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DuoBlog: Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales in Car Conversation.

Today: The 2013 Lexus ES 350

D-McC: Years ago when I was a sports reporter for The New York Herald Tribune my specialties were motorsports and skiing, but I was assigned to other stuff from golf to kids’ yacht racing, And dog shows. Though I was amused that canine beauty contests were on the sports page.

One day after the Best-in-Show was chosen we reporters gathered around the judge – pens ready to record a quotable quote to enliven our stories—I got one I’ve never forgotten. The rather lumpy women, frowning with the seriousness of her job, explained her choice with “I could not fault the Peke today.”

Loved it. That became one of my go-to sayings whether apt or not. And, does it fit today. Lexus does not leap to my mind as my kind of car but – certainly JP, I could not fault the ES 350 today. How about you?

JP: You know, it really depends on the context you place the car. The car, like a dog, is innocent and faultless in a vacuum. I think it’s just like in one of those dog shows where one can parade them around on the green carpet, poke here and prod there, and find not a fault with the dog’s perfect coat and obedient demeanor. That’s the dog in a vacuum. But if you want to talk about the dog in the context of “is it good playing with children” or “does parading it around at the dog park attract conversation” then we can really start to get at what the dog means to us—and if there’s fault. (But for the record, I’m not really a fan of normative statements anyway).

You can have a pretty car and find plenty of fault in it, or you can have a plain-jane appliance vehicle that does everything you could possibly want it to do depending on how it’s used. I’ll go on record as saying that the ES350 is pretty much the most fault-less car you can possibly buy for the money today. It does everything you want it do, with no fuss, in comfort and brand-recognition style. After all, “it’s a Lexus!” Look, leather seats, premium sound, this navigation system, and Ooh! A “sport/economy” selector that just might indicate this car has some personality. If I had my clipboard and checklist, I’d tick off these points, frumpily frown, and say “I could not fault the Lex today.”

D-McC: I’ve written often about how Toyota, all branches, is tired of being admired and would like to be loved. But love is hard to make happen, and admiration pays off so well. Even after disasters like the tsunami disrupting production and bad press after recalls and mishandled PR Toyota pops back up like those weighted dolls with a round base. JP, is reliability, after all, the single most important thing to American car buyers?

JP: Sure it is—to the average buyer. And the average buyer doesn’t love cars.  But we’ve seen those reports that say “71 %t of new car buyers want leather seats” and “81% of new car buyers want heated headlight wipers” and such. But I really think the secret to a great vehicle is, pardon the trite phrase, to give people what they need because they don’t really know what they want.

I think that’s really what we’re talking about with Toyota. They’re the best of the average. It’s really hard to love average.

D-McC: What it comes to for me is that this Lexus does not thrill me but it pleases me greatly. It is comfortable, quiet, smooth, predictable, sure-footed, steers precisely and easily though a little distantly perhaps. It does everything you want a car to do – and keeps doing it—but it does it without involvement. Does that make sense? With an Audi S4 I’d say: “We’re going to take a run up the mountain.” With this car: “I’m going to take a run….”  But really that’s only puzzlement to most drivers, despite this “love affair with the car” nonsense. Most drivers don’t understand “involved” with a car. Any more than I do with my icemaker.

JP: That’s exactly why I’m a fan of the phrase “appliance vehicle”. We already have “utility vehicle” with the somewhat redundant “sport” modifier always tacked on, so can’t the industry just be honest and start the segment what it is “EAV” or “Everyday Application Vehicle”. Some cars are just appliances to make the job of traveling easier. Cars for people who don’t really like cars.

There’s definitely something cold and mechanical about the Lexus. It’s calculated to be perfect, but in being perfect it’s really lacking any distinctive features upon which your mind can fixate. From an aesthetic standpoint, asymmetry is one of those things that give endearing character. Look up the Wikipedia article on Bonsai trees.

D-McC: Indian weavers know perfection angers the gods so they build in little escape threads and mistakes. Or so I am told. I like tension in a design. And I rather think that that more often just happens than is planned for. I have written more than once (does repetition anger the gods?) that the perfection of the Lexus is like a handful of perfect pearls but they are loose in a box. The string is in there loose with them. Whoops…my mind just put those pearls on the Peke. Sure can’t fault it now.

Google the Lexus ES 350 if you want figures and details. That’s what we do.

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Very nice, you two.

Posted by Richard George on April 29, 2013






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