Lexus IS VS Audi A6
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Smooth everything
- Good equipment
- Understated looks
- Twin clutch transmission a bit dithery
- Soft ride means un-involving drive
- Dull steering
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 gamely continues to sell their 5 Series competitor, the A6. The high-rider A6 Allroad takes most of the attention, but if you keep an eye out, you'll see an A6 sedan every now and again.
Look even closer – really close – and you'll see that there's been a recent upgrade.
|Engine Type||1.8L 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?
In many ways, the A6 1.8 is the very epitome of the Audi experience - quiet, composed and very stylish, it doesn't shout about itself. It's hardly a big seller but it does give those who wish for a big executive sedan from Ingolstadt everything they could need.
Would an A6 tempt you away from a 520i? 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 A6 is one of Audi's subtlest pieces. It's a fine looking car but it doesn't really stand out in this base-spec, which is of course perfectly fine if that's what you're after.
Rolling on 18-inch alloys, it's a classy-looking thing, with Audi's trademark design language of creased sheetmetal, prominent front grille and distinctive daytime running lights. The new twin LED DRLs are more distinctive still, marking out the A6 from the rest of the range.
Inside is also very standard Audi, with a clean dashboard design and a screen that disappears into the depths of the dash when you lock up or if you want it out of the way.
Inside there's tons of room and it's a very comfortable cabin to spend time in. The driver gets plenty of adjustment and you sit reasonably low, snug between door and high-set console. The dashboard is the usual model of clarity although the optimistic speedo raised a few smiles. Despite it being tightly packed, it doesn't matter as the updated central screen can show a digital speed readout.
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.
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.
Standard is cruise control, parking sensors front and rear with reversing camera, blind spot sensor and rear sensor for cross traffic, xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, climate control, electric front seats, leather trim, DAB radio and satnav.
There's a tremendously lengthy options list but as is the Audi custom, you can get the greatest hits in a couple of packages. Our test car had the Technik package ($5800) which added park assist, around-view camera, adaptive cruise with stop and go, autonomous emergency braking and four-zone climate control.
It also adds Audi Connect, which puts Google Earth overlays on the sat-nav maps, lets you search Google for points of interest and act as a wifi hotspot in the car (which needs its own SIM card; it doesn't like most smartphones).
Metallic paint is a supremely cheeky $2280 bringing our test car to $87,980.
The ten speaker stereo has the usual bluetooth and USB ports and is run from an 8.0-inch motorised retractable screen. Audi's MMI controls the show and there's the added bonus of DAB to go with it. The A6 actually has two USB ports, with a high-power port for faster phone charging. The big news is this upgraded A6 doesn't need the silly proprietary cable that the A4 still needs.
The MMI interface is very good and has gotten better and better over the years as Audi's designers have played with the mix of rotary and shortcut buttons.
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.
Behind the A6's mildly modified snout is the 1.8-litre TFSI mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Basically, it's the same setup as some A3s and A4s. In the A6, it produces 140kW and 320Nm.
At 1645kg, you'd imagine fairly weedy performance but a 0-100km/h time of 7.9 seconds says otherwise. Fuel economy is a claimed 5.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but expect somewhere around 8.0L/100km in the real world. Which is still reasonable going for a petrol-powered car this big.
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.
Settling in behind the wheel of a big car with a small engine, even by today's standards, rarely promises much. The A6 is a relaxed kind of car to punt around, especially in Eco and Comfort modes.
The steering is quite remote, with artificial-feeling weight when you pile on some speed.
The idea, it seems, is to isolate occupants from the outside world and this is very successful. The ride is supple and the handling competent with mild, controlled body roll and a natural tendency to eventual understeer.
The seven-speed dual-clutch is perhaps not the the most obvious choice and seemed a little unsettled when you ask for a rapid clutch take-up from standstill. BMW's choice of eight-speed ZF auto would have been preferable, but it's no deal breaker.
Rear passengers have plenty of space to lounge around and it's also very quiet back there. Acres of shoulder and leg room give a good feeling of space and it almost feels as good as an A8.
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 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.