Most drivers don’t see Toyota as anything more than the fuel-efficient and reliable vehicle that it is, and who can blame them? Japanese cars, especially Toyota models, are extremely popular for exactly this reason. While Toyota models offer some luxury accessories and convenient technology, there is only so much that people might pay for a luxury Toyota. When Toyota decided to get into the luxury car market in the US then, they decided a new brand was in order. In 1989, the first Lexus appeared on the scene and changed everything we thought we knew about luxury vehicles. The flagship Lexus LS400 set the stage, and people were watching closely to see how this new luxury brand would fare.
Lexus was immediately accepted and extolled for bringing together the best traits that a luxury vehicle ought to have, including creature comforts, the best technology, and solid reliability. The Lexus ES300, some might say, is just an upgraded Toyota Camry, so what's the point of paying more? True, a top-model Toyota Camry, the Vienta, comes with a 3.0L V6 and automatic transmission and a number of nice features, but drive a Lexus ES300 and you'll find it more refined. The Lexus ES300 gets more insulation, which deadens sound, especially at highway speed. The body is slightly different, and a lot of work has gone into aerodynamics, not for fuel economy's sake, but to cut down on wind noise. The suspension is a little softer which makes for a more comfortable ride. Creature comforts such as heated seats or high-end audio system simply aren't available on the Camry.
Lexus ES stands for Entry Sedan, which basically points out where the ES300 is going. It isn't as big as the LS (Luxury Sedan) nor sporty like the IS (Intelligent Sports) nor powerful like the GS (Grand Sedan). The ES is smack in the middle, an entry-level luxury sedan, which is luxurious, comfortable, easy to drive, and full of standard features. Paying extra for the Lexus ES300 doesn't buy you a fancy new emblem, but standard leather interior with real wood accents, in-dash CD player, power everything, alloy wheels, advanced transmission controls, and safety gear like dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes, and skid control. Given that the Lexus beats with the heart of a Toyota, there's no reason you shouldn't give the Lexus ES300 a close look as your next vehicle.
The Lexus ES300 is powered by a 3.0L V6 engine with dual overhead cams. The engine generates 158kW and 299Nm, and it is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission – something else that isn't available on the closely related Camry, which only comes with a 4-speed transmission. The engine performs very well at the middle of the range, which makes it a great all-around vehicle, whether around town or for a weekend jaunt. Fuel economy ranges from 9.5L/100km on the highway to about 13.5L/100km urban, which is about average for this class.
The Lexus ES300 isn't available with a whole lot of options per se, as it is already equipped standard with pretty much everything a driver would want anyway. The interior is equipped with standard tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, power locks, windows and heated front seats, leather interior with real wood accents, and automatic climate control with air-conditioning. Safety systems include standard dual front, side, and curtain airbags as well as anti-lock braking. The standard stereo is excellent and includes an in-dash CD player and great sound. Exterior standard features include alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, fully independent suspension, and a lot of sound-deadening insulation.
Optionally available on the Lexus ES300 is an upgraded audio system that included a 12-disc CD changer in the console and satnav. Most ES300 models were shipped with the optional power sunroof, but there were a few that didn't have it. Safety upgrades include traction control and electronic skid control which, again, most ES300 were shipped with.
For the first few years, maybe the worst competition came from the Toyota Camry. The Camry looked far too similar to the Lexus ES300, which shared pretty much everything except a few exterior panels and minor cosmetics. Many drivers just didn't see the point in spending thousands more for what appeared to be just another high-end Camry. This didn't change until the model was refreshed in 1996, but this shouldn't stop us from considering the fact that the Lexus ES300 indeed shares its roots with the Toyota Camry, and even if the ES300 has 400,000km, it'll be just as reliable as the Camry, but far more comfortable.
The BMW 3-Series and Mercedes Benz C-Class offer serious competition with more power and sportier handling than the Lexus ES300. The interior may be more refined, but the Lexus costs less and comes with more standard features. Additionally, no other makers even come close to matching the solid track record of Lexus for reliable and dependable vehicles. That's why the first Lexus models – the LS400, ES250, and ES300 – shook up the luxury car market so much; other brands just couldn't compete.