Entry-level luxury is an odd term but is epitomized by today’s Nice Price or No Dice Lexus ES 250. Could this well-preserved fancy Camry still have what it takes to command a near-premium price?
It’s been a common mantra around here for quite a while to “Safari all the things!” That means to fit a car never intended for off-roading with oversized wheels and tires, and maybe some bull bars, all in the hopes it can cut it out in the wet and wild world. The 2000 Audi TT Quattro we assessed yesterday was just such an unexpected Safari car, having been built to compete in the Gambler series of amateur off-road races.
Unfortunately, along the way it suffered a catastrophic brain fart that killed its ECU, and now its present owner wants it gone. A few of you would be willing takers of that deal, despite complaints in the comments of the car having too many red flags and a front end that appeared to have been assembled at the Braille Institute. An upset 54 percent Nice Price win was the surprising result.
If yesterday’s Audi offended the senses by being just too rough and tumble, then hopefully today’s 1990 Lexus ES 250 will serve as a soothing counterpoint. After all, you really can’t go wrong with the cosseting luxury of pretty much any Lexus product.
The thing of it is, though, at the time it was built, this was actually the least Lexus you could buy. By today’s standards, it’s still nice and does feature some lovely appointments and that famous Lexus build quality. It does this, however, while trying really hard to hide its Camry roots.
Lexus debuted in the U.S. in 1989, serving as Toyota’s premier brand. The marque was born out of the Federal government’s voluntary import limits. Those were intended to protect the domestic auto industry, and drove Toyota, among other Japanese automakers, to shift resources to higher-end products with better profit margins.
Initially, Lexus offered two products in the States — the clean sheet LS 400 sedan, and the smaller ES 250 which was a re-badged version of the home market Toyota Camry. The larger LS 400 carried styling that looked like a Mercedes-Benz drawn from memory while the ES looked… well, like a Camry.
That’s not to shame this car for being derivative of a lesser model. Its Camry-esque styling has held up pretty well, and with just 113,000 miles on its old-school odometer, it certainly hasn’t been wrung out. It’s unequivocally described by its seller as being “certainly one of the most original clean examples left in the United States.” The seller further touts its condition as “excellent.”
On the outside, it wears factory Burgundy paint and brand-new tires. All the brightwork and black-painted trim appear intact and there’s only some small scuffs on the corners of the front bumper about which to complain.
There’s more to like in the cabin too. There you’ll find handsome leather upholstery that shows only modest wear. That’s accented by woodgrain trim and upscale-looking plastics. The buttons on the climate control do display use, but not excessively. There’s plenty of room for four in here (five in a literal pinch) and with the FWD chassis, there’s a sizable boot to boot. The high lift-over shows that Lexus valued body stiffness over ease of access with the ES 250.
Befitting the model’s name, power comes from a 2.5-liter engine. The 2VZ-FE V6 was shared with the Camry, and in the Lexus made an unremarkable if adequate 156 horsepower. That’s matched with a four-speed automatic with locking overdrive that was also a Camry hand-me-up.
The first generation ES only enjoyed a short, two-year model run before being replaced by the displacement-bumped ES 300. That car featured mini-LS stying and really put the model on the map as part of the Lexus lineup. Over time, the original ES 250 — perhaps having been compromised by its overt Camry connections — has been largely forgotten.
This one could bring those memories flooding back, should that be your thing. According to the ad, to make the clean-title ES your own will take a heady $12,500. That’s a lot of cash for a fancy Camry, but then, as is claimed by the seller, this is probably the nicest one in the States. Could that dichotomy make for a sale at the seller’s asking?
What do you think, is this Lexus worth $12,500 as it sits? Or, even if it does offer the lap of near-luxury, does that price just not sit well with you?
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