Premium midsize car; Built in Japan
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,300 – $7,200*

1997 Lexus ES 300

1998 Lexus ES 300

1997 Lexus ES 300

1997 Lexus ES 300 interior

1997 Lexus ES 300

  • Acceleration
  • Build quality
  • Passenger and cargo room
  • Quietness
  • Ride
  • Price
  • Rear visibility

The ES 300 does just about everything a sedan of its class should, and does it very well. For shoppers who value comfort and elegance over sporty road manners, there’s no better near-luxury sedan on the market.


For 1997, Toyota’s luxury division redesigned its least expensive–and most popular–model. As before, the basic structure and mechanical components were shared with the Toyota Camry. Wheelbase grew by 2 inches, yielding an extra 1.3 inches of leg room in the back seat. Although the body measured 2.4 inches longer, weight actually dropped a bit. The “near-luxury” Lexus sedan rode a front-drive platform and held a 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 engine, which developed 12 more horsepower than before (now 200). Four-speed automatic was again the only transmission. Dual airbags were standard. A new 3-point lap/shoulder belt replaced the former lap belt for the center rear position. Antilock braking was standard, and traction control joined the option list. A newly optional “semiactive” suspension was designed to improve ride comfort and reduce body lean in curves and turns.

Yearly Updates

1998 ES 300
Little-changed for 1998, the ES 300 gained standard door-mounted side airbags and an engine immobilizer.
1999 ES 300
For 1999, the ES 300’s V6 gained 10 horsepower (to 210). Also, a newly designed automatic transmission had revised ratios and shift logic. Electronic traction control, formerly an option, now became standard.
2000 ES 300
Revised front/rear styling and more wood dashboard trim marked the 2000 models. New this year were rear child-seat anchors, electrochromic mirrors, a trunk pass-through lock, and automatic volume control for the sound system. The available driver’s-seat memory now incorporated mirror settings, optional heated seats now had two warmth levels, and the extra-cost Vehicle Skid Control system was bolstered by a new Lexus Brake Assist feature. New options included 16-inch wheels, high-intensity-discharge headlamps, and a ventilation microfilter.
2001 ES 300
For 2001, ES replaced its previous major option groups with six new ones, each with leather-trim interior in combination with various other popular extras. Newly standard was an in-trunk emergency release with glow-in-the-dark handle. A new model was waiting in the wings.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Only one powertrain has been available in the ES 300: a dual-overhead-cam 3.0-liter V6 engine, driving a 4-speed automatic transmission.

dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/181
Engine HP 200-210
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 214-220
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic



Road Test

Acceleration is more than adequate. We timed an ES 300 at 7.6 seconds, accelerating from a standstill to 60 mph. Better yet, the engine is silent at idle speed, and almost silkily silent when rolling along under power. Quietness, in fact, might be this Lexus’s single greatest asset. Wind rush is no more than a whisper at highway speeds, and road noise rarely amounts to more than a muted hum. This is one truly quiet sedan.

Gas mileage isn’t bad. Even hard city driving failed to push our overall figure below 20 mpg, though premium fuel is required.

Steering is firmer than before, and quick, but lacks some road feel. In the same way, the Lexus suspension furnishes capable handling and offers more isolation from bumps and holes than a BMW 3-Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, yet the ES 300 is not as nimble as those competitors. Braking is swift and sure, except for marked nosedive in “panic” stops.

The additional 1.3 inches of rear leg room is barely noticeable, but the Lexus interior is as inviting for four adults as any luxury automobile’s. Six-footers can sit comfortably in tandem, although the back-seat occupants must ride with knees raised and have little toe room beneath the front seats. Visibility is fine all around, except that the high parcel shelf and narrow rear window eliminate any view of the trunk and rear corners while backing up. The driving position is excellent, with clear gauges and handy switchgear. Cargo room shrunk by 1.3 cubic feet with the redesign, but the trunk still qualifies as roomy and usefully shaped. Workmanship is first-rate.


Model Tested: 1998 Lexus ES 300

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 4
Quietness - 7


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 5
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
Cargo Room - 4


Value - 6

Total: 53


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
105.1 190.2 70.5 54.9
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
13.0 18.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.0 36.2 43.5 34.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 ES 300 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 4


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 98
Injury 79
Theft 146

Trouble Spots

Blower motor
Description: The blower motor fails when water from the windshield leaks past a seal and into the motor. (1997)
Dashboard lights
Description: A defective EVAP (evaporative-emissions control) system charcoal canister causes the check-engine light to glow. Both new-car and emissions-controls warranties apply. (1997-98)
Oil consumption
Description: Excessive oil consumption caused by sludge buildup on the cylinder heads. Company is extending warranty. (1997-2001)
Steering noise
Description: Steering rack is noisy on early models. (1997)
Description: Moonroof makes a throbbing noise when open unless revised deflector has been installed. (1997-98)
Suspension noise
Description: Noise from front suspension could be due to problem with strut support. Revised support with new bushing is available. (1997-2000)
Electrical problem
Description: Using the wrong size cigar lighter or accessory plug causes the fuse to blow or damages the socket. (1997-98)
Check-engine light
Description: The check-engine light may come on because of a problem with the fuel vapor emissions system. (1997-00)

Recall History

Description: In extreme cold, accumulated moisture can temporarily freeze in brake-vacuum hose.
Description: Steering-wheel set nut may not have been sufficiently tightened; could result in vibration and looseness in steering wheel, and ultimate-separation.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.