Lexus IS VS BMW Alpina B7
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
BMW Alpina B7
- Supremely comfortable ride
- Luxurious cabin
- Supercar-scaring 330km/h top speed
- Exhaust note could be tougher sounding
- Extra care needed to pilot through car parks and alley ways
- Australia's speed limits
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW Alpina B7
You know when you're walking along the footpath and you come to a soft spongey bit that the council have put in around a tree and your mind goes: "Whoah, the ground is bouncy but it looks just like bitumen?!"
Well that's the kind of response you'll get from people when they think they're looking at a regular BMW 7 Series, only to have their world go a bit bouncy when they see the Alpina B7 badge on the back of this car as you're overtaking them at Warp Factor 9000.
And you will be overtaking them like a blur because, thanks to the elves at German tuning house Alpina, the B7 is hugely fast for a five-seat, 5.3m-long, 2.2 tonne limo. But then the B7 is fast for any type of car of any dimensions, because with its 330km/h top speed this beast will outrun a McLaren 570GT. Yes, seriously.
Based on the BMW 750Li long wheelbase, the B7 begins life rolling down the same production line as a regular 7 Series. Alpina then goes on to make so many changes to the engine and chassis that the German government requires the BMW VIN to be replaced with a new one.
Ready to find out more? Well there's so much to see here that things may go a bit weird and bouncy again. Be prepared.
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
BMW Alpina B77.9/10
The BMW Alpina B7 is a special car destined (like all Alpinas) to be a collector's item, due to its rarity and exclusivity. I asked Alpina just how many current model B7s there are in Australia and the answer was "less than five", which is just as mysterious as most people find the car in general.
The B7 is fast – too fast to enjoy legally on Australian roads – but it is also supremely comfortable and well appointed. For Alpina fans lucky enough to be driven in on,e this would make for a truly rare and niche way to be chauffeured.
Is the BMW Alpina B7 the ultimate fast limousine? Tells us what you think in the comments section below.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
BMW Alpina B77/10
This is a good place to start because the B7 looks just like the 750Li it's based on, until you see the first tell-tale signs that it's not one.
There's the front wing with Alpina lettering and the boot-top spoiler, the graphics, which run the length of the car, and the 20-spoke wheels with Alpina badging.
This is late '70s, early '80s styling at its best (and possibly worst), but these special cars can pull off the irony-free look because this is how Alpina BMWs have rolled since 1975, when the E21 320-based Alpina A1/3 was launched.
BMW badges have been left on the bonnet and boot, but there's Alpina B7 BiTurbo lettering in place of the 7 Series identifier.
Most people walked by it in the street thinking it was just a big BMW, others scratched their heads wondering what I'd done to my big German limo and a handful almost dropped to their knees in praise and wonderment at spotting a rare beast like this in the wild.
These people all had their own Alpina stories – one was the third generation of an Alpina-owning family. You become a member a small and passionate club when you buy into this rarefied brand.
The standard B7's cabin is close to identical to the luxurious interior of the 750Li, save for Alpina-embossed stitching in the headrests of the soft, leather seats, the virtual instrument cluster and the Alpina plaque on the centre console denoting the build number.
The B7 is long, low and wide at just under 5.3m end to end, 1.5m tall and 1.9m across. A 3.2m wheelbase means cabin room is more than just spacious.
The B7 rolls off the Dingolfing production line in Germany and is then handed over to Alpina's facility in Buckle, where significant changes take place. Read on to find out how the B7 is different from a regular 750Li.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
BMW Alpina B78/10
The B7 is a five-seater limousine although with the fold-down rear centre armrest which houses the media control panel the back is really set up to carry two.
That 3.2m wheelbase means cabin space is enormous. At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with about 30cm between my knees and the seatback. Those rear doors open wide and the entrance is huge, making entry and exit almost as easy as just walking through a doorway. The air suspension also rises and lowers the B7's ride height for better access.
Storage is excellent, with two cupholders and door pockets for rear passengers, along with the area inside the centre armrest.
Up front, the driver and co-pilot have a deep centre console storage bin with split-opening lid, two cupholders and door pockets.
Luggage space is good, with a 515-litre boot.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 lists for $389,955, while a 750li is about $319,000. At this level, $70K seems like a downright reasonable premium to pay for a faster, more powerful, better handling and comfier version of the 750Li.
In this case you're paying more but getting more, although standard features are close to identical. There's adaptive LED headlights, head-up display, night vision with pedestrian detection, a 10.25-inch touch screen up front and two screens in the second row for TV and other media functions.
There's a reversing camera, sat nav, harman/kardon surround stereo and Apple CarPlay. There's leather upholstery, seat massagers in the front and rear, four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, auto tailgate, sunblinds for the rear and rear-side windows and proximity key.
The safety features are listed in the section below, and that list is also impressive.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
BMW Alpina B79/10
Alpina takes the 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 from the BMW 750Li and rebuilds the engine by hand. Alpina fits its own turbochargers, air-intake set -up, high-capacity cooling system and Akrapovic quad exhaust. Output is 447kW and 800Nm – an increase of a whopping 117kW and 150Nm over the 750Li's grunt.
It's interesting to note that the V12-powered 760Li has a smidge more power, at 448kW, and the same torque output as the B7.
How fast is the B7? Supercar fast – the B7 has a top speed of 330km/h, which will see it outrun a McLaren 570 and almost keep up with a Ferrari F12. That's quite incredible for a 2.3-tonne limousine with three TVs on board. A 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds is also hugely impressive.
In comparison, a 750Li has a 0-100km/h time of a not-too-shabby 4.7 seconds, but the car is electronically limited to 250km/h.
An eight-speed automatic transmission shifts gears smoothly, although a little slowly in Normal mode, while Sport and Sport+ add urgency and harder shifts.
Finally, the B7 is all-wheel drive, and those rear wheels are designed to steer slightly for better cornering performance.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is probably not the car to own if you're concerned about either fuel prices or emissions, but then the twin-turbo V8 may not be as thirsty as you'd think, with Alpina stating that, after a combination of urban and open-road driving, you should only use 9.6L/100km.
My time in the B7 saw me double that usage but this could have had something to do with me turning off the stop-start system and driving in Sport mode constantly.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
BMW Alpina B79/10
Who on Earth thinks a BMW 750Li isn't fast enough or comfortable enough, even with all its horsepower, luxurious cabin and technology? Alpina, that's who.
Redevelopment of the 4.4-litre V8 with new turbochargers, a high-capacity cooling system, different air suspension set-up and an exhaust system made by Akrapovic have made this already exceptional car better. Better to drive and better to be driven in.
The ride, even on those 21-inch wheels and low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 ZR21 on the front and 295/30 ZR 21 on the rear) is incredibly comfortable. I drove it and also had a chance to recline in the back and be chauffeured (by our photographer) and the ride was so composed and refined it was hard to believe I was travelling along some truly awful urban roads with their cracked and pot-holed surfaces.
And it's quiet, too. Which will suit those in the back being transported swiftly from the airport to their next meeting, but if you're after a loud and angry exhaust note then you won't find it in the B7. Sure, from the outside at full throttle the B7 has a menacing growl, but this isn't a BMW M car that will bark and snarl.
See, while BMW's M division makes brutal, loud, high-performance versions of their regular cars, Alpina makes comfortable, stealthy, high-performance ones.
All-wheel drive provides fantastic traction and ensures that grunt doesn't just tear the tyres off those rims when you sneeze on the throttle.
And while the air-suspension is soft and comfortable, adaptive dampers adjust for when the road goes twisty, providing impressive handling for a heavy and long car.
Really, though, the B7 is built for long, endless stretches of roads, and the acceleration beyond 100km/h is almost as startling as that from 0-100km/h, as it wants to push straight past 200km/h towards that 330km/h top speed.
Which, unless you know a good lawyer or happen to be one, will send you straight to jail. Yes, the B7 is probably too much car for Australian roads. Only on a German autobahn would a B7 be fully at home.
I felt like I was given a Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse for a week but could only ride it in my suburban backyard.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
BMW Alpina B79/10
The Alpina B7 comes with all of the BMW 750Li's safety equipment – this includes AEB, lane-keeping assistance and lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, active cruise control, night vision with object recognition, auto parking and surround view camera.
Along with the suite of airbags, there's traction and stability control and ABS, as you'd expect.
The 750Li and B7 have not been given an ANCAP score.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is covered by BMW's three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. The B7 is covered by BMW special vehicles servicing plan, which means services are cost-free for the first three years of the car's life.