Boulder, Colorado, is one of those towns to which conservative types are likely to add the prefix, “People’s Republic of…” for the fact that Boulder has long been one of those crunchy granola, Tom’s Natural Toothpaste, left-leaning villages.
Similarly yet in an opposite kind of way, the Lexus ES 350 mid-size sport sedan has long been one of those cars your left-leaning, crunchy granola, Tom’s Toothpaste types might call “square,” bourgeois, numb-to-the-road or vanilla with no sprinkles.
How times change.
Enter 2019, when Boulder has razed acres of its quaint, rustic homes and shops for block-smothering luxury and boutique hotels, Sotheby’s offices and independence-devouring franchises of every stripe. And now, in 2019, one can drive the boulevards of Boulder (or anywhere else you please) in a totally redesigned ES 350 that hugs the hairpins at speed, launches from zero to sixty at warp factor six and lets you toggle between great hits of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s via a complimentary three-month subscription to Sirius XM satellite radio.
The alignment, rather intersection, of the arcs of liberal Boulder and conservative Lexus has just happened in this 2019 model year which, apropos of nothing, is the Year of the Pig in Chinese Lunar Calendar lore.
Picture, if you will, a busy city street called Baseline Road that heads straight-as-a-yardstick toward the mountains that rise behind Boulder, the Flatiron Range. This is just one of many streets in this university town where hundreds of oblivious students on bikes and on foot, with little white headphones stuffed into their ears, will cross your path, blithely and blindly, with the expectation that you will stop your car in homage to their passing.
Your car will do this for you if your car is this ES 350 equipped with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 with Pedestrian Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist and Lane Departure Alert. The horn also works but will earn you dirty looks, as severe as if you had just lit a cigarette in church.
Rather abruptly, Baseline Road morphs into Flagstaff Road, where ruler-straight gives way to hairpin turns and lots of steepness. The cyclists change, also, from entitled trust-funders into lean 40-somethings pasted with skin-tight, logo-ridden jerseys. These cyclists appear to carry their own expectations that both heaven and you will protect them from slippery gravel, outright collisions and the fact that there really isn’t room for them on this twisting mountain passage.
Your Lexus presses on without a whimper.
That’s because of its stout 302-horsepower V6 and lots of sound insulation. Inside, red and black leather seats designed with firmness and vent fans keep you stable and cool during your rapid ascent past boulders, bikers and bucolic views. Soon you are in ranch country, where sparkling reservoirs and, voila!, the Continental Divide come into view. Your V6 is getting you 25 to the gallon overall, which is darned respectable.
But all good things must come to an end. Sometimes they warn you with an actual sign, such as “No Outlet.” This is the fate of Flagstaff Road, which devolves into dirt and a passel of no-trespassing notices.
So, like that Sirius XM station “Classic Rewind” (music gathered from the cassette tape era), you spin your Lexus into the opposite direction to see the faces of those beleaguered bikers you passed on your way up and over the mountain. They may be exhausted but, suffice to say, they don’t envy you just as much as you don’t envy them.
Clifford Fewel’s AutoFewel column appears each week in the Tri-Valley Dispatch, as well as online at pinalcentral.com/opinion/columns.