Lexus IS VS Audi A4
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Classy cabin
- Looks terrific
- Great value
- No touchscreen - annoying!
- Squishy back seat with three on board
- Some hesitation at low speeds
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Lexus IS350 Sport Luxury with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The Lexus IS has carved out a niche in the executive sedan market - some owners would require dynamite to shift them to another brand. With an unparalleled commitment to post-sales service and a reputation for absolutely bulletproof reliability, Lexus hasn't exactly beaten the Germans into submission here in Australia, but it has given them a good fright. If you want to take on Audi, BMW and Mercedes, you've got to bring what Americans call 'your A-game.'
Explore the 2016-2017 Lexus IS Range
Lexus IS 2016 review | first drive video
Lexus IS300h 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS350 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS200t Luxury 2017 review | road test
Lexus IS200t F Sport 2017 review | road test
The IS350 is a niche within a niche, though. At this level, the Germans have convinced their customers that forced induction fours or sixes are the go, while Lexus soldiers on with a naturally aspirated V6 and a specification list as long as your arm.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The current-generation Audi A4 range has copped it. It was only a matter of time before there was a Black Edition version, because it seems every car these days gets the special treatment.
And, no, it isn’t actually black - but it gets a bunch of black bits and heaps of additional extras, at not much more than the standard A4 sedan it’s based on.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The IS350 is a fine car and is edging ever closer to the truly European feel the marque seems to crave. It's also different enough for those who don't want to be a part of the German triad and want to do something different while getting an after-sales experience that's hard to beat.
The thing about the IS is that it feels a little old - the interior tech and naturally-aspirated V6 are a bit 2009. That's not to criticise the car itself because it's beautifully made and if past IS generations are anything to go by, will outlast humanity. The 350 feels, and is heavy. It's a bit thirsty and doesn't quite tick all the boxes many in the sector are looking for. But wow, is it getting closer.
Is the Lexus IS in the running for you? Or does your wallet only speak German?
There’s a good amount of value on offer with the Audi A4 Black Edition, not to mention a pretty flash cabin and sporty exterior design. I love the look of it, and that could be enough to get quite a few buyers over the line. For me, the wagon is the more appealing of the body types.
There’s no denying the A4 is often overlooked because shoppers gravitate towards the C-Class or 3 Series. Value-focused variants like this should help get people to look the A4’s way instead.
Would you take an A4 over a C-Class or 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
This third-generation IS is, at last, a distinctive looker. The first car was a clean design that aged reasonably well (as did the car - there's still a ton of them kicking around) but the second one seemed a bit timid, a sort of slimmed version of the first car's styling ideas in a bigger body. Things weren't quite right and that car's look has not aged well at all.
The third generation, though, is much more aggressive, more individualistic. The mid-life refresh made the front end look a bit frowny, but the Lexus spindle grille really looks the business even if the headlights appear awkwardly finished. In profile it fits in well with the pack and then it all gets a bit aggro again at the back, with that extravagant downward sweep of the taillights. Pretty, no, memorable, yep.
Inside is less adventurous and, annoyingly, not ageing as well as Lexus might have hoped. The two-storey dash feels a little heavy-handed with its double chin rolls. I can see what the designers were going for, but they missed.
And that chintzy analogue clock in the centre stack. Please. Stop.
There are also too many Toyota-style buttons littering the dash. Having said all of that, the obvious Lexus bits are terrific to touch and use, apart from the entertainment system's click mouse thing. That's a bit of a mess and the screen's software actively works against precise operation.
All is mostly well on the instrument pack except when the sun is coming over your shoulder. The reflections obliterate both of the traditional dials and if you'd already driven, say, an IS200t with the digital dash, you would be asking tough questions about why that instrument set isn't in the top-of-the-range machine.
The current-generation Audi A4 range may have been on sale for a while now, but it still looks as stylish as the day it debuted, back in 2015.
The angular LED headlights and rigid LED daytime running lights help give this car a strong signature on the road, with confident lines running from the front of the car to the rear, where the LED tail-lights anchor the powerful look.
Of course, the Black Edition takes the stylishness to a new level, with metallic paint included, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels in Audi’s signature ‘Rotor’ design, plus there’s standard-fit sports suspension that lowers the car down by 20mm over the top of those rims. It looks mean.
Plus the black exterior design package (encompassing door mirrors, a lip rear spoiler and side sill trims) and dark privacy tinted windows at the rear, along with the four-ring decal on the rear doors. The front doors get acoustic glass for better sound deadening, and there are four-ring LED puddle lights.
The cabin sees some nice Black Edition additions as well - check out the interior pictures below.
This is probably the weakest part of the Lexus equation. While front and rear seat passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders per row, there's little in the way of storage for our ubiquitous phones. A centre console bin is provided (from which your USB cable must sprout), but the dash and console are bereft of a good place to stow your phone. Each front door will carry a small bottle but rear seat passengers miss out. The glovebox is a good size and cooled for your convenience.
If you buy the Black Edition version of the A4, you get yourself some really nice additional bits and bobs, like colour ambient interior lighting front and rear, plus heated front seats and some S line sport interior trim elements like aluminium pedal facings, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Alcantara and leather trim with S embossing, brushed aluminium trim elements and additional adjustment to the front head rests.
The space on offer is pretty good - from a cabin storage standpoint, there’s little to complain about - bottle holders in all four doors, cupholders front and rear (the latter by way of a flip-down armrest) and there is a good storage area under the front armrest with a second USB port for charging - but you might find yourself using the cupholders for your phone, as that’s where the media USB port is. There are map pockets in the rear, too.
With two adults in the rear, there’s a decent amount of space - reasonable headroom, legroom and shoulder space.
But we had a few five-up trips in the car, and on one drive I decided to be a backseat passenger - I was in one of the outboard seats, and it wasn’t comfortable - there was a lack of leg and foot space, and the shape of the seat meant I was bending my neck inwards to avoid hitting the window / pillar on my side. This isn’t a car for five adults - but two adults and three compact kids could be fine.
I was pretty surprised at the boot capacity on offer in the A4 sedan. Personally, I’d go for the Avant wagon model in any instance, because I’m a wagon guy. But the sedan didn’t struggle with all the stuff I took with me on a four-day weekend trip (including supplies and bedding for four adults, two dogs and more!).
With 480 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up, the A4 sedan is bang-on against rivals like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 folding design, which allows a bit of extra flexibility, but they don’t quite fold completely flat.
Price and features
The IS range kicks off at $59,340 for the base IS200t but it's not until you're spending $65,390 that you'll find yourself in a V6-powered IS350. Another twenty large will see you in the Sports Luxury we had for the week, at a not inconsiderable $84,160 (although that's $4000 less than a BMW 340i). What do you get for that? Quite a bit, as it happens.
A 15-speaker stereo (with Mark Levinson branding, whoever that is), 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a hefty safety package, active cruise control, LED headlights and daytime running lights, auto headlights and wipers, heated, cooled and electrically-adjustable front seats with three memory settings on the driver's side, sat nav, lots of leather, park assist and power everything including sunroof.
Metallic paint is a breathtaking $1500.
The stereo, sat nav and various functions are controlled from a rectangular click-mouse arrangement reminiscent of a '90s laptop. It isn't great and my impression of the software is that the designers need to go out and buy some Apple and Android devices and learn how modern things work. Or at least have a look at iDrive and MMI. Having said that, the sound is epic, although the radio's insistence on switching to KIIS FM on start-up, no matter which device or station was last used, was irritating.
The sat nav also has some annoying functions that are, mercifully, switchable. The speed camera warnings are helpful and insistent while the incessant school zone warnings were hugely annoying. That's hardly Lexus' fault given there are so many of the things, but the constant 'ding-dong' in urban areas is infuriating and sounds like you're trapped in an airport.
When I told my extended family that this car was $63,900 plus on-road costs, they were beyond impressed. Some thought it was a $120,000 car - which shows they aren’t car people, but also tells you that it looks more special than its price tag suggests.
That $63,900 price is just $2500 over the odds for the ‘regular’ A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW) model it’s based on - and for that money you get $7000 of additional kit. See the sections above for what the Black Edition adds - it’s mostly visual.
You can get a wagon version of the A4 Black Edition, too. It’ll cost you $3000 more, with a list price of $66,900 for the 140kW front-wheel drive version.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the standard equipment on this spec of A4 is the S line styling package with sportier front and rear bumpers than you’ll see on lower-grade European-spec A4 models, and in addition to the LED exterior lighting all around, you’d usually get 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel, where our Black Edition has 19s.
Other standard inclusions on this spec include auto headlights and auto wipers, tyre pressure monitoring, drive mode selection, smart key entry and push-button start, gesture boot opening, electric front seat adjustment, leather-appointed seats (including some fake leather elements), a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, three-zone climate control air conditioning, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Plus there’s a 7.0-inch media screen (not a touchscreen) with a rotary dial controller, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (which was patchy at best during our test), two USB ports, two SD card inputs, and DAB+ digital radio.
The safety specification of the Audi A4 is decent - see below for more detail.
As for colour options for the standard A4 model range there are only two are no-cost options, 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White'. There are 12 other hues available in metallic and pearl finishes, including two red, two blue, three grey, one brown, one green, one white, one black and one silver (all $1420 extra). This Black Edition model has four colours to choose, all included in the cost.
Engine & trans
The IS350's power comes from a 3.5-litre 60-degree V6 producing 233kW and 378Nm. Zero to 100km/h for the 1685kg sedan is dispatched in 5.9 seconds with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
Towing capacity is rated at 750kg unbraked and 1500kg braked.
The A4 2.0 TFSI model we have is the front-wheel drive model, which runs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 140kW of power (at 4200-6000rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1500-4200rpm).
It is available only with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic.
There’s a second Black Edition version of the A4, which is the one with quattro all-wheel drive and a higher tune of the 2.0-litre engine (185kW/370Nm). That’s the one I’d go for, if the budget allowed.
Over my week with the car, I did more about 1000 kilometres. A lot of the time I had the boot full, two adults and two dogs on board. But in other instances I had five adults on board, running from town to town on a long weekend holiday.
My fuel use on test was just 7.1L/100km, which I was very impressed with.
For some reason, the IS always feels heavy. There's something about the way the car moves that makes it feel chunky. That's not all bad, of course, because it imparts a feeling of solidity and strength, but when you line it up next to a BMW 340i, it tips the scales a further 145kg the wrong way. When you look at it that way, you're always carrying two medium sized people around with you.
It doesn't seem to blunt the performance too much, reaching 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, about eight tenths slower than Beemer with the same number of gears and a torque deficit of almost 70Nm.
Another reason it feels heavy is that the sprint itself is one of the most drama-free acceleration events you'll ever experience. The 3.5 V6 is as silky as they come, as smooth as any in-line six, which have the advantage of not having pistons punching away from each other throwing the engine about.
It's not as sharp on the throttle as the 340i or A4, even when in Sport+ mode, so the Sports bit of the Sports Luxury tag is about thirty percent of the equation.
It does steer and brake with great accomplishment, but there's no life in the chassis, really, so it's best regarded as a luxury car rather than a sporting sedan. The IS has always been thus but with the sad demise of the IS F, there's nothing to really go after the quicker Audis, BMWs or Mercs. You have to lose two doors and move on to the RC F for that.
Ride quality is superb and the cabin is seriously quiet. Rough roads with huge expansion joints and zingy concrete surfaces fade into the background, conversation remains easy with just the stereo to push what little wind noise penetrates the cabin into the background. The adaptive damping must take a lot of the credit for the ride and handling refinement - it's unobtrusive and doesn't suddenly pour concrete into the dampers when you switch things up.
This particular version of the Audi A4 range has always perplexed me a bit.
There’s another front-wheel drive model below it with a 1.4-litre turbo engine (with 110kW/250Nm), which I’ve driven and I liked quite a bit. And it costs about $5000 less than the non-Black Edition version of this grade.
Then there’s the model above it, which uses the same 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but has quattro all-wheel drive and more power (185kW) and torque (370Nm). To me, that version is a lot more appealing, although it does cost about $8000 more.
The 2.0-litre in this version, with 140kW/320Nm, isn’t necessarily short of grunt, with Audi claiming a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering, but it’s quick enough.
At low speeds the engine and transmission can be a little slow to act, with some turbo lag and dual-clutch transmission hesitation to contend with, but you do get used to it.
At higher speeds the gearshifts are clever and brilliantly slick, and the gearbox has a decoupling mode, which allows fuel saving because the transmission can be disengaged when you’re coasting down hills.
Even with the sports suspension and bigger wheels with low-profile tyres, the A4 was mostly comfortable when it came to handling inconsistencies in the road surface. There was some twitching over mid-corner bumps, but it never got out of hand, and around town with five on-board I had to ensure I slowed down for speedhumps, as it could be a bit sharp.
The steering isn’t as involving as a BMW 3 series, but it is light and easy to twirl, making for super easy low speed moves. At pace, there’s a reasonable amount of feel and feedback, but twister bends made for a little bit of understeer if you hit them with pace.
I didn’t particularly love the drive experience of this Audi A4, but nor did it upset me to any great degree. Sure, you get more handling purity in one of its rear-wheel drive competitors, but in regular day-to-day driving, it was decent. Just not overly exciting.
To be honest, my biggest testing gremlins were multimedia based. I had a lot of trouble connecting and reconnecting via Bluetooth, with audio problems aplenty. Plus the CarPlay system - when paired with a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen - is beyond painful.
It’s designed for a touchscreen, like a phone, strangely enough. That and the fact the screen looks out of date already, plus the reversing camera is pixelated… all of that let the drive experience down a bit.
Eight airbags (including knee bags for front seat occupants), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, auto emergency braking, forward collision detection, brake assist and driver attention detection.
The IS scored five ANCAP stars, the highest available.
The only complaint here is that both lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert are too polite - a little more information as to what's going on would be helpful.
The Audi A4 four-cylinder range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2015, and that still applies today.
The entire model range has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and Audi’s 'Exit Warning' system that will warn/stop you from opening your door into the path of pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. Driver attention assist is standard, too.
Also standard is a reversing camera (with a pretty poor, pixelated display, it has to be said) and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a package that includes a 360-degree surround view camera system and semi-autonomous parking, at an additional cost.
There are eight airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain), and the rear seat has three top-tether points for child seats and two ISOFIX anchors.
Missing from the safety package is any form of lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and radar / adaptive cruise control. If you’re willing to spend an extra $1900 you can have that stuff in a bundle with high-speed AEB, auto high-beam lights, and a system called 'Collision Avoidance Assist' which makes the steering extra responsive to avoid potential collisions.
The Lexus range comes with a four year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist for the duration. Servicing is every 15,000km or twelve months, whichever comes first.
The ownership experience only loses marks because of the lack of capped or fixed price servicing. Service intervals are well-spaced at 12 months/15,000km but Lexus will only commit to "indicative" pricing after the first service (which is, to be fair, a freebie).
The Lexus experience is legendary - owners with cars well over a decade old still have them collected from their homes come service time. Technically, you may never have to visit a dealer again, just pay the nice person when they comes back with your freshly washed, and serviced car. Or they'll give you a loan car to drive yourself around in for the day.
Audi - like its German luxury car competitors - offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is fine, but many mainstream brands are bettering that level of cover.
Further, there’s a three-year service plan you can choose, which covers the first 36 months / 45,000km of servicing (with intervals every 12 months / 15,000km). It’s not a capped price service plan, per se, as you have to pre-purchase it, and it will cost you $1620 (price correct at the time of writing).
Roadside assistance is included at the time of purchase, and spans three years - just like the warranty.