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Lexus ES adds twist to pleasant blandness

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

If your radio dial has ever tripped across an easy-listening station promising all the best the adult-contemporary genre has to offer, congratulations. You have found the Lexus ES of the airwaves.

Designed to please all and aggrieve none, this mid-size sedan from Toyota's luxury division has crooned its way into more than a million households since its debut in 1989. It's done so by playing it cool with reliably conservative comfort, docile performance and a solid value proposition.

But after nearly 2 12 decades of smooth hits, Lexus decided to redo the 2013 ES playlist with a smidge less Peabo Bryson and a smidge more “Gangnam Style.” The result is a fresh take on a car starting at $36,980 that should largely broaden the appeal of one of the brand's most important vehicles.

The key change is the new ES' styling. Lexus is in the process of fitting its entire lineup with what the company calls a spindle grill. (Think of a short, angular hourglass.) Despite this design coming across as a little, gosh, unique when it's viewed independent of the car, the ES actually wears the spindle better than the other vehicles it's been bolted to.

Angled headlamps with daytime running LEDs complement the grille. The bumper is more pronounced and falls lower, giving the ES more of a chin than it's had before.

Less noticeable on this ES is the fact that it's grown; the wheelbase is almost 2 inches longer, while the length is up an inch. While an inch here or there may not sound like much, this growth pays its biggest dividends in interior space.

Rear legroom is up 4 inches, making the back seats positively cavernous for this segment. Throw in the most comfortable headrests this side of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and you have a lovely place to spend some time. And, wouldn't you know it, such a setup matches the riding habits of many buyers in China, where Lexus and others are eager to make gains.

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