Lexus IS VS Audi A4
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Beautiful inside and out
- Terrifically comfortable
- Excellent tech
- a bit restrained
- warranty looking short
- not very emotional
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|
Audi's A4 is one of those cars that everybody likes. Despite wearing a German badge, it doesn't feel the need to bellow about itself. If anything, the A4 is so subtle you have to check it's not either its smaller sibling the A3 or its larger one, the A6.
In 2019, the A4 has a bit of a blue on its hands - the new BMW 3 Series is a belter of a car. The rivalry is now freshly-fired, with the 3 lifting its game in every single area, including the interior. And the C-Class is still going strong.
The A4 isn't a whole new car, though, it's the mildest of mild refreshes of a model we've had here for just over three years.
|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?
The 2019 Audi A4 is a classic case of failing to break something that wasn't broken. It's a pretty suave, elegant looking thing and that philosophy extends to the technology and the drive experience. It's such an easy to car to look at, live with and drive.
At this price point, you probably want a car to move your heart a bit, and that's where the A4 might fall short for some. But it's awesomely comfortable, quiet and powerful, shrugging off whatever you can throw at it.
It stands apart from its rear-wheel drive rivals with its quattro all-wheel drive and the elegance of its design.
Does the A4 have what it takes to combat the resurgent 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments 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 update to the A4 hasn't changed much, so it's as it was - calm, cool and sophisticated. The new, wider grille is an improvement - when you see the two grilles side-by-side, the bigger one just looks better and the front and rear bumper detailing is different. Nothing major.
Current Audi design thinking is starting to carefully add curves, but the nearly four-year old design of the A4 is resolutely straight-edged.
I don't mind that, but if you're looking for a bit more 'look at me', you'll have to go to the S4 or RS4. Even S line doesn't do a huge amount to toughen up the A4's visual appeal apart from the very cool design of the new for this year Audi Sport wheels.
The horizontal themes and gentle stacking of visual elements is calming and the materials are superb. Run your finger along the climate controls and enjoy the visual and tactile quality. Just a little thing, yes, but it's a lovely cabin. The ambient lighting is also nifty if you have it fitted.
And I'm still a big fan of the jet-fighter style transmission selector.
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.
As a mid-size sedan, it's not especially roomy, but is fine for four adults. The rear seats are comfortable with decent head and legroom, but you won't want to be much taller than six feet before you'll feel the pinch. Having your own climate control zone in the back is rather nice, though.
There are two cupholders in the front and another pair in the rear, and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.
The centre console is relatively shallow and topped by an armrest and that's where the USB ports are to connect your phone to the MMI.
The glove box is cooled, so it's a good place to keep your Mars bars, I guess.
Like all the mid-size German sedans, the boot is a suspiciously uniform 480 litres (I'm guessing it's probably more than that) and is a usefully clean shape.
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.
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line is a fairly long name and, obviously, wants to give you an idea of exactly what kind of car it is. The 45 TFSI bit I'll explain in more detail later, but it means a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, the quattro bit indicating it drives all four wheels and S line means some shiny wheels and other bits and bobs.
Starting at $70,300 before on-road costs, it's clearly head-to-head with the BMW 330i. Out of the box, you get 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, three-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a comprehensive safety package, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, the 'Virtual Cockpit', electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, power everything and a space-saver spare.
A 10.1-inch screen graces the dashboard and is controlled by a rotary dial on the console. Audi's 'MMI' system include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (without any of BMW's subscription nonsense), DAB+, CD and DVD player. MMI is an excellent system and coupled with the digital dashboard Audi calls Virtual Cockpit, it's a bit sci-fi inside.
'Our' car had a bunch of individual options: sunroof ($2470), metallic paint ($1950), nappa leather ($1950 and very nice, if you must know), a colour lighting package ($520) privacy glass ($1105) and heated front seats ($780)
The $1300 S line Sport package switches the 19s for Audi Sport five-spoke design with titanium look, dashboard and headlining in black, various aluminium trim bits and perforated leather, sport front seats with Alcantara and leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The $2470 'Assist Package' adds adaptive cruise with stop and go (it'll keep you moving in traffic semi-autonomously), active lane assist, pre-sense front (senses you're about to, or might, have a crash) collision avoidance assist, auto high beam and turn assist (tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic).
The 'Parking Assistance Package' brings 360 degree cameras and auto parking for $1235.
The 'Technik Package' adds the excellent matrix LED headlights a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System and head-up display for $5600 - that's a fair bit, but the matrix LEDs tend to be very expensive on their own.
All of that adds up to a hefty $89,680 as tested.
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 45 TFSI translates to Audi's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing a not inconsiderable 185kW/370Nm.
Using Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, all that heads to all four wheels through the company's famed quattro system. You'll see the ton in just 5.8 seconds.
The official combined cycle figure is listed at 6.5L/100km, and do you know what? I reckon you could get pretty damn close to that.
My week was almost exactly 50 per cent highway and 50 per cent urban battling and the outcome was an indicated 7.7L/100km.
If some of it had been of a less enthusiastic nature, I'm confident that number would have dipped under 7.0L/100km. Not bad.
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.
I had forgotten how quiet and smooth the A4 is. It may be that this mild 2019 update has further suppressed pretty much every sound, making this cabin the calmest in the class.
The A4 took us up to the Blue Mountains in virtual silence, only the garbage surface of Sydney's appalling M4 motorway ruffled the interior calm.
On that same motorway is one of the laziest pieces of road engineering, a join to a bridge that can sometimes be a bit hair-raising in softly-sprung cars and downright insulting in stiffer cars.
The A4 handled the resultant heave with exceptional ease and comfort, but watching the other cars ahead was as amusing/terrifying as ever. It made me appreciate how well sorted the A4's springs and dampers are.
And the same impression came from winding our way up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, with its variety of surfaces, corner types and inclines.
The body control is impressive but the ride is super-refined, remarkable given the huge 19-inch wheels.
The 2.0-lite TFSI is impressive in just about any Audi it's installed in, and in this latest A4 it's even quieter and more remote. The stop-start is unobtrusive and as you cruise to a stop cuts out at higher speeds than most.
There is little to complain about - while the steering is certainly a big improvement over the previous (B8) A4, it can feel a little artificial and light.
The quattro drivetrain is entirely fuss-free but does take the edge off the handling, especially relative to the more natural steering feel of the 3 Series.
Not everyone's worried about that sort of thing, and that's perfectly reasonable.
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 A4 ships with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensors, brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, exit warning, active safety bonnet, driver attention detection and brake force distribution.
There are also three top-tether anchors across the back seat and two ISOFIX points.
The A4 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars, the highest available, in February, 2016. This car had a few extras and all were welcome, but had no effect on the ANCAP rating.
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 is stubbornly sticking with a segment-competitive three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and chucks in roadside assist for the same period.
If you keep servicing your car at an Audi dealer, you get another 12 months of roadside with every service.
Audi likes you to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km and you can either take your chances on the day or pre-pay up to three years/45,000km of servicing for $1710 or five years for $2700.
As you can see, the longer plan is better value for money (both are substantially cheaper than the diesel service plan).