Lexus will launch a fully redesigned ES 300 sedan in the U.S. on October 1 as it changes its two-model strategy for the entry-luxury segment.

The company says the new front-drive V6 ES 300 is now more luxurious while the smaller rear-wheel drive IS 300 is aimed at sport-oriented drivers.

A longer wheelbase and increased height provide greater passenger room than the previous ES300 and a flat underbody, reshaped mirrors, and other exterior changes contribute to a low 0.28 coefficient of drag and help reduce wind noise.

Lexus claims that using more sound absorption technology than sound insulation gives the 2002 ES 300 an even quieter cabin than its predecessor because the new material absorbs noise rather than simply blocking it.

As in the previous model, an active engine mount helps cancel out vibration while new engine mounts further reduce vibration at idle, and a two-stage muffler reduces exhaust boom at low speeds.

Crash safety has received attention with a redesigned body with new crush structures and passenger compartment reinforcements.

The A-pillars extend further into the roof, and new connection techniques bolster the strength of the roof structure and side sills while a new dual-thickness B-pillar and stronger horizontal floorpan reinforcements improve side impact strength. Whiplash injury lessening (WIL) front seats are now standard.

Side curtain airbags extending from the A- to C-pillar join front seat-mounted side airbags and new dual-stage front airbags deploy according to impact force.

The driver's front airbag includes an extra low deployment stage when a smaller person is driving, as detected by seat position.

Other standard safety technology includes anti-lock brakes electronic brake force distribution and daytime running lights. An optional skid control system integrates electronic traction control, EBFD and brake assist.

The four-wheel independent suspension is now mounted to more rigid anti-vibration subframes and the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension system is said to enhance ride quality by continuously changing each wheel's shock absorber damping rate in response to road surface conditions, vehicle speed, driver steering and braking inputs, and even vertical vehicle movement. The driver can choose between Comfort and Sport modes, or an intermediate setting.

Standard 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/60 R16 tires are larger than previously optional items and bigger front discs with dual-piston calipers improve braking performance.

The 210bhp aluminum 3.0-litre double-overhead cam V6 engine is essentially a carry-over but, for the 2002 model, teams with a new five-speed electronic automatic transmission.

Changes to the torque converter and electronic controls make gear changes smoother and the transmission responds to road grades, delaying upshifts to maintain power on inclines and holding a lower gear for engine braking on descents.

Other powertrain changes include 'drive by wire' electronic throttle control.

The 2002 ES 300 is rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) and achieves EPA fuel mileage ratings of 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, compared with 19/26-mpg ratings for the 2001 model.

Lexus has given the latest ES 300 luxury features similar to the flagship LS 430 such as dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and the standard premium audio system which has a five-channel amplifier and seven speakers, CD and cassette players and automatic volume adjustment.

The ES 300 also now offers an optional Mark Levinson audio system with or without a DVD satellite navigation system that maps the United States and Canada on one disc.

Other ES300 features include a multi-information display with trip computer, Homelink-compatible garage door opener, auto-dimming inside and outside rearview mirrors and a rearview mirror compass.

Two other features nicked from the LS430 include water-repellent front door glass and door courtesy lamps.

Genuine California walnut trim is used on the dashboard, centre console and doors that have chrome release handles.

LS430-like options include leather trim and a power rear sunshade that lowers automatically when the transmission is shifted into reverse. Other options include two-level heated seats, a one-touch power moonroof, high-intensity discharge headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a six-disc in-dash CD changer.

Lexus expects to sell 14,000 new ES300s this year and 50,000 annually.

Though the RX300 SUV is soon to be built in Canada, Lexus, unlike Acura, is still building its sedans only in Japan, at its Kyushu and Tsutsumi plants.

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