(Above): Exterior view of the 2012 Lexus ES 350.

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is a classy car that is a pleasure to drive. There are so many nice touches on board, you’re sure to feel special, writes our automotive editor Sally Miller Wyatt.

With everyone so focused on budgets and bottom lines these days, the idea of shopping around for a luxury car might seem out of step.

But don’t let the idea of a “luxury” car throw you off. After comparing the sticker prices of some entry luxury cars – such as the 2012 Lexus ES 350 – and some fully loaded mid-sized hybrids, there might not be too much difference in price, surprisingly.

Lexus does consider its ES 350 as an entry luxury vehicle, but there is nothing “entry level” about this car. It is loaded with amenities, safety features, and classy touches. And it gets great fuel economy and only uses regular gasoline.

Not much is changed on 2012 models versus last year’s versions, and that should make loyal Lexus fans happy. You will find a host of standard features here, such as a moonroof, front seats that adjust 10 ways and are trimmed in two-toned leather, 17-inch wheels and a cleanly designed dashboard, where all pertinent information is centrally located. Wood trim accents, combined with the black and brown leather seats, really lent a classy air on our test car.

(Above): Interior view of the 2012 Lexus ES 350.

A multi-information display – near the speedometer – offers the driver lots of information, such as outside temperature, driving range, fuel consumption and average speed. The steering wheel is equipped with controls for the audio system, as well as a voice control for the navigation system, if the car is equipped with one. A SmartAccess keyless entry can be programmed to recognize personalized driver settings for such things as mirrors, seat and steering wheel position. The ES 350 also has push-to-start ignition.

Lexus’ standard audio system is hardly “standard.” It includes an in-dash CD changer that can accommodate six discs, an Automatic Sound Levelizer, iPod/USB connectivity, Bluetooth capability and music streaming, and an intergrated Sirus XM Satellite Radio receiver.

Options could include a package that gives you heated and ventilated front seats, and Intuitive Park Assist, which has sensors that sound when you are close to objects near the front and rear bumpers.

(Above): Exterior view of the 2012 Lexus ES 350.

The Lexus ES 350 is equipped with a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces a very respectable 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm. Mileage ratings are 19 miles per gallon for city driving, and 28 for highway driving.

The car is built on a rigid unibody structure with four-wheel independent suspension. That translates to a smooth ride and responsive handling, another bonus for those who spend a lot of time on the road. Or, for those who just really appreciate a smooth, effortless ride.

Families will find there a good amount of leg and head room in the rear, and visibility is good. The trunk is large and can swallow up all the trappings of family life: heaps of groceries, sporting equipment, backpacks and even suitcases. Seats are comfortable.

(Above): Exterior view of the 2012 Lexus ES 350.

Our test car had an eye-catching exterior color. Called Obsidian, it was black with pearl accents that produced a subtle sparkle in sunlight. That paired very nicely with the black and tan leather seating.

The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is a classy car that is a pleasure to drive. There are so many nice touches on board, you’re sure to feel special, and having such a lithe and powerful engine fueled by regular gasoline is just icing on the cake.