BEHIND THE WHEEL/2002 Lexus ES 300 — Focusing on the Focus Group — NYTimes.com

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BEHIND THE WHEEL/2002 Lexus ES Focusing on the Focus Group

By DAN

Published: December 16, 2001

THE new ES 300 is no sport sedan. Company happily acknowledge this, that with the introduction year of the IS 300, a tautly four-door in the mold of BMW’s the Lexus portfolio already has a sedan (and a sport too, the IS 300 SportCross).

That the 2002 ES 300 free to cater to craving a luxuriant ride and handling, to feel like a of baby LS 430 — to be, that is, an version of Lexus’s $60,000 sedan.

Accordingly, the front-wheel-drive ES powered by the company’s 3-liter lopes along free of its 210 horsepower smoothly converted to momentum by a new five-speed automatic Acceleration from nil to 60 miles an takes a tick over 8 The glycerin-slick powertrain — computers controlling every function from the throttle to the — is yet another example of the gift for precision.

And for efficiency: One of this car’s impressive features is its mileage: 20 per gallon in city driving, 29 on the highway. This, mind in a 3,400-pound car that also the ULEV (ultra low emission standard of California and some states.

The suspension (MacPherson in front, multilink rear) the car over rough roads as if it floating on gentle swells. The is similarly nautical, with the car over in corners like a sailboat. Lexus’s optional Variable Suspension, a four-setting by the gearshift, will put some into the handling and quicken the response, but there is no escaping the that this car is, by design, a marshmallow.

On the one hand, there is a compelling to Lexus’s approach. This is the bedrock model, with sales of 50,000 a year, so it sense to tune the car for the mainstream commuters who tend to equate with a sedate ride. It is a truism that a car cannot be all to all people.

But that isn’t to say a car try. In fact, some of the entries in this segment a clever synthesis of competing The BMW 3-Series, the new Jaguar X-Type and the 3.2TL sedan — all competitors to the ES 300 — succeed in balancing performance and luxurious By giving the ES an overly narrow Lexus is flirting with the reasoning that led Detroit to its midsize sedans full of and Novocain.

And while the ES 300 has drawing-room manners, it come quite dressed for Among the missing pieces of equipment: no standard leather no traction or stability control, no headlamps — those blue beacons of the bourgeoisie no seats with position or heating units, no CD changer.

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Lexus’s Vehicle Skid which comes with control and electronic brake for panic stops, adds to the car’s $32,155 base The high-intensity headlamps add an additional and the adaptive variable suspension another $620.

Although accents are standard, leather must be purchased separately, as a stand-alone item ($1,560, memory seats and mirrors in) or bundled with the navigation or audio systems. Brought from the LS 430 is the premium Mark stereo, with 240 watts of and an in-dash 6-disk changer (a option, again, bundled leather and seats and mirrors memory settings).

The Mark is surely one of the best car audio in the world, with treble as piercing as a passing fire Also in a class by itself is DVD navigation system, with a that’s similarly piercing:

Both the audio and navigation can be had in a single package costing a relative bargain.

The biggest rap the ES 300 used to be its uncomfortable similarity to its cousin, the Toyota Camry. The new ES, has finally shed its matronly and slipped into something The dramatically swept-back features headlights elongated to reach the of the front fenders, à la the Celica — are a big step in styling. But the failure of the car’s and its value, to keep pace the bold sheet metal like a lost opportunity.

TRACK: Bland ambition.

Photos: The ES 300 is based on the Toyota Chart: »A Taste of Luxury» lists features and for selected Acuras, Cadillacs, and

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