Lexus IS VS BMW Alpina B7
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
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
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|
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.