Lexus GS VS Mercedes-Benz E63
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Superb dynamics
- Ballistic acceleration
- Fiddly steering wheel controllers
- Tight rear door apertures
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|
Feels like lately all the Mercedes-AMG buzz has been at the smaller end of the scale.
But here, we're doubling the cylinder count to eight, arranging them in a vee, and lighting the wick on AMG's powerhouse mid-size sedan, the recently upgraded E 63 S.
While the ferocious twin-turbo V8 and the rest of this beast's powertrain are unchanged, the car has been brought up to speed with some aero-focused styling tweaks, Merc's latest 'Widescreen' digital cockpit, as well as the MBUX multimedia system, and a tricky new multi-function sports steering wheel.
|Engine Type||4.0L 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 E 63 S fills its niche in AMG's Australian line-up perfectly. More mature than the brand's four-cylinder hatches and SUVs, but not as overbearing as some of its bigger sedan, GT and SUV stablemates. And its ability to seamlessly switch between serene comfort and dynamic performance has nailed the objective for this 2021 update.
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.
The E 63 S has been massaged for 2021 starting with flatter headlights, AMG's now signature 'Panamericana' grille, and a high gloss black flap across the top of the curved 'Jet Wing' section defining the lower part of the nose.
At the same time, the vents on either end of it are larger and feature twin transverse louvers to guide cooling air to wherever it's needed.
It's all about what AMG calls 'optimised aerobalance' but the form is just as appealing as the function. The characteristic 'Power Domes' in the bonnet dial up the muscle, as do the fat wheel arches (+27mm each side), and 20-inch rims with distinctive aero inserts.
This car's optional exterior carbon package consists of a front splitter, side sills, a flash near the fender badges, the exterior mirror covers, the boot lid lip spoiler, as well as the lower apron around the redesigned diffuser and quad tailpipes.
New, intricately styled LED tail-lights are also flatter, but there's even more going on inside.
A new AMG sports steering wheel features three rounded twin-spokes with new switches on the bottom to control the car's dynamic set-up.
It also picks up a new take on the small touch-sensitive controllers used to adjust the instrumentation and manage other functions like phone calls, audio and the cruise control.
Not sure I'm in love with them at this stage. In fact, the words fiddly, imprecise, and frustrating come to mind.
Nappa leather covering the superb AMG sports seats, upper dash, and door beltlines remains standard, but the show-stopper is the 'Widescreen Cockpit' - twin 12.25-inch digital screens for the MBUX multimedia interface on the left and instruments on the right.
The instrument cluster can be set to 'Modern Classic', 'Sport' and 'Supersport' displays, with specific AMG read-outs such as engine data, gear speed indicator, warm-up status, car set-up, as well as a G-meter and 'RaceTimer.'
To borrow an official automotive design term, it looks schmick. Overall, with touches like open-pore black ash wood trim, and brushed metal highlights, the interior looks efficient but classy, with an obvious attention to detail in the layout and its execution.
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.
At just under 5.0m end-to-end the E-Class sits in the upper range of the mid-size luxury spectrum. And almost 3.0m of that is accounted for by the distance between the axles, so there's plenty of space inside.
The driver and front passenger are provided with heaps of room to breathe, and there's a surprising amount of space for those in the back as well.
Sitting behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm (6'0”) position I had more than adequate head and legroom. But access to and from the back is a struggle for full-size adults.
The rear doors open out a long way, but the limiting factor is the size of the aperture, necessitating excessive contortion of the head and limbs to fold in and out of the car.
Connectivity runs to two (power-only) USB-C sockets in the front centre storage bin, as well as another USB-C (for power and multimedia) and 12-volt power outlet in the centre console.
Speaking of the front centre storage bin, it's a decent size and has a padded split lid so it can double as an armrest. There are two cupholders in the front console, a generous glove box, as well as long door compartments with recesses for large bottles provided.
There's a pair of USB-Cs along with another 12-volt socket in the back, sitting under the climate control panel with adjustable vents in the rear of the front centre console. Nice.
The fold down centre armrest incorporates a lidded (and lined) storage box as well as two pop-out cupholders. Again, there are bins in the doors with room for smaller bottles.
The boot offers 540 litres (VDA) of volume, and is able to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (124L, 95L, 36L) with room to spare, or the substantial CarsGuide pram, or the largest suitcase and pram combined! There are tie-down hooks to help secure loads, too.
Don't bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option. And the E 63 S is a no-tow zone.
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+.
So, first of all, let's get the price out of the way. At $253,900, before on-road costs, this car's competitive set is a bruising, all-German trio comprising the Audi RS 7 Sportback ($224,000), BMW M5 Competition ($244,900), and Porsche Panamera GTS ($309,500).
And no surprise, it's loaded with all the luxury features you'd expect in this part of the market. Here are the highlights.
On top of the standard performance tech and safety equipment fitted to the E 63 S (covered later in this review), you'll also find: Nappa leather trim (seats, upper dash, upper door cards, and steering wheel), MBUX multimedia (with touchscreen, touchpad, and 'Hey Mercedes' voice control), 20-inch alloys, three-zone climate-control, interior ambient lighting, auto LED headlights (with 'Active High Beam Assist Plus'), eight “energising comfort programs” (with 'Energising Coach'), an 'Active Multicontour' front seat package, the 'Air Balance' package (including ionisation), and keyless entry and start.
Also included are the the 'Widescreen' digital cockpit (twin 12.25-inch digital screens), 13-speaker Burmester audio with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, augmented reality satellite navigation, 'Parktronic' self-parking, electric front seats, seat cooling and heating front (heated rear), heated front centre armrest, a power-adjustable steering column, auto rain-sensing wipers, a wireless device charger, illuminated door sills, as well Amazon Alexa, etc, etc, etc.
And our test car also featured a couple of tasty options. An exterior carbon package ($7500), and AMG's professional grade ceramic composite brakes ($15,900), for an as-tested price of $277,300.
Engine & trans
Thanks in no small part to direct injection and a pair of twin-scroll turbos (located in the engine's 'hot vee' to optimise throttle response), this all-alloy unit produces 450kW (that's 612hp) from 5750-6500rpm, and 850Nm from 2500-4500rpm.
And as per standard AMG practice for its Vee engines, this car's powerplant was built from scratch by a single engineer in Affalterbach. Thank you Robin Jäger.
AMG calls the nine-speed transmission used in the E 63 S an MCT, which stands for Multi-Clutch Technology. But it's not a dual-clutch, rather a normal auto transmission using a wet clutch as opposed to a conventional torque converter, to connect it to the engine on take-off.
Drive goes to all four wheels via Merc's '4Matic+' AWD system, built around an electromechanically controlled clutch connecting the permanently driven rear axle (with locking diff) variably to the front axle.
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 combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 12.3L/100km, the E 63 S emitting 280g/km of CO2 in the process.
That's a pretty hefty number, but in line with this car's proportions and performance potential.
And Merc-AMG has gone to great lengths to minimise fuel use. As well as the standard 'Eco' stop-start function, in the 'Comfort' drive program cylinder deactivation becomes active, the system able to drop four cylinders anywhere between 1000 to 3250rpm.
There's no physical hint of half the cylinders leaving the party. The only clue is a blue icon on the dash indicating a temporary shift to V4 operation.
Despite all that effort, however, we saw a dash-indicated 17.9L/100km over a mix of urban trundling, highway cruising, and some spirited dynamic assessment.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded (although it'll run on 95 at a pinch), and you'll need 80 litres of it to fill the tank. That capacity translates to a range of 650km according to the factory claim, and 447km using our real world result.
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.
AMG's major goal with this upgrade of the E 63 S was to maintain its dynamic response and ferocious performance, but dial in the extra comfort customers had said they wanted.
So, the 4Matic+ AWD system has been fine-tuned for more smoothness as has the Comfort option in the dynamic set-up. But we'll investigate that shortly.
First, that 4.0-litre turbo V8 in the nose is claimed to slingshot this roughly 2.0-tonne sedan from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds, and it feels every bit that fast.
With 850Nm available from 2500-4500rpm and nine gear ratios to help keep you operating in that Goldilocks band, mid-range thrust is monumental. And thanks to the bi-modal sports exhaust it sounds beautifully brutal.
The nine-speed auto's wet clutch, as opposed to a conventional torque converter, is designed to save weight and optimise response. And while some will tell you an auto with one input shaft is never going to be as fast as a dual-clutch with two, shifts are rapid and direct. The wheel-mounted shift paddles are larger and set lower, as well.
The AMG 'Ride Control+' suspension with multi-chamber air suspension and adaptive damping is amazingly good. The underlying set-up is by multi-links front and rear, and despite riding on big 20-inch rims wrapped with low-profile, high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (265/35 fr - 295/30 rr) the Comfort setting is incredibly... comfortable.
Slip into 'Sport' or 'Sport+' and the car immediately feels tauter but far less compliant and forgiving. An impression reinforced by the engine, transmission, and steering shifting to a more buttoned-down mode at the same time.
The standard dynamic engine mounts play a big part here. Able to make a soft connection for maximum comfort, but switch to a rigid link when required.
But no matter which mode you're in, the car is well damped and feels beautifully balanced in quick cornering. And the E 63 S's electro-mechanically-assisted variable-rate steering is progressive, feelsome, and accurate.
The 4Matic+ AWD system is built around an electromechanically controlled clutch connecting the permanently driven rear axle (with locking diff) variably to the front axle.
Torque distribution happens imperceptibly, the big V8 putting its power down emphatically, with various electronic systems tieing up the loose ends as you aim up for the next corner.
There's even a 100 per cent RWD Drift mode available in the Race setting, but without a race circuit at our disposal this time around that'll have to wait for another time.
The optional ceramic brakes feature huge rotors and six-piston front calipers, and stopping power is immense. And the good news is they operate quickly but progressively at normal pottering around town speeds. No warming up required to get them in an optimal temperature zone (as can be the case with other ceramic set-ups).
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.
The three-pointed star's white-coated boffins have gone to town on the E 63 S, and the car is as good as it currently gets in terms of active and passive safety technology.
You could argue this car's dynamic ability is its strongest contributor to crash-avoidance. But a broad suite of features, specifically designed to keep you out of trouble includes, forward and reverse AEB (with pedestrian, cyclist, and cross-traffic detection), traffic sign recognition, 'Attention Assist', 'Active Blind Spot Assist', 'Active Distance Assist', 'Active High Beam Assist Plus', 'Active Lane Change Assist', 'Active Lane Keeping Assist', and 'Evasive Steering Assist.' That's a lot of assists.
There's also a tyre pressure monitoring and pressure loss warning system, as well as a brake priming function (monitors release speed on the accelerator pedal, moving pads factionally closer to the discs when required), and brake drying (when the windscreen wipers are active the system periodically applies just enough brake pressure to wipe water off the brake rotors to optimise wet weather efficiency).
But if an impact is unavoidable the 'Pre-Safe Plus' system is able to recognise an imminent rear-end collision and fire up the rear hazard lights (at high frequency) to warn following traffic. It will also firmly apply the brakes once the vehicle is stationary to minimise the risk of whiplash injuries if the car's then hit from behind.
If the potential crash is coming from the side, 'Pre-Safe Impulse' inflates air chambers in the side bolsters of the front seat backrest (within a fraction of a second) moving the occupant to the side towards the centre of the car, away from the impact area. Amazing.
As well as that, there's an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, an auto emergency call function, 'Crash Response Emergency Lighting', even a first aid kit and hi-vis vests for all occupants.
For the record, the current E-Class received a maximum five-star ANCAP assessment in 2016.
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.
All AMG models sold in Australia are covered by Mercedes-Benz's five year/unlimited km warranty, with 24-hour roadside and accident assistance included for the duration.
Recommended service interval is 12 months or 20,000km, with pricing for a three-year (pre-paid) plan set at $4300, a $950 saving overall relative to its three year, pay-as-you-go 'Service Solutions' capped price program.
And if you're happy to fork over a little more up-front, there's a four-year service deal at $6300, and five years coming in at $7050.