Lexus IS VS Audi A6
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Clinical personality
- Steering feel
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|
As its name implies, Audi's A6 lives in the luxury sedan zone between the brand's volume-selling, mid-size A4 and limo-length A8.
Although it sits in the same size, price and performance ballpark as BMW's evergreen 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, traditionally it hasn't been able to lay a glove on the other German 'Big Three' competitors in terms of sales in the Australian new car market. Although it does manage to topple the seemingly unloved Jaguar XF and Lexus GS.
So, what to do? After seven years in market, the fourth generation (C7) A6 departed the local market in June this year, and the fresh metal designed to push Audi up the leader board stands before you.
Revealed in Germany early in 2018, the fifth-gen (C8) A6 brings new engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand's distinctive design language.
We scored an early, preview drive to see if the A6 has what it takes to challenge the '5' and 'E'.
|Fuel Type||95 Ron Premium Unleaded|
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 new Audi A6 55 TFSI quattro S line is a composed, rapid, top-shelf luxury sedan. It's comprehensively equipped, with safety tech a stand-out, and priced to chip away at BMW and Merc's segment dominance. Owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, though, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Could this new A6 tempt you out of your 5 Series or E-Class? 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.
In recent years Audi has shown impressive commitment to design consistency, with signature elements like the 'Singleframe grille', crisp, angular lines and tightly wrapped surfaces obvious unifying factors.
But the line between consistency and sameness is a thin one, and you could argue a strong case that, scale aside, all Audis from the last decade look much the same. And while this all-new design sharpens and tweaks the brand formula it's hardly a clean-sheet revolution.
Our test car's mega (optional) 21-inch alloys are further proof that Audi is currently playing a strong wheel design game. They fill the wheelarches to capacity and arm wrestle with the massive grille for visual prominence.
The standard S line exterior package incorporates specific front and rear bumpers with honeycomb inserts, side air inlet grilles in 'matt titanium black' with inserts in 'platinum grey', rear diffuser in the same black, this time with chrome trim, side sill trims, and illuminated aluminium door sill trims with S logo at the front.
The strongly curved roofline accentuates the car's steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, muscular look.
The interior is a model of design quality mixed with Teutonic restraint, the dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing the three digital screens covering instruments, media as well as heating and ventilation.
Long, horizontal vents are an Audi design favourite, the seats look and feel superb and the entire cabin reeks of quality and attention to detail.
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.
At just over 4.9m long, close to 1.9m wide, and a little under 1.5m high the new A6 is marginally longer and wider, yet fractionally lower overall than its predecessor. And each of those key measures are within millimetres of its core competitors.
So, large rather than huge, yet while the wheelbase has stretched 12mm, Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length.
Room for the driver and front passenger is generous, with ample storage provided, including dual (covered) cupholders in the centre console (also incorporating a 12-volt outlet and key holder slot), a decent glove box, and door bins allowing easy bottle storage)
The lidded storage box/armrest between the front seats is relatively shallow but includes a wireless Qi (chee) charging mat (for compatible devices), plus SIM and SD ports, as well as a pair of (Type-A) USB sockets.
Those in the back are in equally good shape. I was able to sit behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the back of each front seat and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able, but not a realistic long-distance option.
Ventilation, connectivity and power are also well buttoned down for back-seaters with the standard spec including climate control adjustment for the rear, plus two USB ports and a 12-volt socket.
For the record, our test example was upgraded with the 'Rear Seat Comfort Package' ($2500) consisting of four-zone climate control, heating for the two outer positions and 'extended upholstery' for the door armrest and centre console. The two central vents are also supplemented by additional adjustable outlets in the B-pillars.
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallowed our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) with masses of room to spare, as it did the jumbo size CarsGuide pram.
In fact, it was able to take the biggest case as well as the pram at the same time, which is pretty impressive. Drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to liberate even more volume.
There are pop-up tie-down anchors at each corner of the boot floor, a netted storage cavity behind the passenger side wheel tub, a 12-volt outlet on the driver's side, a handy fold down shopping bag hook, an elasticised net is included, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
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 $100K barrier is a substantial one, and the Audi A6 55 TFSI quattro S line well and truly vaults over it, landing at a price of $116,000, before on-road costs.
For context, BMW's 530i Luxury Line weighs in at $111,900, Jag's XF 35t S will set you back $128,528, the Mercedes-Benz E300 sits at $111,642, and the Lexus GS350 Sport Luxury will lighten your wallet by $106,312.
So, you'd expect this top of the three model A6 range to be packed with standard features as part of the pitch to win market share from BMW, Merc and Co. And sure enough this car is laden down with enough fruit to satisfy Carmen Miranda's milliner.
Included are 20-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension (with electronically controlled adaptive dampers), matrix LED headlights (with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, auto headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators), keyless entry and start including a sensor controlled (leg swish) boot release, electric heated sports seats for the driver and front passenger (including memories for the driver), 'Valcona' leather upholstery (door trim inserts in Alcantara), three-zone climate control air, a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel (with manual gearshift paddles), 'aluminium fragment' interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium illuminated front door sill trims (in S design).
Plus, there's Audi's smartphone interface providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, 'Qi' wireless charging, 10-speaker/180-watt audio driven by a six-channel amp and featuring digital radio, the 12.3-inch configurable 'Audi Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument cluster, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), 10.1-inch high-res colour media touchscreen, 'Navigation Plus' (with 3D map display including places of interest and city models), and a third 8.6-inch colour display for the climate control system (with handwriting recognition and a favourites list).
The recently introduced 'myAudi' app also allows you to connect to the car and access real-time info on everything from how much fuel's in the tank, to maintenance milestones, and service warnings. You can remotely lock and unlock the car, plan journeys (at home) and send destinations and routes directly to the car.
On top of that lot, our test car featured a quartet of options starting with air suspension ($2000), stepping through metallic paint ($2200), to the 'Rear seat comfort package' described in the practicality section above ($2500), and 'Premium plus package 1' ($9800) which tips in Bang & Olufsen's '3D Sound System' (16 speakers, 15-channel amp, and 705-watt output), HD matrix LED headlights, panoramic glass sunroof, privacy glass (rear and rear side windows), LED interior lighting package (30 selectable colours and six colour profiles), electric opening and closing boot lid, electric steering column adjust, S line interior package (S line embossing on the front seats, perforated leather steering wheel grips, inlays in dark matt brushed aluminium and stainless steel pedal and footrest faces), plus 21-inch alloys. The final price, before on-road costs, totting up to $132,500.
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 VW Group (EA839) engine used in the A6 55 TFSI is a 90-degree, 3.0-litre, all-alloy, single (twin-scroll) turbo V6 featuring direct-injection, variable camshaft adjustment (intake and exhaust side) and variable valve timing on the inlet side.
It produces peak power of 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
A 48-volt mild hybrid electrical system recovers regenerative braking energy to power the stop/start system and enable coasting (for up to 40 seconds) between 55-160km/h.
It consists of a 10 Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot floor, a water-cooled belt alternator starter (BAS) mounted to the engine's front end, with a V-belt connecting it to the crankshaft.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.2L/100km, the A6 55 TFSI emitting 164g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer. Pretty impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
Stop/start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the tank.
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.
The A6 55 TFSI's S line tag infers sporty performance, and there's no doubt 0-100km/h acceleration in a claimed 5.1sec is rapid.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the 'Big Three' German brands this one has its single, twin-scroll turbo located in the V6's 'hot V' to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from just 1370rpm all the way to 4500rpm, that's exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. Keep pushing and peak power arrives at 5000rpm, remaining on tap all the way up to 6400rpm, on the cusp of the engine's rev ceiling.
But don't expect a brash, macho personality. The A6 is quietly quick, remaining composed and relatively quiet as speed rises.
Low noise acoustic glass is a key factor here, as is a comprehensive sound absorption package throughout the cabin. Some may find the drive experience too low-key, even sterile, while others will embrace the cool sophistication.
The seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch auto transmission is beautifully executed, delivering ultra-smooth shifts at around-town cruising speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
A self-locking centre differential sits at the heart of the 'quattro' all-wheel drive system, normally distributing torque in a 40/60 front to rear ratio. Up to 70 per cent of drive can be sent to the front axle and a maximum 85 per cent to the rear.
On top of that, in aggressive cornering torque vectoring by braking (Audi calls it 'Wheel-Selective Torque Control') retards the near-side wheels before they slip.
Suspension is a five-link set-up front and rear, with much of the hardware made from aluminium to fine tune response and reduce unsprung weight. Electronically controlled adaptive dampers are standard, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Flick the 'Audi Drive Select' system into its softest setting and the ride smooths out to an ultra-complaint mode. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped, despite our test car's optional 21-inch rims shod with 255/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber. But it's important to note optional air suspension was also on-board.
Tweak things up to the sportier end of the spectrum and the ride height drops by 10mm, the suspension firms up appreciably, and steering weight toughens up a few notches. Hustling the big Audi along a favourite backroad it remained balanced and predictable. But even in this context, Comfort's the better option.
Speaking of steering, the A6's electro-mechanical system supplies speed-dependent power assistance, and while it points accurately the assistance is overdone and road feel isn't a strong suit.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. In some enthusiastic, 'long-way-home' driving they inspired confidence with progressive feel and more than enough bite to calmly bring the 1.8-tonne A6 to heel.
Need to hitch up a boat, float or van? You're all clear up to 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer and 750kg unbraked.
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.
Up front we mentioned this new A6 features leading-edge safety, and the crash test dummies in Ingolstadt must have been working overtime because this car leaves nothing on the table.
The usual active safety suspects are all present and accounted for, namely ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and 'Brake Assist'.
But from there the list of standard tech reads like a who's who of recent innovations, including 'Adaptive Drive Assist' (adaptive cruise control with 'Stop&Go', distance indicator, traffic jam assist and lane guidance assist), AEB (5.0km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians and cyclists, and up to 250 km/h for vehicles), 'Collision Avoidance Assist' (additional steering torque in critical evasive situations), rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning.
The 360-degree camera set-up includes a kerb view function, with four wide-angle cameras covering the entire area immediately around the vehicle for improved visibility during low speed manoeuvres.
There's also an exit warning system (detects vehicles and cyclists when opening doors, triggering a warning light and delaying door opening), 'Attention Assist', tyre pressure monitoring, 'Audi Parking System Plus' (front and rear with visual display), and 'Intersection Crossing Assist'.
That last one operates at speeds up to 30km/h, monitoring the area in front and at the side of the car, detecting “oncoming objects” at junctions and exit roads. If the situation is critical the system triggers a visual and acoustic warning as well as a quick jolt on the brakes (at speeds up to 10km/h).
But it's not over yet, with auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and 'Turn Assist' included. Turn Assist monitors oncoming traffic when you're turning right at speeds up to 10km/h and applies the brakes if necessary.
If all those measures aren't enough to avoid an impact passive safety leads off with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers, plus curtain airbags covering both rows.
Also included is 'Audi Pre-Sense Rear' (tensioning of front seat belts, closing of windows and sunroof and flashing hazards on detection of an impending rear collision), the standard active bonnet helps to minimise pedestrian impact injuries and there's a first-aid kit as well as a warning triangle and high-vis vests in the boot.
No surprise the new A6 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the assessment done in 2018 and the score applicable from August 2019 onwards.
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 covers the A6 with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is in line with BMW and Merc, but lags the mainstream market where five years/unlimited km is the norm, with Kia and SsangYong at seven years.
That said, body cover runs to three years for paint defects and 12 years for corrosion (perforation).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and 'Audi Genuine Care Service Plans' offer capped price servicing options over three years ($1700) and five years ($2630).
In making the call between the two plans it's worth noting the four year/60,000km service is a big one including filters, a timing belt replacement, transmission fluid and spark plugs.