Lexus IS VS Audi A8
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Unmistakably Audi
- Amazing interior design
- Groundbreaking safety features
- Pricey options
- Most of its autonomous tech locked out for Aus
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|
In a world where genuine wood trim and nappa leather comes in a Mazda6 for under $50,000, premium brands like Audi have been forced to come up with new hallmarks to underpin their status and asking prices.
The new, fourth-generation Audi A8 is no different, packing hardware capable of autonomous driving well ahead of what is currently allowed on any public roads, along with an array of safety, efficiency and convenience firsts for the brand that cement the model's position at the top of the four-ringed luxury tree.
The current S-Class may measure your vital signs and aim to improve your general well-being, but it won't give you a foot massage. If you tick the right options boxes, the new A8 will.
We were among the first to drive the new A8 at its Australian launch around Sydney last week.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
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 A8 is a very accomplished machine, and can certainly be optioned up with enough toys to entertain and comfort whether you're riding in the front or back.
It's not possible to say if its better than the S-Class or 7 Series in isolation, but it has a unique design ambience that's unmistakably Audi. If you're a four-ring devotee, you won't be missing out.
Based on this test, the sweet spot of the range is the long-wheelbase 55 TFSI. At this end of the market, it's fair to say the extra $12,000 for the added length and $3000 for the smoothest and most powerful engine are worth it.
Regardless of the bigger wheels, we'd probably spring for the Premium plus package and the Executive package's rear seat with the Entertainment package for all the most impressive toys. This would mean a total list of almost $250k, but it's arguably how Audi intended the new model to be.
Also check out Peter Anderson's video review from the A8's international launch:
Would you consider the new A8 over an S-Class or 7 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.
At first glance the new A8's exterior styling may look a tad obvious, with unmistakably Audi design adding a bunch of straight lines to make things look more serious.
The reality is far more considered, being the first whole design to emerge under Audi Design boss Marc Lichte's stewardship. Previewed by the first Prologue concept in 2014, the result has an elegance that underlines its position as Audi's flagship and is less likely to be confused with an A6 than the S-Class can be with the E-Class.
If you're after the ultimate in design details and lighting performance, you can also opt for $13,200 laser headlights that can double the range of LED headlights to 600m ahead. This option also brings OLED tail-lights with jewel-like filaments less than 1.0mm thick.
Compared with the third-generation model it replaces, the size of the new A8 is 37mm longer, 13mm taller but 4.0mm narrower, riding on a 6.0mm longer (2998mm) wheelbase. The long wheelbase version is 130mm longer again in wheelbase and overall.
In A8 guise, it combines aluminium, steel, magnesium and CFRP to result in the biggest material variety used in an Audi to date. Kerb weight ranges from 1995kg for the short-wheelbase petrol model to 2020kg for the long-wheelbase version, with the diesel versions adding 55kg respectively.
A 15-spoke, 19-inch wheel design is standard for Australia, but the Premium plus package fitted to all the cars we tested brings a 10-spoke 20-inch design, while the options list includes another three choices of 20-inch wheels. You can also get 21-inch alloys with the optional Sport package.
As you'll see in the interior images, the A8 represents another significant step forward for Audi design, with horizontal themes and numerous traditional controls now hidden beneath touchpads.
Key among these is the deletion of the centre console controller for the multimedia system, which has been replaced by an 8.6-inch secondary touchscreen beneath the 10.1-inch main screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfaces are available via USB connection, and the A8 will act as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot if you sign up for a data plan.
This split layout is less imposing than using one giant screen as in a Tesla, and both give haptic and acoustic feedback to commands to simplify use while driving. All versions also score the excellent 12.3-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' display ahead of the driver.
All A8s also now get a smartphone-like back seat remote controller, which enables control of temperature settings, seat adjustment, lighting, media functions and window blinds (when optioned) via its 5.7-inch OLED touchscreen.
Another surprise detail is that the interior door handles are now power assisted, which represents the lengths Audi has gone to in reducing control weights.
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.
Choosing the biggest sedan in the line-up isn't just about outdoing your neighbours, it's also fair to expect enough room to stretch out and ponder your stock options.
Despite the new A8's minor 6.0mm wheelbase growth, the interior dimensions have grown 32mm in length, which has expanded legroom as well as headroom.
Fundamental practicality elements are covered as well, with a cupholder and bottle holder for each outboard passenger, an array of USB and 12-volt charge points and two ISOFIX child seat mounts for the back seat. There's also a Qi wireless phone charger within the centre console.
Boot space is a useful 505 litres, and while there's no split-fold for the back seat, there is the capacity to bring curtain rods home from Bunnings via the ski port. There is also a space saver spare wheel beneath 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 fact that the new A8's entry price has dropped almost $6000 to $192,000 is likely to have less impact than a $19,990 Hyundai i30 special, but Audi's claim that it offers up to $36,000 more value than before may lower a few bifocals.
Introducing Audi's new naming scheme, which no longer makes reference to engine capacity in preparation for electrification, the diesel base model wears a 50 TDI badge, before moving $3000 north to the petrol 55 TSFI. Either models can be had in long-wheelbase form (signified by a capital L after A8) which will cost you an additional $15,000 respectively.
The $210,000 A8 L 55 TFSI at the top of the price list is more than $42,000 cheaper than the previous V8 diesel 4.2 TDI and a more than $120,000 less than the previous S8 Plus, but a new performance flagship is due to appear in the near future.
Value is rather subjective at this end of the price scale, but by comparison the entry RRP for the new A8 undercuts the base 7 Series by $34,900, the S-Class by $3900, but starts $1871 above the Lexus LS.
Both the A8's 50 and 55 engines come with the same trim levels, but when the standard kit is this lengthy it's more a matter of features not included in the A8, rather than those that are.
As you might expect, there's an array of options available. These accessories range from the aforementioned wheel choices and laser lighting to $3600 Alcantara headlining, $4500 all-wheel steering, a $5200 night vision system, or $12,100 3D Bang & Olufsen sound system with 23 speakers.
There are five options packages also, starting with the $6690 'Entertainment package' which brings a six-disc DVD/CD changer (on top of the standard DVD/CD player) and twin tablets for the rear seats which mount to the front seat headrests.
The nappa leather trim can be expanded to the upper and lower dash and glovebox, door trims, headrests, centre console, steering wheel airbag cover and the backs of the front seats with the 'Full leather package' for an extra $9950.
If you can't hold out for the sport edition S8, you can almost look the part with the $9950 'Sport package', which brings a more aggressive front and rear bumper, 21-inch wheels, all-wheel steering and expanded 'piano black' interior trim.
Audi Australia tells us all A8s ordered to date (along with both cars pictured here) have ticked the $11,000 'Premium plus package', which brings 20-inch rims, adaptive windscreen wipers with integrated jets, chrome exterior details, ambient lighting with variable colours, black control buttons, digital TV, electric rear sunblinds, the full leather package mentioned above, interior fragrancing with ionisation technology, rear tinted windows, softer rear headrests and ventilated massage front seats.
If you've already selected the rear seat entertainment system, you can also choose the $18,500 'Executive package' which brings individual reclining back seats and extended centre console - which also eliminates the centre rear seat - with folding tables, front and rear seat ventilation and massage function, heated armrests all round and a heated steering wheel. It's the Executive package that also brings the heated rear passenger-side footrest and the foot massage USP.
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.
You might be surprised to learn there's no V8 in the new A8's arsenal - for now, the S8 could change that - but an even greater sign of the times is the return of a petrol version for the first time since 2013. Efficiency gains are the main reason for the petrol comeback, which is explained in detail under the fuel consumption heading below.
Both the 210kW/600Nm 50 TDI turbo-diesel and 250kW/500Nm 55 TFSI petrol specifications use 3.0-litre turbocharged V6s which may seem to be simply plucked from existing models, but they bring mild hybrid technology to the Audi line-up for the first time.
Unlike conventional hybrids that use an electric motor to provide horsepower to drive the vehicle, a mild hybrid (or MHEV) enables the combustion engine to be switched off when the vehicle is coasting or braking, or effectively as an extension of a start/stop system which conserves fuel when a car is stationary.
The A8's mild hybrid system is facilitated by the move to a 48 volt electrical system, with a supplementary 10Ah lithium-ion battery mounted in the boot to keep the electrical systems fed for up to 40 seconds with the engine switched off. Audi claims the system has the capacity to save up to 0.7L/100km.
An extra starter motor has been integrated with the alternator to restart the engine more smoothly via a belt, rather than the conventional cog and ring gear used by the dedicated starter motor for cold starts.
Both engine specs deliver their max torque rating from just above idle, with the 50 TDI at 1250rpm and the 55 TSFI at 1370. Claimed 0-100km/h acceleration performance figures are an impressive 5.9s and 5.6s respectively.
Like all recent longitudinal-engined Audis, the new A8 uses a version of ZF's much lauded eight-speed torque converter auto gearbox, and both engines send power to all four wheels via the 'quattro' all-wheel drive system.
The optional all-wheel steer system can twist the rear wheels by as much as five degrees, reducing the turning circle by around 1.0m at slow speeds. While at higher speeds, the rear wheels move parallel with the fronts by as much as two degrees to improve stability, particularly for rapid lane changes and evasive manoeuvres.
All new A8 variants carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 2300kg.
Gone are the days where full-size luxury sedans got away with devil-may-care fuel consumption, and even though they still spin six cylinders and need to move around two tonnes, the 55 TFSI petrol versions manage an 8.2L/100km official combined figure. This is when using at least 95 RON Premium unleaded of course.
As you'd expect, the diesel fuel economy is even better with 5.9-6.0 official figures across wheelbases.
With a fuel tank capacity of 72 litres, this suggests a theoretical range between fills of 878km for the petrol models, and between 1200-1220km for the diesels. The A8's spec sheet lists the option of an 82-litre tank if they aren't quite far enough for you.
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.
Our test started in the worst of Sydney morning traffic, which presented the chance to put the latest adaptive cruise assist (ACA) system through its paces on a very clogged Eastern Distributor.
I'm a huge fan of active cruise control systems that guide the vehicle from speed to a stop, but the A8's ability to start moving again is another step beyond. It helps you avoid being ‘that guy' who hasn't noticed the traffic moving, and would no doubt work wonders for traffic flow if all cars were so equipped. Given the chance, Audi says this system works all the way from 0-250km/h.
No matter what your reaction to the A8's exterior, the freshness of the interior design is like no other, and everything you touch feels first class.
The four-spoke steering wheel has a surprisingly large diameter and is shared with the upcoming A6, but uses thinner spokes than the norm to promote visibility of the virtual cockpit display as the wheel is twirled.
The haptic and acoustic screens make it as easy as we've experienced to handle a touchscreen while driving, but not quite as simple as the previous console controller.
Front and rear seats are softly padded for comfort rather than support, and unsurprisingly there's ample room in every direction for this 172cm tester, regardless of wheelbase.
All examples of the A8 we drove were optioned with the Premium plus package, which means one inch larger 20-inch alloys. Despite all A8s coming standard with adaptive air suspension, small bumps like cats eyes and expansion joints are more noticeable than you might expect. As is often the case, the standard 19-inch alloy wheels are likely to be the solution.
We drove both engines and wheelbase choices at the A8 launch event, and you need to be paying close attention to hear any extra noise from the diesel. It does make a muted groan under throttle, but likely worth the 300-plus kilometres of extra range if that's what you're after.
The diesel's smoothness is also no doubt aided by its use of active engine mounts. If you're after outright refinement and performance, the petrol is the one for you but neither feel in any way sluggish.
Heading through the bends of the Royal National Park and then back over the hills via Macquarie Pass at pace, there was no disguising the fact that the A8 is a big car, and it tends to float unless you select 'Dynamic' from the drive mode selector. Regardless of mode, it's more planted than any luxury SUV.
Making a bee-line back to Sydney via the Hume, the A8 simply wafted along at 110km/h in near silence. As you'd expect.
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 airbag count has been further bolstered by an industry-first centre airbag, which has been designed to prevent head clashes between front seat occupants. This also represents Audi thinking beyond any Euro NCAP or ANCAP criteria.
It also comes with Audi's exit warning system, which warns the driver of passing cars or cyclists but can now delay the door opening in case the driver doesn't see the warning light.
A front-mounted laser scanner replaces the usual radar system for active cruise control and front AEB, which doubles the range of a radar scanner to 80m and enables both functions to work at speeds up to 250km/h.
This laser scanner is also key to the A8's Level 3 autonomous preparation, but local laws limit its capability to active cruise control with lane assist.
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.
Like all Audis, the new A8 is covered by a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty. This is short of the five year-plus periods becoming more common among mainstream brands, but equal to the terms offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Lexus differs by offering a four year, 100,000km plan.
Service intervals and capped price servicing mirror the previous A8, with a 12 month/15,000km schedule, and maintenance costs for the first three services can be wrapped into a package for $1900.
We had no issues during our test, but any common faults, common problems or reliability issues are likely to appear on our A8 problems page.