Several minor styling and equipment revisions mark the ES300 for 2000, but there probably won't be major news until the 2002 model year, when this near-luxury sedan is scheduled for a redesign.
The ES300 is going through a midlife crisis. Formerly the best-selling Lexus model, it has lost that honor to the RX300 sport utility vehicle. To make matters worse, the ES300 has been passed in sales by the rival BMW 3 Series and Acura 3.2TL. It has been Lexus' entry-level model for several years but will give up that role next spring when the IS300, a smaller, less-expensive sedan with rear-wheel drive, joins the team in 2001.
The front-wheel-drive ES300 is built from the same basic design as the Toyota Camry, and the two share some mechanical components. However, nearly all their body panels and interior components are different.
Styling critics will notice the ES300's grille has two horizontal bars instead of three this year and more chrome. The front bumper has a more chiseled look, and the taillamps are redesigned and have clear lenses. High-intensity discharge headlamps are a new option.
The ES300 has the same 105-inch wheelbase as the Camry and is about 2 inches longer at 190 overall.
More genuine wood trim adorns the dashboard this year, and the richly furnished interior has the look and feel of the LS400, Lexus' flagship sedan. There are seats for five in the ES300, which comes with standard cloth upholstery or optional leather (the same kind used on the LS400).
Adjustment of the power mirrors is now included in the driver's seat memory system, while buttons for the standard remote-entry system are now in the ignition key.
Under the Hood
The 3.0-liter V-6 is the same one available in the Camry, but it produces 210 horsepower here because of different intake and exhaust systems. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard.
Vehicle Skid Control, which controls wheel slip to prevent skids, was added to the options list last year. This year it gains a brake-assist feature. When the system detects emergency braking, it applies full braking force faster than the driver can.
The ES300 is an ideal first luxury sedan for many buyers moving up from a family car. It is smooth, quiet, luxurious and practically bulletproof in its reliability and durability. However, compared to Audis and BMWs, it lacks spirit and a sporting flair. The ES300 has all the right features and impeccable quality, but it doesn't stir emotions the way some rivals do.