When the Lexus LS 400 first appeared here in late 1989 (as a 1990 model), sellers of German-made luxury sedans broke out in the shaky sweats and car shoppers flocked to see — and buy — this well-built statusmobile that retailed for about 60% of the price of the cheapest S-Class. Not attracting nearly as much attention at the time was the other introductory vehicle of the Lexus brand: the ES 250. Sold here for just the 1990 and 1991 model years, the first-generation ES was the most Camry-like of its kind and the hardest to find today. Here's a '91 in a San Francisco Bay Area yard.
All of the ESs for the model's first couple of decades were based on the Camry, so they benefited from the Camry's famous reliability while suffering from its not-so-exciting image.
Toyota made a good effort to make the 1990-1991 cars look something like their LS big brothers, but their Camry origins are quite obvious from most angles. Later ESs got more distinctive body panels and sales got stronger when that happened.
Power came from this 2.5-liter V6, which was the hairiest engine available in the 1991 US-market Camry. 159 horsepower, which was pretty good for a car like this in the early 1990s.
A five-speed manual transmission could be had in the ES 250 and ES 300 through the 1993 model year, but those early-1990s American car shoppers wishing for a midsize luxury sedan with three pedals generally opted for an Audi or BMW, with most of the rest settling on the Acura Legend. I'll keep looking out for a five-speed ES in a car graveyard, of course, but finding any first-gen ES has been a tough challenge in itself.
This one got within 252 miles of the 200,000 mark, not bad for a typical 1991 car but also not especially impressive for a member of the Camry family.
The interior was much nicer than what you got in any Camry, but junkyard shoppers have hit this one hard and its opulence no longer shines through.
Toyotas had some variation of this switch from the late 1970s and into our current century. This version comes straight out of the Cressida.
That Lexus noise-testing room sure is impressive!
Good in the rain, too.
The ES 250's closest Japanese-market relative was the Camry Prominent. Sadly, only Nissan was selling Broughams by that point, so there were no Camry Prominent Brougham Landaus made.
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