2013 Lexus ES350: First Look

Lexus hopes to banish beige with new ES sedan
By Imthishan Giado

– New ES launches with 250 four cylinder and 350 V6
– Prices range from AED155,000 to AED220,000
– Chief engineer admits they are developing turbo drivetrain

Lexus has launched the latest version of its big-selling midrange ES saloon. The sixth generation car was launched at an event at its new Sheikh Zayed Road showroom and now has an entry level engine trim, a 2.5-litre 181bhp four-cylinder version dubbed ES250, alongside the popular 272bhp V6 ES350.

At 22 years old, the ES model range is old enough to order a drink at most establishments. Although only the last three generations have been officially sold in the UAE, it’s a key player for the brand, accounting for more than 18% of total Lexus sales. Which is 400,000 units worldwide, in case anyone’s asking.

Although we didn’t get to drive the car – yet – we got a good chance to poke around the units on display. The most obvious difference is the styling, with the ES receiving the same spindle grille that we saw on its GS big brother.

If the front end reminds you of an GS, there’s no mistaking what the back end looks like, with strong LS cues from the tail lamps. The glasshouse is a little bit smaller which takes away the somewhat slab-sided look of the old car, and detailing is simple and unfussy, like the gently flared fenders. Overall, it looks for all the world like a shrunken version of the just-unveiled LS – no bad thing.

But while the GS and LS are rear-wheel drive cars competing with the S-Class and 5-Series respectively, the mass market ES remains resolutely front wheel drive, a grand tourer rather than a corner carver.  Inside there’s an all-important 60mm more rear leg room for rear passengers. The driver gets a much more upscale GS-inspired dash with all the latest Lexus bits and bobs including a RX-style mouse to control the 3.5” colour screen, which is a lovely thing to behold.

However, playing around with the showroom car it became clear that it’s not quite as snappy in response as the GS version, with a slightly longer lag in responding to ‘mouse’ clicks. Mind you, it’s nowhere near as bad as an Ford Explorer and most will find it acceptable.

Visually, it’s hard to tell the various trims apart. The ES250, starting at AED155,000, is the base car but still comes with keyless entry, a sunroof, cruise control and LED running lamps. Apart from that weedy Camry engine, it’s pretty well stacked with kit.

The ES350 comes in three trims, Prestige, Platinum and Titanium,  with prices of AED180,000, AED195,000 and AED 220,000 respectively. Upgrading to Platinum gets you a DVD player, HDD-based navigation, the Remote Touch interface and a rear view camera. Top spec cars also get a different design for the alloy rims and a panoramic sunroof.

2013 Lexus ES350 Dubai launch

Interestingly, those prices intersect with the GS250 which ranges from AED185,000 to AED215,000, so it’s clear Lexus no longer has any qualms about competition between products.

The man who designed the ES, Chief Engineer Toshio Asahi (below centre), was present at the launch, and stressed that this new car was about more than just ticking boxes on a spec sheet.

“There is the new design direction, but we also tried to dramatically improve the handling performance. Interior rear seat roominess was also a priority; we made the front seats thinner to accommodate more legroom. “

Asahi acknowledged the difficulty of attracting younger customers, who aren’t as interested in customers as they were in the past.

“From a global point of view, we think design and hybrids are the way to capture young customers. We are researching the demands of young customers and we think the performance of this car is the answer.”

Lexus ES Chief Engineer Toshio Asahi

Asahi also confirmed that under the skin, this ES is closer to the Avalon than the Camry.

“Let’s say Avalon is closer in terms of wheelbase, than the Camry. Of course we are Lexus and not Toyota, so the structure has been improved with greater rigidity.”

He also confirmed something that many have long since suspected – that Toyota is working on a small displacement, turbocharged engine.

“Of course we are thinking about it, but for now it’s just a study,” he cautiously admits. “Lexus is a hybrid pioneer but we know the demand for a turbo engine so we are simultaneously developing such options.”

Len Hunt, President of the Al Futtaim Automotive Group

Also present at the event was Len Hunt, President of the Al Futtaim Automotive Group. He’s seeing strength in the market and the group.

“Like all of Dubai, we’re seeing some strength now, we’re seeing good growth across the Group this year. Lexus is probably the most extreme in terms of launches,” he says.

Interestingly, Ramadan promotions aren’t having the effect they used to in the past, he believes. “I think it’s slacking off now – and maybe that’s because people are used to seeing the same offers all year around. You still get a little sales bump but it’s not as pronounced as before. It’s a bigger bump in Oman, though.”

Saud Abbasi, General Manager of Al-Futtaim Motors – Lexus

Saud Abbasi, General Manager of Al-Futtaim Motors – Lexus, points out that new product like the GS has started to change the demographics of the Lexus customer base.

“Generally we skew about 60%-65% average Emirati. That customer base is loyal for two reasons. First is product like the LX which is by the most popular product among Emiratis, but the second is our customer care side which we’ve historically been very good. With the GS we’ve been able to offer something to the expat population. The new RX and hybrid is automatically bringing the expat population as well.”

The Lexus ES250 and 350 is available in showrooms now.

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