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2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport – The Best ES Yet

2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport – The Best ES Yet

Now in its seventh iteration, the Lexus ES is better than ever. The first ES came out three decades ago in 1989. Back then they were built on the Camry platform. The newest ES shares a platform with Toyota’s excellent Avalon. Has the Lexus treatment improved Toyota’s recipe?

EXTERIOR

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This ES350 came off the assembly line in Georgetown, Kentucky sporting Ultrasonic Blue paint on its sheet metal skin. I was slow to warm up to the spindle grille, but now I think it looks pretty sharp.

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The roofline makes an arc that sweeps gracefully from the base of the windshield, up over the four doors, and terminates beneath a spoiler on top of the deck lid. The chrome molding around the windows is a nice touch, and it just enough bling. 19 inch F-Sport alloy wheels finished in gray offer a nice contrast to the intense blue.

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Lexus designers did a good job of developing the design theme on this car. Nothing looks out of proportion. And, rather wisely, they stayed away from a completely hard-edged motif. The problem with blocky designs for cars is that they’ll never be totally cohesive. There are certain elements that must be organic. Until we figure out square wheels, I fear we are beholden to at least some rounded features.

 

INTERIOR

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The gauge cluster in front of the driver mimics the hourglass shape of the grille. The driver’s feet are treated to aluminum pedals thanks to the F-Sport package. And everyone’s ears are treated to the 10 speaker Lexus premium sound system. The screen in the dash is lovely, both for its size, 12.3 inches, and its resolution. It’s also nice to see that Lexus has adopted Apple Carplay. I did notice a little distortion 10.2 inch wide heads up display, making this $500 option a questionable value. To be fair though, this is the first time I’ve noticed it in a Lexus product.

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The build quality inside this ES is better than ever. And whether you like red skins on the seats or not, the excellent execution of these seats is undeniable. Everything you touch feels good. In the past, for whatever reason, Lexus’ shift knobs were never tight. They would always spin in your hand. After you buy this Lex though, you can tell all your friends about its nice tight knob.

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There’s a lot to like inside, from the embossed headrests to the tasteful detail stitching on the dash and door panels. One particular detail I liked fixated on is the elegant shape of these door handles. It’s a small thing but it’s one we touch every time we drive. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hardware.

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DRIVE

The ES350 has a 3.5 liter, dual overhead cam V8 that churns out 302 horsepower and makes a particularly mellifluous noise while doing it.  It’s smart too. Variable valve timing allows this engine to switch between the Atkinson cycle, which holds the exhaust valves open just a bit longer for better fuel economy, and the old fashion Otto cycle for power. Passing power is excellent but don’t you try any shenanigans in this car.

Even with all the nanny controls turned off the Lexus slaps your wrist if you flat foot it from a stop. This car has the power to lay parallel rubber lines for half a city block. But Lexus engineers didn’t think that was an essential part of a luxury car’s disposition. When the traction control takes hold it doesn’t just turn down the volume, it shuts down the party and sends everybody home. Rather than tapering off the power it shuts it down pretty abruptly. I mean, what’s the point of having all those ponies under the hood and enduring the so-so fuel economy if you can’t let them run?

The ES350 is exceptionally quiet and comfortable to ride it. It has a truck-load of bells and whistles to keep occupants safe too. Radar cruise, airbags crammed into every cranny, pre-collision system, the gang is all here. Plus the F-Sport trim comes with tuned suspension including performance dampers.

 

THE DIRT

The MSRP on a new ES350 is $44,035. But if you want the F-Sport trim all gussied up like this test car, it’ll set you back $52,904. That’s a considerable pile of scratch. But if it must be luxurious and it must be Japanese, then perhaps it must be this car. If I were in the market, I’d probably go with the ES300h hybrid rather than be teased by that great lump of power under the hood that I can’t use. Perhaps there was a hiccup during my transition from being a child to adulthood, but I don’t like being told what to do, even by a car. Realistically though, who would buy a buttoned-down, mid-sized luxury sedan to do something as juvenile and uncouth as turning tires into white smoke?

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2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD – Bigger Isn’t Always Better

2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD – Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The Lexus RX series is built using a recipe that’s been refined for two decades, and has set the bar for what a mid-sized SUV should be. For 2018 Lexus sought to punch it up a little with the Lexus RX350L. What is the RX350L? Essentially, it’s a seven passenger version of the trusty RX. They added 4 inches to the car, a third row seat, and tacked an L to the end of the name. But is more always better?

EXTERIOR

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The RX sports a hard-edged futuristic aesthetic thanks to a facelift in 2015. 20 inch wheels fill out the geometric wheel openings. This car was coated in Lexus’ Atomic Silver paint, a handsome color that allows sunlight to play on the hard lines of the RX body. A sculpted rear side window gives the illusion of a floating roofline that tapers toward the back of the car. The LED headlights peek around corners when you turn the steering wheel after dark. Love it or hate it, the car’s looks are cohesive from front to back. There are no mismatched design elements.

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INTERIOR

Even though the RX 350L grew by a little over four inches, legroom actually dwindled all around. Space in the front and second row was sacrificed for the addition of third row seating.  In Lexus fashion, the interior materials and build quality are all high quality. I especially liked the treatment the console received. The inlaid wood curves up on the right side of the gear selector. It looks like something that you might see on an Italian yacht.

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The driver is treated to a very clear heads up display projected on the windshield. In the dash, a large infotainment screen displays stereo, nav and vehicle information. The lovely console is home to a not-so-lovely, wholly Lexus tech interface. It’s a dead horse, but I’ll beat it again. It’s bizarre and impossible to use while driving. There are other, more practical ways to communicate with an infotainment system. That concludes this rant, if you’d like to read more you may do that here, here, here or here.

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An armrest in the second row seats is home to charging ports and a pair of cup holders that unfold origami-style. Legroom in the second row is an issue. At the push of a button, the cargo floor transforms into the third row.  Once unstowed, the seats offer zero legroom. The second row seats must be moved forward to allow the rearmost passengers any semblance of space for their lower extremities. Unfortunately, this compromises leg space for second row passengers. What you’re left with is not a solution for fitting more folks, but that a debacle of discomfort; a balancing act of constriction.

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THE DRIVE

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Acceleration is strong and smooth thanks to a 290 horsepower V6. An eight-speed automatic distributes power to all four wheels. Cornering is predictable and the ride quality is very good. Smallish windows and substantial sail panels make it difficult to see out when changing lanes or backing up. A $1,800 gaggle of sensors feed the driver information about what’s surrounding the car.

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THE DIRT

Since its inception in 1998, it’s been really good at being a midsize SUV. And up until now, it has set a precedent for what a luxury SUV ought to be. However, more and more brands are building excellent, comparably-optioned midsize SUVs, with a more approachable sticker price, I wonder how long Lexus will stay at the top of the stack.

Let’s face it, even when priced at $10,000 above similarly optioned non-luxury competitors, there will always be a market for this car. Under the flashy skin beats a venerable Toyota heart. Despite the leg room issues and silly infotainment interface, this is still a well-sorted, comfortable midsized SUV. People are willing to pay for that on the front and back of their car. It’s been around long enough to become a staple in many driveways. For many folks, nothing else will do.

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2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

Lexus didn’t pull any punches with the all-new 2018 LS 500. It feels more like a world-class luxury car than any other Lexus I’ve tested and seems to be aimed squarely at its Bavarian rivals. Its exterior is gorgeous, its interior is sumptuous, its twin turbo heart beats out 416 horsepower and it has an extravagant price tag. Does all this add up to the best Lexus yet?

INTERIOR

This LS 500 was equipped with leather trimmed heated and cooled seats that can massage passengers into a jelly-like state of relaxation. A compulsory Lexus analog clock set in the beautifully designed dash shares space with a high resolution 12.3 inch display. To the right of that, there’s a lovely backlit cut acrylic panel in front only serves to look pretty. Dark wood accents are distributed in moderation through the cabin.

It had the available 2,400 watt 23 speaker Mark Levinson sound system. That’s a huge amount of speakers that ensure there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s safe too. Stashed about the cabin are 10 airbags. And the whole space can be flooded with natural light at the touch of a button thanks to the panoramic glass roof.

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Nestled in the console, is Lexus’ trackpad infotainment interface. It’s nearly impossible to use while driving. The seven inch touch screen interface in the back seat armrest is much more user friendly. It controls everything from AC to chair massage. It also controls the stereo and seat position. It’s proof that Lexus can come up with a reasonable interface. Fingers crossed, this technology will make its way to the front seats in upcoming models.

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A list of every bell and whistle in this ride would make for a rather long and dry review, allow me to highlight just a few favorites. The rear side windows have power sun shades; one of which unfurls like the headsail of a yacht. Adjustable airline-style headrests give the massage seats a first class feel. The armrests are designed to appear as though they’re floating in front of the door panels. They’re backlit by LEDs to enhance the illusion. The LS 500 projects the best looking heads up displays I’ve ever encountered onto the windshield in front of the driver. The passenger side front seat folds out of the way so the seat behind it can lay nearly flat for La-Z-Boy levels of comfort.

 

Front seat passengers are treated to power seat buckles that leap up into position so they’re always at hand. They even light up so they’re easy to find even after dark. After buckling up, the shoulder strap gives you get a little reassuring hug, and after shifting to drive it hugs you again.

If you’re thinking “that’s all so unnecessary,” well, you’re right. But simply meeting the needs of passengers is not what luxury cars are about. They’re about exceeding expectations, anticipating desires and maybe even surprising us with something we didn’t even know we wanted.

EXTERIOR

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The LS’s body work has the sophisticated look of a luxury car, but it doesn’t scream “look at me.” 19 inch wheels wrapped in run-flat tires come standard, but our test vehicle had the optional 20 inch forged alloys. The spindle shape of the grille is repeated on the trunk and again in the instrument cluster on the dash. The design is restrained, and for such a big car it doesn’t look chunky. The ample hood, sweeping roofline and tidy trunk make for a pleasantly proportional profile.

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DRIVE

A pair of turbochargers and variable valve timing helps the 3.5 liter V6 make 416 horsepower. That’s backed up by a slick-shifting 10 speed transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The LS makes good use of the power too, lay the gas pedal flat and the big sedan hustles from 0 to 60 mph in about five and a half seconds. It sounds good while doing it too.

When in comfort mode, the car has a floaty ride like an old Cadillac but without the tendency to wallow in the corners. The suspension is more firm in sport and sport plus modes. The electronically assisted steering has a satisfyingly heavy resistance. Like the weight of an antique Katana rather than a modern reproduction you’d buy from a late night TV ad.

The ride is so quiet that amorous occupants can whisper sweet nothings to one another at 75 mph without missing a word. At night, the headlights peek around corners as you turn the wheel. Air ride springs raise the car when it’s parked to allow for easier entry and exit. Then they lower the car again for a svelte low slug appearance when the car is in motion.

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Due to the high deck lid, it is tough to see out of the back window while backing up There’s also a chime that dings endlessly while the car is in reverse. However, loads of sensors and multiple video feeds alert drivers to their surroundings and the chime can probably be turned off somehow.

The LS 500 is gratifying to drive, but not in the same ways as a sports car. While there’s plenty of power on tap, this car doesn’t burst violently off the line. It takes off with haste and the speedometer eagerly climbs toward triple digits, but it always feels poised not wily. It’s soothing to drive and you atually feel better when you get out than when you got in.

THE DIRT

So, who would buy this car? It’s for the guy who has made it, and enjoys the finer things, but doesn’t need to shout about it while enjoying them. He wants the luxury, not necessarily the attention. The LS 500 marks a level of luxury I’ve never experienced in any other Lexus product. It feels first class in every respect.

A base model LS 500 costs $75,000. This car, with these options, will set you back $107,090. For perspective, you could buy the base model and a new Dodge Durango for the same money. A big chunk of the option cost comes from the $17,000 executive package. That’s a whole lot of money, but it feels genuinely different than any other Lexus I’ve tested. And relative to flying first class every day, this car is a pretty good value.

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2017 Lexus LX570 – How Much SUV Do You Get For $100K?

2017 Lexus LX570 – How Much SUV Do You Get For $100K?

What is white on the outside, red on the inside, and almost inconceivably large? If you guessed Moby Dick, you guessed wrong (but kudos on your literacy). It’s the 2017 Lexus LX 570! And there is only one reason to buy it. Status.

Does driving this SUV, so large, so exclusive, and so white affirm to owners and onlookers that “yes, I am monied.”?  Perhaps, but don’t think for a moment I’m going to harp on and on about western decadence comrades. You’re here for a review, and that’s what you’re going to get.

EXTERIOR

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The exterior of the LX is hosed down with Lexus corporate styling. It looks like the other Lexus SUVs there’s just more of it. The body is large enough to make 20″ rims look reasonable

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INTERIOR

Our press car was trimmed out in red upholstery. The LX’s interior is its strongest feature. Passengers are swaddled in sumptuous leather and the tree carcass details are lovely. Front and center in the dash is a massive screen positioned above the requisite Lexus analog clock, because luxury car drivers want to be pampered with archaic technology.

The Dirt On Cars on Instagram_ “Me attempting to sell an article. Editor politely passing #toyota #highlander #writing #journalism #fail #cars #comedy”

The front and second row seats will spoil passengers.  Passengers in the second row have their own monitors to watch whatever wealthy children watch (probably stocks) and the fold down arm rest has a bevy of buttons. Lexus boasts seating for eight in its biggest SUV. But eight of what exactly? The power folding third row is viable in a pinch, but it’s not really big enough for grown ups

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It’s as quiet as a tomb on the highway, that is, unless you crank the stereo. The bass this 19-speaker system emits will arouse the envy of any pimply adolescent male within a four block radius. And so will the variable ride height. That’s right, this thing is on bags. I’ll admit to taking a sordid pleasure in airing out the suspension every time I parked. The console has built in beverage cooler. It also has Lexus’ mind-numbing infotainment interface.

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DRIVE

Under the expansive hood, there’s a great big V8 that makes a heap of power, 383 if you’re dying to know, and a load of torque. It’s not particularly clever, but it will haul the LX’s leviathanic bulk to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. That’s backed up by an eight-speed transmission that sends power to all four wheels all the time.

The gas mileage numbers on this vehicle are enough to make you blush, and too horrific to mention here (kids might read this). But if you’re in the tax bracket that can afford to sink 100 grand into the family hauler, you’re either an oil sheik, or you’re buddies with Rex Tillerson and I bet you get a discount on gas.

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The ride was noticeably rougher when comfort mode was not selected. The steering is numb, the brakes do their job, and handling is what you would expect in a three ton luxo-barge. It’s a very comfortable vehicle to ride in, but perhaps not the most rewarding to drive.

The LX is based on Toyota’s Land Cruiser, a time-tested rough and ready off-roader and perhaps it is capable off road, but how many will ever see any sort of rugged terrain?  I’d wager next to none. It’s too pretty to get bushwhacked and too heavy to be any in the mud. No, it’s far more likely to be used by bluebloods to get from one Aspen chalet to another without shaking their monocles loose.

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THE DIRT

Maybe I don’t understand because I’m an unwashed bumpkin. Perhaps my lowbrow, proletariat sensibilities are too coarse to appreciate such refinement. But if I was going to buy something with a base price of $91,000, I’d want to feel like I was driving the future. While there is a lot to behold in the LX, it feels dated.

All dolled up, the press car cost $100k. It’s an outrageous amount. And when you compare it to other cars in this category, it’s slower to accelerate, slower to stop, and hauls less. I have had a lot of fun at expense of the poor LX, but the truth of it is there are better ways to spend this kind of dough. Like on a Tesla AND a Toyota Highlander, or a pair of suburbans, or anything else really.


Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” – – H. Melville


Huge thanks goes out to AMFM Productions for putting together this video!

2017 Lexus NX300h – Entry Level Luxury Aimed at the Ladies

2017 Lexus NX300h – Entry Level Luxury Aimed at the Ladies

 

Lexus calls the color on this press car Autumn Shimmer. It sounds a lot like a shade of lipstick to me, and stands out as one of the most absurd color names in a category of intentionally absurd names created by marketing folk. (i.e. Cadillac’s Amberlite Firemist).

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EXTERIOR

The exterior looks deliberately inoffensive and stays true to the current Lexus trend of hard geometric design. I think the horizontal bars in the spindle grill are easier on the eyes than the “honeycomb” grill featured on the car’s big sister, the RX. Lexus must have agreed, because the 2018 version of the RX features a similar grill insert.

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INTERIOR

Thanks to an unnecessarily wide console, the front seats offer limited lateral leg room. The outside of my knees constantly rubbed the door panel and console. However, fancy ladies sit with their ankles crossed and knees together, so I guess it won’t be an issue. There’s lots of room in the console for loads of Avon samples. In a shamelessly sexist marketing ploy, Lexus included a compact mirror in the console. Just in case the rearview mirror, your cellphone, and the vanity mirrors built into the sun-visors just don’t represent enough shiny surfaces in which to fix your face.

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The infotainment features smartphone connectivity so you can easily call the cops on those smart aleck tweens for riding their wheelie boards on the sidewalk again. Unfortunately, Lexus didn’t spare owners of their smallest SUV from their trademark onerous stereo/navigation interface. Rather than a silly joystick however, the NX is fitted with a silly mousepad device. The window sill is too high to comfortably rest one’s elbow while driving, but that doesn’t matter because it will only be lowered at Starbucks and Chick-fil-A drive-thrus.

DRIVE

I wish I could say this car’s blatant, gender-specific marketing is redeemed by a saucy driving experience, but that’s not the case. In fact, it feels like an extension of the plan to appeal to 50-plus retirees. The steering has just enough resistance to reassure drivers, but not tucker them out and the ride is about as remarkable as a bowl of cold oatmeal. Put your foot in it and the area forward of the dash emits a buzzy, monotonous groan like a preteen asked to take out the trash. The revs go up and hold at a given mark while electric motors provide the rest of the passing power. The experience is underwhelming.

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THE DIRT

It might not be a Mary Kay Cadillac, but it certainly won’t embarrass you in front of the gals. Because it shares blood with a Toyota it’s likely to be long-lived (but why would you ever do that to yourself?), and thanks to the italicized on the grill the resale should be pretty good. But who wants the least fancy Lexus SUV? Even if all the options are ticked off it’s still not an RX. Why not get the top spec Toyota RAV-4, which offers more interior space and a less absurd infotainment interface? It just happens to be the same price as a base model NX.