For once the fortune cookie was right.
After dropping Father Ted off at the Portland International Airport (and stopping for an hour to feed and change Jonah outside Car Stereo City at Mall 205), we went to Acura of Portland. I had called last weekend on a 1995 Toyota Avalon and then again Monday on 1992 Acura Legend L, but both were sold to wholesalers after failing mechanical tests. Peter Park, the salesman, called me on Friday about a 1997 Lexus ES 300. (You can read reviews of the 1997 Lexus ES 300 here, here, here, here, and here.)
Initially I was reticent about the 1997 model year for Lexus. On the Toyota Camry, which heretofore had shared styling with the ES 300, the 1997 redesign ruined what for me was a gorgeous car in the 1992-96 model years. I wrongly assumed that because the ES 300 body was the same as the Camry during those years that the 1997 redesign also marred the Lexus line. Instead, the Camry and ES 300 more formally diverged in 1997 with the Camry getting the aforementioned thoughtless makeover and the Lexus getting a redesign that, well, was actually pretty attractive. So I was at least interested in looking at the thing.
Now the problem with buying usedÂ—even a Lexus or an AcuraÂ—s that you have very little control over (1) what’s been done to the car previously and (2) what features the car contains. On the former account we talked about maintenance records with Peter, and other than maybe needing a new timing belt in the next few thousand miles (because it’s time not because it looks worn) the car history looked OK. We checked CarFax to make sure this wasn’t a lemon, and nothing came up in their database. We felt confident that the 1997 ES 300 was as reliable a car as we were likely to get with 104,500 miles on it.
So we bought it. We’re now the proud owners of a 1997 Lexus ES 300 with so many bells and whistles my head continues to buzz at the very thought. Here’s what I mean: Standard features for the 1997 ES 300 include air conditioning, alarm system, aluminum/alloy wheels, AM/FM/cassette audio system, antilock brakes, automatic 4-speed transmission, bucket seats, center console, automatic climate control, cruise control, dual front airbag restraints, fog lights, power heated mirrors, intermittent wipers, keyless entry system, lighted entry system, overhead console, power antenna, power brakes, power door locks, power driver seat, power passenger seat, power steering, power windows, rear window defroster, remote trunk release, tachometer, tilt steering wheel, tinted glass, and 3.0L V6 DOHC 24V FI Engine.
The particular car we purchased had several of the options: CD changer, leather seats, leather steering wheel, and power moonroof. It’s a two-toned dark green with grey base and gold trim. It wouldn’t have been our first choice of color. (Indeed Edmunds.com says there’s a pricing discount because dark green is a comparatively unpopular option.) That’s not to say that it’s an ugly car. Lexus does not make ugly cars.
For those who might care, the car most notably does not have either the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension or the tractional control system. Reviewers raved over these features, and I’m sure they’re wonderful. That in no way stops this from being the smoothest riding car I’ve ever driven.
Anyway, let me talk a little bit about some of the features the car does have. The dual airbags and antilock brakes were essential for us. Safety is now our number one vehicular concern (slightly ahead of reliability even, though Lexus scores huge on that account as well). The 3.0 liter V6 is a 200-horsepower beast that idles, shifts, and accelerates smoothly, quietly, and quickly. It only comes in a 4 speed automatic transmission, which was fine with us since although we can both drive a manual, we’re looking for a sedan, not a sports car. (Though having said that, the ES 300 supposedly does 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds and has a top speed of 140 MPH.)
Air conditioning was important. Global warming is no fluke, and Oregon’s hot summer days make having a cool cabin crucial (though more for little kids, perhaps, than adults). The ES 300 automatic climate control is essentially just like the Acura Legend one with which I’m familiar: Spin a knob to set whatever temperature in the cabin you want and the car will do the rest. You can override it if you like, but I’m not sure why you’d want to. A push of the button will also tell you the outside temperature.
I really wanted cruise control. I’ve taken way too many long trips without it, and let me tell you the older you get the harder it is on the legs. The ES 300 cruise control is neat. It’s on a turn signal-like stick. Push it down to set it. Thereafter you just push the stick up or down to accelerate or decelerate. The Acura/Honda cruise control uses push buttons for this. I find the Lexus stick easier, but it’s more or less a wash. Honda, Acura, and Lexus’ cruise control systems all work like a charm.
That’s really it for the features we wanted. Everything else is a bonus, which means there are a lot of luxury items here. (The definition of luxury being something you don’t need.) Keyless entry, whereby you can press a remote button to lock and unlock the doors is nifty. The multiple disc CD changer (and fairly awesome stereo system) means we can finally listen to stuff on compact disc instead having to record our favorite songs on cassette first (though the Lexus cassette player is terrific). I haven’t enough knowlege to evaluate the alarm system other than to say it’s got to be better than the fake blinking LED we’ve got on the Mazda. There are heated mirrors, two position seat memory for electronic driver seat, an automatic moonroof, and all kinds of buttons and storage spaces. I dunno. It’s going to take me a while to figure out what everything is and to determine how to use it. But I’ll bet I have a fun time doing it.
There is a psychology behind most major purchases, and paying $11,000 for a car which sold for $34,000 six years ago is a part of that for me. I am (or perceive myself to be) a value conscious bargain hunter. Another large part of it, though, is that a few weeks ago we were stranded repeatedly by the Mazda 626. Although breakdowns can happen to any car, the Lexus represents my determination to prevent such a thing from ever happening to us again. I also don’t mind that the Lexus is for us a massive upgrade to the 626, even more than the 626 was from the junky Plymouth Champ. The Lexus is a car that makes me happy when I drive it, and more happiness in life is always a good thing.