By: Michael Cooney
For cars like this Lexus ES330, and the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C Class, Cadillac CTS, Lincoln LS, and others, the term “Near Luxury Class” offers a useful category in between “ordinary” cars and the dripping-with-every-amenity true luxury cars that are priced accordingly higher. The ES330 is a handsome mid-size front wheel drive four-door sedan with its emphasis placed on luxury more than sport.
For its price, the ES330 gives its owners a highly satisfying combination of form and function, beginning with its stylish exterior. The smooth downward slope of the hood that blends seamlessly into the grille, along with headlamp clusters covered by nicely styled plastic shells give this Lexus a much sleeker look than its LS430 big brother. Minor styling revisions this year including the head and tail lamps freshen the look and contribute to a remarkably aerodynamic sedan. Under the hood is a 3.3L DOHC V-6 engine making 225 horsepower and 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Mated to a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic transmission, it provides ample acceleration that should please most owners.
Inside, you’ll find many standard luxury amenities. Quality leather along with your choice of birds-eye maple or burled walnut trim makes for a relaxing and cozy environment. The front seats are comfortable on longer jaunts, with 10-way adjustability. Two memory positions are included for the driver’s seat. Heated/ventilated front seats are a new option for ’05.
This unit’s interior color scheme was a combination of light beige and grayish-brown, both very neutral, that when combined with the wood trim made for a truly beautiful environment. Match that with the fabulous sounding optional 240-watt Mark Levinson stereo with navigation package, priced at $3,120, and you may indeed feel like you’re in a car costing much more.
In the back, there is more fine leather covering comfortable seats with ample legroom. My only complaint was that when backing downhill in the dark with brakes on, the center brake light allowed too much side-spill into the rear window, making it difficult to see where I was headed.
Safety is given high priority, as evidenced by a full compliment of airbags: Dual front, plus front side impact and front/rear side curtain airbags are standard. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic brake force distribution (EDC) are standard too. EDC sends braking power individually to the tires with the most traction, helping achieve shorter stopping distances.
Summing up the driving experience, “smooth” and “quiet” come to mind. Driving a similarly priced Acura TL back-to-back with the Lexus showed a dramatic difference in focus.
The Acura was much firmer riding and allowed in more road noise. While it had higher handling limits, the Lexus countered with a smoother and quieter ride. When pushed harder though, the Lexus still maintained good control, the mark of a well-sorted suspension. Each car nicely fills a very different niche.
While this Lexus handles nicely as is, careful checking of the options boxes will have you cornering harder than other ES330 owners if you’re so inclined. Go for the Adaptable Variable Suspension with four firmness settings, Vehicle Stability Control, and 17-inch wheels with 55-series tires and you’ll have the ultimate ES330.
Lexus ES330 pricing starts at $32,550 including destination; load up on options and you’ll see $40,000 plus. My tester came in at just under $37,000. It is EPA-rated at 20-city, 29-highway mpg. My usual combination of city, freeway and mountain road driving returned a completely respectable 21.5 mpg.
The Lexus ES330 turned out to be a friendly, comfortable, quiet, smooth, nice-handling car with enough luxury to make most buyers feel properly pampered. Add in the now traditional Lexus build quality, and the ES330 is tough to beat in the “near luxury” class.