Lexus GS VS Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Great drive
- No spare tyre
- Fiddly steering wheel controls
- Tight rear headroom (with roof up)
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
People that know what they’re doing have a habit of making whatever it is they do look easy. Jack Nicholson, Usain Bolt, J.K. Rowling – how hard can it be to act, run and write like a champion?
And you might think making a convertible car is easy. In fact, why even bother the designers? Just break out the gas axe, lop the roof off, perch a canvas top over the hole you’ve created; job done.
Yet despite the seemingly simple premise, it’s all too easy to get it wrong.
Happily, Australia wasn’t on the receiving end of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a text book case study in getting it horribly wrong. Although we did cop the answer to a convertible question few people were asking, in the shape of the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabriolet. And more recently there have been mutterings about the aesthetic success, or otherwise, of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible. Not to mention the necessity of its existence.
Which brings us to the sleek, subtle, and effortless charm of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. A masterclass in getting a convertible design exactly right.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet fulfils its intended brief, with classic design, exceptional comfort, luxurious specification, flawless quality, and a sporting edge lurking just below the surface. The ‘entry-level’ E 300 is the pick, boasting a big chunk of the E 400’s equipment and performance for significantly fewer dollars. That’s how you get a convertible design right.
Does Merc's new E Class Cabriolet sit at the top of the mainstream luxury convertible tree? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
At over 4.8m long, nudging towards 1.9m wide, and around 1.4m high, the new cabrio is substantially larger than the model it replaces. And the increase in exterior dimensions is underpinned by a longer wheelbase and wider track.
Joining the existing E-Class sedan, coupe and ‘All-Terrain’ wagon line-up, sitting on a suspension 15mm lower than the sedan’s, and rolling on fat 20-inch AMG rims, the cabrio shares the two-door coupe’s muscular but refined look.
The exterior manages to combine gentle, rounded transitions between major surfaces with more sharply angled and aggressive elements like the ‘powerdomes’ running the length of the bonnet, a hard character line defining the lower third of the car’s flanks, and a neatly integrated lip spoiler on the boot’s trailing edge.
Lowering the roof does nothing to upset the car’s balanced proportions and athletic stance.
Inside, a cool combination of top-shelf leather and ‘black ash open-pore’ wood trim, is contrasted by brushed alloy and chrome accents on everything from the sports steering wheel and distinctive circular air vents (claimed to be “inspired by turbo engines”), to the door handles and ‘Comand’ multimedia controller.
Dominating the dash is a pair of 12.3-inch hi-res displays, presented in a single widescreen panel, the first housing a configurable ‘virtual’ instrument cluster, and the second, more central screen running a full suite of multimedia functions.
A row of more conventional rocker switches at the top of the centre console controls the air-conditioning and various driver-assistance systems, with digital read-outs underneath.
The overall interior look and feel is luxurious form matched by fuss-free function.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
Extra length, and more specifically, a longer wheelbase usually means more interior space, and the new E-Class Cabriolet is no exception.
Seating is for four, and those in the front are provided with ample space as well as helpful touches like a feeder arm that automatically extends the seat belt out to the driver and front passenger (with override control via a button on the centre console).
There are also two cupholders, a decent glovebox, a lidded bin between the seats, and door pockets big enough for bottles.
Access to the rear, even with the roof up, is a civilised process, thanks to front electric seats that not only slide but rise and tip forward at the touch of a single release handle on the backrest.
Merc claims, on a like-for-like measurement, that rear legroom has increased no less than 13 percent (+102mm) and sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm frame, there’s plenty of space. It’s also worth noting that sensors in the front seats’ adjustment system stop them from hitting a rear passenger’s knees. Clever, and polite.
With roof up, the solar panel otherwise known as my bare pate was just brushing the soft fabric lining, although headroom improved markedly with the roof down.
Backseaters are well catered for with a pair of cupholders between the seats, adjustable air vents, map pockets, and some oddments space near the outside armrests.
Boot capacity is a handy 385 litres, with a redesigned rear seat splitting 50/50 to offer through-loading space. An electrically controlled, retractable separator defines the space filled by the roof when folded (which still leaves 310 litres). Impressive.
In case you’re keen on towing with your new convertible, forget it, the new E-Class Cabriolet is a no-tow zone, and you won't find a spare wheel of any description because the tyres are run-flats.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
There are two E-Class Cabriolet models on offer; the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder E 300 ($123,500), and 3.0-litre, V6 E 400 ($157,500), each boasting a standard equipment list longer than Donald Trump’s register of alternative facts.
Highlights for the E 300 include ambient interior lighting (with 64 different colours!), leather upholstery (with horizontal quilting), AMG sports pedals (brushed stainless steel with black rubber studs), ‘Comand’ multimedia (with touchpad, 3D nav, and smartphone integration via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay), ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating (in front), DAB+ digital radio, scrolling (directional) indicators, electrically adjustable and heated sports front seats (with three memories for seat and exterior mirror position), illuminated door sill panels (with Mercedes-Benz lettering), sports steering wheel (with flat bottom section), ‘Thermatic’ dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, the 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, ‘Aircap’ automatic draught-stop, ‘Agility Select’ (with five driving programs), keyless entry and start, ‘Multibeam’ LED headlights (with 84 individually controllable LEDs), ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus’, and ‘Parking Pilot’ with ‘Active Parking Assist’. Phew…
Then, the E 400 adds Burmeister surround-sound audio (13 speakers, nine-channel DSP amplifier, and 590W output), head-up display (with virtual-image windscreen projection), and metallic paint.
Yes, the cost of entry is reassuringly high, but that’s a large basket of standard fruit.
Engine & trans
The E 300 is powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injection, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine, producing 180kW/370Nm, and driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission (with steering wheel shift paddles).
Step up to the E 400 and a 3.0-litre direct-injection, twin-turbo-petrol V6 sits under the bonnet, pumping out 245kW/480Nm, and driving all four wheels through the same nine-speed auto and Merc’s ‘4Matic’ all-wheel-drive system.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
Claimed fuel economy for the E 300 on the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.4L/100km, with C02 emissions sitting at 170g/km.
Not surprisingly the faster, more powerful E 400 is thirstier, ranked at 8.7L/100km, and 195g/km.
On a launch drive program covering around 300km of city, B-road and freeway running, we saw dash-indicated figures of 8.3L/100km for the E 300, and 9.2L/100km for the E 400. Not bad.
A switchable stop-start function is standard, and you’ll need 66 litres of 95 RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
The word that most accurately describes the E-Class Cabriolet drive experience is polished. From the supple ride to the flexible drivetrain (in both models) and smart design, this soft-top Merc is a beautifully resolved package.
Although peak power (180kW) arrives at a lofty 5500rpm, the E 300’s maximum torque (370Nm) is available from a more useful 4000rpm, and despite a 100kg weight penalty relative to its coupe equivalent, mid-range response is healthy. A standard sports exhaust (not fitted to the E 400) produces an agreeably spicy note, and you can expect 0-100km/h acceleration in the mid-six second bracket.
It may have more power (245kW) peaking at the same revs as its four-cylinder sibling, but it’s the E 400’s extra spread of torque (480Nm from 1500-4000rpm) that stands the top-spec cabrio apart. With all that pulling power available across such a broad plateau, the E 400 is genuinely rapid, with 0-100km/h achieved in the mid-fives.
The smooth nine-speed auto helps keep both engines in their performance sweet spots (manual shifts via the wheel paddles are sharp), while the ‘Air Body Control’ suspension, working in concert with an electronically controlled adaptive damping system (adjusting each wheel individually), delivers exceptional compliance, even on ordinary backroad surfaces.
A multi-layer, acoustic soft top keeps noise levels down, and can be raised or lowered in 20 seconds, at speeds up to 50km/h. And Merc is determined you should be able to enjoy roofless motoring year-round with a swag of gizmos on board to keep the elements under control.
The ‘Aircap’ wind deflector integrated into the top of the windscreen frame works in parallel with an electric draught stop behind the rear seats to minimise turbulence in the cabin, especially for rear seat occupants.
Raise the side windows and even at highway speeds top-down conversation is relaxed. In cool weather, the ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating system in the front seats works seamlessly, the seat heating comes into its own, and even the climate-control system recognises when the roof’s down, adjusting its settings accordingly.
‘Agility Select’ offers five modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual) adjusting transmission shift points, steering ratio and weight, throttle response, and suspension tune.
We found the ideal open road ‘Individual’ combination (in both cabrio models) was suspension in Comfort, with the throttle, steering and transmission in Sport. Grip from the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle (run-flat) rubber (245/35 front - 275/30 rear) is tenacious, braking is progressive and powerful, and the ‘Direct-Steer’ speed-sensitive steering delivers good road feel. Eating up the corners and kays in the E-Class Cabrio is a pleasure.
One niggle. While points are awarded for the attempt to simplify steering-wheel functions, the ‘finger swipe touch controls’ for on-board computer, and other systems are frustratingly fiddly.
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
In terms of active safety the new E-Class Cabriolet showcases an imposing array of technology including ‘Adaptive Brake with Hold’ (plus brake drying and priming, with Hill Start Assist), ESP, ABS, ASR, ‘Brake Assist System’ (BAS), ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Driving Assistance package Plus’ (‘Drive Pilot’ - ‘Active Brake Assist’ with cross-traffic function, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Active Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Active Lane Keeping Assist’ and ‘Pre-Safe Plus’), 360-degree camera (with dynamic guidelines), and a brake pad wear indicator.
Then, if all of the above can’t help you avoid a crash, passive-safety features include, roll-over protection (developed specifically for the cabriolet design), nine airbags (front, combined pelvic/thorax bags for the driver and front passenger, sidebags for rear occupants, headbags in the doors and a kneebag for the driver), an active bonnet (to minimise pedestrian impact injury), automatic-locking doors with emergency opening, central locking with interior switch and crash sensor, crash responsive emergency lighting, and a first-aid kit.
Both rear seats feature child restraint top tether points and ISOFIX anchorages, and all E-Class variants score a maximum five ANCAP stars.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
Mercedes-Benz Australia’s warranty covers you for three years/unlimited kilometres, and the recommended service interval for the E Class Cabriolet is 12 months/25,000km.
Capped price servicing for the E 300 & E 400 Cabriolet runs to $456 for the first service, then $912 for the second and third, for a total of $2280 over three years.