Lexus IS VS BMW 5 Series
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
BMW 5 Series
- Engaging dynamics
- Top-notch interiors
- Clever technology across the range
- Price hikes on almost every model
- Six-cylinder engine reserved for most expensive models
- Apple CarPlay a cost option
No it isn’t an all-new car. It might look like it, but the 2021 Lexus IS is actually a heavy facelift of the existing model, which originally went on sale way back in 2013.
There have been significant changes to the look of the new Lexus IS, including a revised front and rear end, and the company has widened the track and made “substantial chassis changes” to make it handle more adeptly, too. Plus there is a whole raft of newly added safety features and in-car technology, despite the cabin being, largely, a carryover affair.
Suffice to say that the new Lexus IS 2021 model - which the brand describes as having been “reimagined” - carries over a few strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. But does this Japanese luxury sedan still have enough quality traits to compete with the likes of its main rivals - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 5 Series
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new BMW 5 Series 520d, 530i, 530d and 540i sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.
When we're all living under the cruel rule of our robot overlords, the few remaining human historians will track the genesis of our downfall to the technology explosion that occurred in 2017's new-car market.
Never before have car companies focused so hard on producing cars that can't just be driven, but that can drive themselves, negotiating corners, unexpected obstacles and changing traffic conditions without ever needing to consult the human actually sitting behind the steering wheel.
And BMW's all-new 5 Series sedan takes yet another a step forward, eliminating the need for said human to even be sitting in the car. Owners can instead move their 5 Series in and out of tight parking spaces simply by pressing a button on their key.
The Active Key function is admittedly a $1,600 cost option, but it proves the techno-focus applied to the seventh-generation of BMW's executive express, which will land in Australian dealerships this month. Every car is also fitted with what the German brand calls its personal co-pilot; a series of nifty cameras and radars that allow the car to be driven completely autonomously for spells of 30 seconds.
But the question is, has all this new technology come at the cost of regular, old-school driver enjoyment?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The new-look Lexus IS takes several steps forward over its predecessor - it’s safer, smarter, sharper to look at and still pretty well priced and equipped.
It is feeling its age inside, and the competition has moved on in terms of engines and EV tech. But even so, if I was buying a 2021 Lexus IS, it would have to be the IS350 F Sport, which is just the most fitting version of this car, though the IS300h Luxury does have plenty to like for the money, too.
BMW 5 Series7.9/10
Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.
Would a new 5 Series tempt you away from an E-Class or A6? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
You either get the Lexus look or you don’t, and I think this latest version is possibly more agreeable than the IS in years gone by.
That’s partly because the brand has finally done away with the odd spider-eyes twin-section headlights and daytime running lights - now there are more traditional headlight clusters, which look a lot more resolved than before.
The front end still features a bold ‘spindle’ grille, which gets different treatment depending on the grade, and the front, to my eye, looks better than before but still very much stuck in its ways.
At the side you’ll notice the giveaway windowline hasn’t changed, despite the chrome trim line having broadened as part of this facelift, but you can tell the haunches have muscled up a bit, with the new IS now 30mm wider overall, and the wheel sizes are 18s or 19s, depending on the grade.
The rear accentuates that width, with an L-shaped lighting signature now spanning the entire re-sculpted boot lid, giving the IS a pretty tidy rear end design.
Overall dimensions for the IS are 4710mm long, making it 30mm longer nose to tail (on an unchanged 2800mm wheelbase), while it now spreads across 1840mm (+30mm) and is 1435mm tall (+5mm).
The exterior changes really are impressive - I think it is a more purposeful but also more pleasant looking car now than it ever has been in this current generation.
The interior? Well, there’s not a whole lot to talk about in terms of design changes, aside from the repositioned and larger media screen - which sits 150mm closer to the driver because it’s now a touchscreen with the latest smartphone mirroring tech. Otherwise it’s a carryover affair, as you can see from the interior pictures.
BMW 5 Series8/10
Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.
Its 8mm wider, 28mm longer and 2mm taller than the car it replaces, but it's also around 95kg lighter, thanks to its aluminium doors and boot and a clever magnesium frame for the instrument panel that saved another two kilograms. There's some other clever design elements, too. The kidney grille has active air flaps that open when extra cooling is required, closing when it isn't, reducing drag and helping accleration.
Inside, the 5 Series offers a beautifully crafted yet joyously understated cabin, with quality materials joining modern technology in a seamless way.
The interior design of the IS, as mentioned, hasn’t changed dramatically, and it is starting to feel old compared to some of its contemporaries.
It’s still a nice place to be, with comfortable front seats with electric adjustment and heating across all grades, and cooling on many variants, too.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is a nice unit, and means you can essentially do away with the silly trackpad system that still resides near the gear selector, so you may still end up bumping it accidentally. And the fact the IS now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though neither are wirelessly connectable) does further its appeal on the multimedia front, as does the standard 10-speaker Pioneer stereo - though the 17-speaker Mark Levinson unit is an absolute blinder!
The centre stack below the media screen retains a CD player, and still has the electromagnetic temperature adjustment sliders as well. That part of the design is dating it just as much as the transmission tunnel console area, which looks a bit out of touch by modern standards, though still incorporates a pair of cup holders and a reasonably large centre console bin with soft armrest padding.
The front doors feature trenches with bottle holders as well, while in the rear doors there is still no drink storage - a carryover annoyance from the pre-facelift model. However, the middle seat in the back doubles as an armrest with pop-out cupholders, and there are rear air vents too.
Speaking of that middle seat, you wouldn’t want to sit in it for long, as it has a raised base and uncomfortable backrest, plus there’s a huge transmission tunnel intrusion eating into leg and foot space.
Outboard passengers also miss out on toe room, which - for my size 12s - is an issue. And it’s hardly the roomiest second row in this class for knee room and headroom, as my 182cm frame was a touch squished behind my own driving position.
Children will be better catered for in the back, and there are two ISOFIX anchorages and three top-tether attachment points for baby seats.
The boot capacity varies on the model you buy. Choose an IS300 or IS350 and you score 480 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity, while the IS300h has a battery pack that robs it of some boot space, with 450L available.
BMW 5 Series8/10
This is a full-size sedan, and every seat feels spacious and airy. The sloping, slightly coupe-style roofline does cut into headroom in the back, but human-sized people will have little trouble, even sitting behind a tall driver.
Each trim offers two cupholders in the front, with another two housed in a pull-down divider that seperates the rear seat. And there's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The 5 Series' boot opens to rival a surprisingly sizeable storage space, offering 530 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats in place.
Price and features
The updated 2021 Lexus IS range has seen a number of pricing changes, and a reduction of variants, too. There are now five IS models available, down from seven prior to this update as the Sports Luxury model has been axed, and you can only get the IS350 in F Sport trim now. However, the company has expanded its “Enhancement Pack” strategy across the different variants.
Opening the range is the IS300 Luxury, which lists at $61,500 (all prices listed are the MSRP - not including on-road costs, and are correct at time of publishing). It has the exact same equipment as the IS300h Luxury model, which is $64,500, and that ‘h’ stands for hybrid, which will be detailed in the engines section.
The Luxury trim is equipped with items such LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, a 10.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation (including live traffic updates) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, plus a 10-speaker sound system, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory settings for the driver, and dual-zone climate control. There’s also auto headlights with auto high beam, rain sensing wipers, power steering column adjustment, and adaptive cruise control.
Indeed, there’s a raft of safety technology included - more on that below - and there’s also a number of Enhancement Pack options.
Luxury spec models can be equipped with a choice of two Enhancement Packs: the $2000 Enhancement Pack adds a sunroof (or moonroof in Lexus speak); or Enhancement Pack 2 (or EP2 - $5500) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, cooled front seats, high-grade leather-accented interior trim, and a power-operated rear sunshade.
The IS F Sport trim line is available across the IS300 ($70,000), IS300h ($73,000) or the V6-powered IS350 ($75,000), and it adds a number of additional features over the Luxury grade.
As you can probably tell, F Sport models get a sportier look, with a body kit, 19-inch alloy wheels, standard fit adaptive suspension, sports front seats with cooling, sports pedals, and five drive modes to choose from (Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom). The F Sport grade also includes a digital instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch display, as well as leather-accented trim, and scuff plates.
Buying the F Sport grade allows customers to add further goodies by way of the Enhancement Pack for that grade, which costs $3100 and includes the sunroof, 17-speaker sound system and rear sunshade.
What’s missing? Well there’s no wireless phone charging in any grade, and no USB-C connectivity either. Note: the spare wheel is a space saver in the IS300 and IS350, but there is only a repair kit in the IS300h as there are batteries where the spare wheel would go.
There’s no go-fast IS F model sitting at the top of the tree here, nor is there a plug-in hybrid to compete against the circa-$85K BMW 330e and Mercedes C300e. But the fact the IS models all come in below $75K means it’s a pretty decent value proposition.
BMW 5 Series7/10
BMW's venerable 5 Series is now 45 years old, and this all-new model arrives in four distinct flavours, with a fifth - an incoming M5 performance sedan - still some way off.
For now, though, the range kicks off with the 520d, before stepping up what BMW hopes to be the big seller of the range, the 530i (replacing the outgoing 528i). Next up is biggest diesel, the 530d (replacing the the 535d), before the current range tops out with the petrol-powered 540i (replacing the old 535i).
Be warned though, there's been some pretty serious price increases right across the line up, ranging from $9,145 to a whopping $19,245. In fact, only the 530d has seen its price come down, now $3,755 cheaper than the outgoing 535d. BMW justifies the hikes by pointing to an increase in standard inclusions across the range.
The 520d kicks off from $93,900, and arrives predictably well equipped for your money. Expect 18-inch alloys, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker stereo. You'll also get a technology overhaul, with a bigger and upgraded Head Up display (it can now read street signs and beam that info onto the screen), a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a wireless (insert link to chi charger story) charging pad.
Step up to the 530i ($108,900) or 530d ($119,900) and you'll add 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers with dynamic mode (that reads both driver input and navigation data and tweak suspension, gear and steering settings automatically) a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and a crystal-clear 12.3 high-resolution digital display in the driver's binnacle. You'll also find heated front seats, a powered boot and sports seats in the front.
Finally, spring for the 540i ($136,900) and you'll get 20-inch alloys, a sunroof and electric blinds for the rear windows. You'll also find better Nappa leather on the seats, which now also offer a cooling function. Under the skin, you'll get an active anti-roll bar at each axle designed to keep the car from rolling side-to-side on the twisty stuff.
One quirk, however, is the fact that BMW's very cool wireless Apple CarPlay is a cost option on every trim level, and one that will set you back $479.
Engine & trans
The engine specs depend on the powertrain you choose. And at a glance there’s no variance between the earlier version of the IS and the 2021 facelift.
That means the IS300 model still runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor producing 180kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 350Nm of torque (at 1650-4400rpm). It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all IS models, it is rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD) - there is no all-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) model here.
Next up the spectrum is the IS300h model, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol motor teamed to an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine is good for a 133kW (at 6000rpm) and 221Nm (at 4200-5400rpm), and the electric motor produces 105kW/300Nm - but the combined total maximum power output is 164kW, and Lexus doesn’t provide a maximum torque figure. The 300h model runs a CVT automatic transmission.
The big horsepower offering here is the IS350, which runs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, producing 232kW of power (at 6600rpm) and 380Nm of torque (at 4800-4900rpm). It runs an eight-speed auto.
All models have paddle-shifters, while the two non-hybrid models have seen tweaks to the transmission software that is said to “estimate driver intentions” for better enjoyment.
BMW 5 Series8/10
The hunt for efficiency sees all but the most expensive 5 Series models equipped with four-cylinder engines, including the entry-level 520d, which is fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel unit that will produce 140kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm from 1,750rpm. That's enough to push the cheapest 5 Series to 100km/h in a not particularly inspiring 7.5 seconds, topping out at 235km/h.
The cheapest petrol, the 530i, arrives with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 185kW at 5,200rpm and 350Nm from 1,450rpm. That will see you clip 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.
The 530d introduces the first six-cylinder engine, a 3.0-litre unit that will produce 195kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 620Nm from 2,000rpm. That's enough to knock off the sprint in in 5.7 seconds and offers a top speed limited to 250km/h.
Finally, the top-spec petrol, the 540i, will produce 250kW at 5,500rpm and 450Nm from 1,380rpm from its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Those are healthy numbers, and enough to welcome 100km/h in a sprightly 5.1 seconds before topping out a limited 250km/h.
Every model is paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
There’s still no diesel model, no plug-in hybrid and no full electric (EV) model - which means that while Lexus was at the forefront of electrification with its so-called “self-charging” hybrids, it is falling behind the times. You can get plug-in versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the Tesla Model 3 plays in this space in full-electric guise.
As for the fuel-sipping hero of this trio of powertrains, the IS300h is said to use 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle fuel test. In reality, our test car’s dashboard showed 6.1L/100km across a mix of driving.
The IS300 with its turbocharged 2.0L engine is next best for fuel use, claiming 8.2L/100km. On our short launch drive of that model, we saw 9.6L/100km on the dashboard.
And the full-fat IS350 V6 petrol claims consumption of 9.5L/100km, while on test we saw 13.4L/100km.
The emissions for the three models are 191g/km (IS300), 217g/km (IS350) and 116g/km (IS300h). All three are Euro 6B compliant.
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres for all models, meaning your mileage range for the hybrid model could be considerably longer.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW quotes a combined 4.3 litres per hundred kilometres from the 520d, which will also spit out 114g per kilometre of C02. The 530d lifts that number to 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres (which seems a small price to pay for all that extra torque), with C02 pegged at 124g per kilometre. Both diesels get a slightly smaller tank, at 66 litres.
The 530i will sip a claimed/combined 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 emissions a claimed 132g per kilometre, while the big 540i requires 6.7 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 pegged at 154g per kilometre. Both petrol models get a 68-litre tank and require 95RON fuel.
With the engine at the front and drive to the back, it has the ingredients for a pure driver’s car, and Lexus made a bit of a big deal about the new-look IS being more focused thanks to chassis adjustments and track width improvements - and it does feel a pretty nimble and tied-down car in the twisty stuff.
It is competent at stitching together a series of corners, and the F Sport models are particularly adept. The adaptive suspension in those models includes both anti-dive and anti-squat tech, which is designed to make the car feel solid and flat on the road - and it does, thankfully without feeling twitchy or uncomfortable, with good suspension compliance even in the most aggressive Sport S+ drive mode.
The 19-inch wheels on F Sport models are fitted with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) and there’s plenty of tarmac tenacity.
The grip from Luxury-spec models on 18s could be better, with those Bridgestone Turanza tyres (235/45 all around) proving not quite the most enthralling.
Indeed, the IS300h Luxury I drove felt very different in character to the F Sport IS300 and 350 models. It was surprising how much more of a plush-focused model the Luxury grade feels, and likewise it wasn’t as impressive in dynamic driving due to the tyre grip and less-enthusiastic drive mode system. The non-adaptive suspension is a touch more jittery too, and while it’s not to the point of discomfort, you might expect better for a car on 18s.
Across all models the steering is accurate and direct enough, with predictable response and decent feel to the driver’s hands for this electric power steering setup. The F Sport models have even further retuned steering for “an even sportier drive experience”, though I found at times it could feel a little numb for rapid changes of direction.
As for engines, the IS350 is still the pick. It has the best zest, and feels the most fitting powertrain for this model. It sounds good, too. The auto transmission is pretty clever, there's easily enough pulling power, and it's probably going to be the last of the non-turbo V6s in Lexus's line-up when this cars life-cycle is up.
The IS300's turbo engine was the most disappointing, lacking some urge and constantly feeling bogged down by turbo lag, transmission confusion, or both. It felt underdone in enthusiastic driving, though in dull day-to-day commuting circumstances it came across as more acceptable, though the remapped transmission software was far less impressive in this application than in the IS350.
The IS300h was a lovely, quiet and refined experience all around. It’s the one you should go for if you don’t really care about all that go-fast stuff. The powertrain is proven, it accelerates with nice linear delivery, and at times it’s so hushed I found myself looking down at the instrument cluster to see if the car was in EV mode or if it was using the petrol engine.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW's pre-drive briefing was so technology focused we half expected the black turtle neck and dad jean-wearing ghost of Steve Jobs to emerge from behind a curtain clutching an iPad. Only a minuscule portion was dedicated to the cars' drivetrains, with BMW instead hammering home autonomy functions, technology upgrades and the fact that its car was a preview to "the future".
But once we'd slipped behind the wheel of the all-new 5 Series, it all started to make more sense. Having briefly sampled three models (the 530i, 530d and 540i), we can safely report there's nothing particularly revolutionary about their on-road behaviour. That's not necessarily a bad thing - they do everything you could ask of a car in this bracket. They're mostly smooth and always quiet, the new chassis has done nothing to dampen engagement when you start to ask a little more of it, and it's generally a luxurious experience. But then so was the old car.
But what's new is the technology poured into the 5 Series. Every car gets what BMW is calling its personal co-pilot, for example, which is a set of tricky systems (there's six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors scattered around the car) that work with the active cruise control and allow the car to be driven completely autonomous for 30-second intervals. Now, it's not quite as advanced as some of its competitor's systems - it can't change lanes for example - but if you're out on a country road or on a highway, it will stay within its lane, turn around corners and keep up with the traffic, even if they stop in front of you.
While the cheapest diesel model has historically been the best seller, BMW is hoping the new 530i will prove the most popular this time around. And while you couldn't describe it as fast, the power from its four-cylinder engine is ample for all that will likely be asked of it, and it feels sorted and composed on more challenging roads. It's a smooth and comfortable ride, too, even with the optional 20-inch alloys fitted, though that's undoubtedly thanks to the adaptive dampers and ever-changing dynamic ride function, both of which are fitted as standard. In fact, we're yet to drive a car without those options fitted, so we're forced to reserve judgement on the as-standard ride quality of the cheaper models.
Be warned though, none in the 5 Series range offer the disconnected and perfectly smooth conveyance you might find in some true luxury offerings, and you'll still know when you're diving into deep pockmarks in the road. But the trade off is a an engaging ride and steering set up that always feels planted, with enough feedback to ensure you feel connected to what's happening beneath the tyres. And that's a trade we're more than willing to make.
Step up to the 540i and things take a much sportier turn. The turbocharged six-cylinder feels right at home in a car this size, with acceleration effortless and freeway overtaking manoeuvres an absolute breeze. And while we didn't find roads quite brutal enough to really test the active anti-roll bars housed at each axle, there's a wonderful and stable flatness to the way the biggest petrol handles corners.
It's not cheap, but thanks to the bigger engine and sorted dynamics, the 540i feels most like a 5 Series probably should.
The facelifted version scores auto emergency braking (AEB) with day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection (from 10km/h to 80km/h) and car detection (10km/h to 180km/h). There’s also all speed adaptive cruise control with low speed following.
The IS also has lane keeping assistance with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, a new system called Intersection Turning Assist which will brake the car if the system judges the traffic gap isn’t big enough, and there’s also road sign recognition.
Plus the IS has blind-spot monitoring on all grades, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking (below 15km/h).
And beyond that, Lexus has added new Connected Services features, including an SOS call button, automated collision notification if an airbag deploys, and stolen vehicle tracking.
Where is the Lexus IS built? Japan is the answer.
BMW 5 Series9/10
Expect plenty of clever safety gear, with every 5 Series sedan arriving with six airbags (dual front and full-length side airbags, along with head protection bags for front passengers). You'll also find a surround-view reversing camera and parking sensors.
But the high-tech stuff arrives courtesy of active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist and cross-road alerts.
On paper, Lexus’s ownership offer isn’t quite as enticing as some other luxury car brands - but it has a strong reputation for blissful ownership.
The Lexus Australia warranty period is four years/100,000km, which is better for duration than Audi and BMW (both three years/unlimited km) but not as accommodating as Mercedes-Benz or Genesis, each of which offer five-year/unlimited km warranty.
The company has a three-year capped price servicing plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The first three visits cost $495 each. That’s okay - but Lexus doesn’t offer free servicing like Genesis, and nor does it offer prepaid service plans - for three to five years for a C-Class, and five years for Audi A4/A5, for instance.
There is complimentary roadside assistance for the first three years, too.
That said, the company has its Encore ownership benefits program that allows a number of experiences and deals, and the service team will collect your car and return it, leaving you with a loan car if you need it.
BMW 5 Series7/10
The BMW 5 Series is covered by a three year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires condition-based servicing (rather than a pre-defined service interval).
You can also prepay your maintenance costs for five years/80,000kms, with prices ranging from $1,640 for the basic package, and climbing to $4,600 for the all-inclusive option.