COAL: 2000 Lexus ES300 – Dressed Up Daily Driver

After I sold the 1996 Volvo 850R wagon in the summer of 2014, my wife and I decided to try living as a one car family.  (I still had my 1982 Honda Prelude, but Minnesota winters dictated that this could only be a fair-weather vehicle before putting it into winter hibernation.) After a couple of months, even living in the middle of the Twin Cities, it became clear this was not a long term plan and, once again, I was back trolling through Craigslist ads.  Also, my older son was closing in on 15, which meant driver’s ed was in our near future. By the fall, I had located a suitable replacement – a clean 2000 Lexus ES300 that was originally a Florida car for most of its life.

The Lexus was the first and only Toyota Motors product I have ever owned.  (My wife drove a 1984 Toyota Corolla hatchback when we first met in the early 90’s, but that would more appropriately be her COAL, not mine.). Frankly, for the most part, I found most Toyota models to be fairly dull – competent, reliable, but not very interesting design-wise – with the exception of a few models (Celica/Supra/MR2 anyone?).  Moreover, they usually commanded a slight premium as used vehicles vs other Japanese and American models.  Nevertheless, there is no denying the raft of Camrys, Corollas, RAV4s and similar models on the street offer much of what many folks want – no fuss, no stress transportation.  After the drama of a used high performance Euro wagon, a dressed up sedan with leather sounded downright soothing.

My Lexus ES300 exemplified these virtues.  (Other commentators on this site have discussed the merits and demerits of the Lexus ES series, with which I generally agree.) This generation, which ran from 1997-2001, offered a fairly sophisticated V6, predictable handling, a quiet, spacious cabin and easy visibility.  Versus the similar Toyota Camry, the Lexus had more sound insulation and an upgraded interior.  Otherwise, they were pretty much the same vehicle.  As a driving experience, despite its mostly 160K miles, the Lexus was remarkably low-key.  The V6 provided smooth, quiet power with reasonable efficiency.  The car was easy to drive – handling was safe, braking reliable and the ride handled bumps with a minimum of float.  After a few weeks, I began to like the car.  Not in a deeply emotional way, but with begrudging respect for the car’s virtues.

It was not without its faults, however, but most of them were attributable to a car with a reasonably high amount of miles.  Brakes and tires needed replacement.  Emissions sensors were starting to malfunction – “check engine” lights started to come on periodically, and -after checking it at a mechanic- replaced a couple and then decided to buy an OBD II scanner to clear the codes from the ones I didn’t want to change. This included the ABS sensors which seemed to go out every 6-9 months.  Nevertheless, the Lexus never left me stranded and all of the equipment worked (a/c, stereo with a 6 CD changer in the glovebox, doors, windows, cruise, etc.)

The Lexus also proved to be the perfect first car for my older son.  It was generally safe and unobtrusive – including its ubiquitous beige exterior color and matching interior.  For a new driver, particular one who would be driving in winter weather, the Lexus held no surprises.   My son was a generally conservative driver and the car fit his personality well.  Because the car was parked outside, there were some winter mornings when the rubber door gaskets froze to the door frame, necessitating hot water to unstick them and open the door.  That made for some morning drama – but that was more environmental than anything the car did wrong.

We owned the car for 4 years, selling it when my son left home for college.  His brother argued for keeping the car, but he wasn’t old enough to drive yet and I wasn’t keen on keeping an extra vehicle around on the city street.  We sold the car to one of my son’s friends who had a mixed experience – the car proved to be more problematic for him than for us, probably because it was getting older and started to need more maintenance.  (The alternator died the week after he bought it and we decided to split the cost of replacement with him because we felt bad.)

So, in the end, the Lexus ES300 proved to be exactly what it was advertised to be – comfortable, generally reliable transportation.  My son still has fond memories of the car and I am grateful he had an overall decent experience.  For me, this was a fine enough vehicle – but like its beige color, perhaps a bit too bland for my tastes long term.