best and most attractive in the entire industry, certainly offset any sense of the ordinary that might go with a plain old mechanical reset for the trip counter.