ROAD TEST: Lexus ES 250 EX
Call it a Camry in a tuxedo if you will, but there is a place for a sedan such as the Lexus ES. Forget any sporting pretensions here - this limo wasn't made for racing between robots or delivering thrills through hairpin bends.
Instead, it sets its sights on being something of a cruise liner on wheels and this is a role that the ES plays remarkably well.
Like the previous five generations that were never available in South Africa, it's based on a front-wheel drive Toyota platform, and in this case the donor is the Avalon, which is built on a stretched Camry platform. And stretched it is. At 4900mm, the ES is actually 50mm longer than the more upscale GS although it is also slightly narrower.
ACRES OF LEGROOM
As you would imagine, a spacious, stretch-right-out cabin is in place to bathe its occupants in Lexus luxury. There's enough rear legroom for a giant, although that colossal friend will cry for more headroom. Those in the back will also enjoy their own climate control and electric rear sunshades.
At the helm, it's Lexus business as usual and the driver faces a cockpit that's beautifully styled and clad in upscale surface materials.
A 200mm colour screen links you to the infotainment system with navigation, reverse camera and a snazzy eight-speaker sound system. Operation is via a joystick-like 'remote touch' lever positioned on the centre console, which works much like a computer mouse. This 'PC in your car' feels bit old-fashioned but works well enough once you're accustomed to it.
The leather seat trim can be ordered in black or ivory and front-seat dwellers get electric seat control and heating. Even the dual-zone climate control is in keeping with a premium car - it has Nanoe technology that can moisturize the air if it's too dry, something you'll appreciate during a Joburg winter.
DOWN ON POWER
However, one thing that Highveld motorists could wish for is a bit more oomph. Sure, it's not pretending to be a performance car.
Its 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine - linked to a smooth-shifting six-speed autobox - delivers adequate performance under most circumstances. Yet it does feel a bit bogged down when faced with a big enough hill at altitude. A few more ponies would add to the comfort factor.
Besides the drone of the four-cylinder engine, which can be slightly intrusive when you're pushing it hard, the ES is a quiet and comfortable cruiser. As I said, it's a four-wheeled cruise liner. The cabin feels like a properly insulated cocoon. The ride quality is comfortable and wafty and it feels sufficiently safe and stable through the bends.
It also has a safety net in the form of VSC stability control and that safety arsenal extends to a blind spot monitor and lane change assist - both standard, along with 10 airbags.
If you're prepared the forgo the performance and dynamic ability that comes standard with a Lexus GS or Mercedes E-Class but you want the space and comfort, the Lexus ES will play the floaty limo role at a reduced price and without making you forgo the premium badge and Landed Gentry dealership experience.
The Camry has never looked this good in a tux.
Lexus ES 250 EX
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Power: 135kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 235Nm @ 4100rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 9.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 207km/h
Consumption (claimed): 8.0 litres per 100km
Price: R435 900
Warranty: Four-year/100 000km
Service plan: Four-year/100 000km
Honda Accord 2.4 Exclusive (148kW/234Nm) - R434 900
Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Elite (148kW/250Nm) - R389 900
Carnival Dream (63 379kW) R7.84 billion