Lexus IS VS BMW M5
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- So damn fast for a big sedan
- Easy adjustability of AWD setups
- Much more refined around town than before
- Exhaust not quite the epic growl of an AMG
- Some may find the exterior a touch too subtle
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|
Full throttle out of a 90 degree corner with 441kW under your right foot is a situation any sane human should consider carefully, regardless of skill level or whether you’re pedalling someone else’s $200,000 super sedan.
This was particularly true with the 423kW previous F10 M5, which would overcome its 295mm wide rear treads as soon as you looked at the throttle. Of course this is a helluva lot of fun in the right scenario, but a bit of a glass ceiling if you’re chasing faster lap times or trying to drive with any dignity in wet weather.
Hence the reason the new F90 M5 scores all-wheel drive (AWD) for the first time in a fully-fledged M car, and spoiler alert: it’ll now punch out of even the slowest corners with little more than a chirp from the rear tyres. If you leave all the traction aides switched on that is, but more on that later.
If you’re shopping at this end of the market, you’ll no doubt realise the new AMG E 63 has also graduated to all paw, aligning with Audi which has been in this camp since it started building fast cars. AMG and Audi have certainly proved that extra grip doesn’t necessarily mean a dull drive.
So the pressure for German super sedan supremacy is on the new M5 big time, and we were among the first to drive it on road and track in Australia last week. Will the M5 vs E 63 debate become the next Coke vs Pepsi, Prince vs Michael Jackson, or Holden vs Ford?
|Engine Type||4.4L 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?
The new M5 is another masterpiece from the brilliant minds at M. Whether its better or worse than the E63 is impossible to say in isolation, but I can tell you it’s bloody good. All-wheel drive is a very good thing for the M5.
Would you go M5 or E 63? Or hang out for the next RS 6?
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.
Starting with the still-fresh G30 5 Series as an excellent basis, the new M5 retains the somewhat discrete looks of before, missing out on the pumped wheelarches of the smaller Ms and staying within cooee of lesser fives fitted with the M Sport pack.
There is a host of bespoke bits for your money though, headlined by a more aggressive front bumper with larger cooling apertures. You also get the typical aero-shaped M door mirrors, extra ridges pressed into the bonnet, vented front guards, a chunkier rear bumper insert with quad exhaust outlets and a tiny lip spoiler on the bootlid.
There’s also 20-inch wheels which can be had in machined finish or all black for the same price, which wrap around blue (unspecified diameter) six-piston front and single piston floating caliper rear brakes. Carbon ceramics with gold calipers are available for an extra $16,500, saving 23kg.
For the first time, the M5 has scored a carbon fibre roof panel (unless you option the no-cost sunroof), which saves 1.5kg over the regular aluminium turret.
In fact, the whole car is 15kg lighter than before at 1855kg. This is despite adding all the extra AWD hardware and thanks to the G30 5 Series’ aluminium, high-tensile steel and magnesium-intensive body structure.
This relative subtlety is carried over to the inside, with bespoke sports seats featuring illuminated M logos joining a chunky new gear selector and sexy little anodised red M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel. There’s also M-striped seatbelts for anyone concerned.
The perforated Merino leather seats are available in a choice of off white, cream or black themes.
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.
Just when Australia loses its home-grown performance sedans, the M5 continues to offer decent seating for five adults, and a large 530-litre boot that'll manage family holidays and beyond with a 40/20/40 split fold.
Other par for the course items include two cup holders front and rear, bottle holders in each door, and ISOFIX child seat mounts in each outboard position in the rear.
In lieu of a spare tyre, the M5 rides on runflats with a puncture repair kit as backup.
For those needing to tow things real fast, the new M5 is rated to pull an impressive 2000kg unbraked.
Try all that with a Ferrari Enzo, which is still 0.2s slower 0-100km/h.
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 first 50 F90 M5s to touch down in Australia will be Launch Edition spec, and wear a list price of $199,900.
This puts it $30,000 cheaper than the previous top-spec version, but $14,900 higher than the previous Pure entry point. We’d be very surprised if a Pure version of the F90 didn’t appear in the near future.
There’s also an even more exclusive run of five First Edition models, but I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat on these already.
The Launch Edition comes very well stocked, with highlights including a 16-speaker harmon/kardon audio system, leather-wrapped instrument panel, Alcantara headliner, velour floor mats, M-specific colour head-up display, smartphone-like ‘Display Key’ and power boot opening with hands-free function.
Reflecting Australia’s preference for maximum noise from its V8s, the console-button switchable 'M Sport Exhaust' system is also standard.
It’s worth noting that Apple CarPlay is still a whopping $623 option, however, and even then you only get a three-year subscription to the interface. There’s no sign of Android Auto either, due to BMW’s stance that its admittedly excellent iDrive proprietary system is superior.
As always, there’s a variety of options available, including the aforementioned $16,500 carbon ceramic brakes, a $2250 carbon fibre engine cover, a $6400 Bowers & Wilkins 16-speaker audio upgrade, and a variety of colour and trim options via BMW Individual.
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.
All-wheel drive is nothing new for left-hand drive versions of BMW’s sedan line-up, but this most recent generation has extended this to right-hand drive models.
The first to hit Australia was the M760Li V12 7 Series flagship, but the new M5’s M xDrive (sounds a bit like a Mazda sports car) system brings the extra versatility of being able to switch between 4WD, 4WD Sport and wait for it, 2WD modes.
The key distinction between each is the amount of power allowed to escape to the front wheels, and while BMW isn’t specifying torque splits, we can safely say that '4WD' is able to actively send lots of drive to the front when needed. '4WD Sport' clearly favours the rear wheels and forms the brilliantly calibrated 'M Dynamic Mode' in M5 guise, while 2WD mode disconnects the front wheels altogether and deactivates the stability control to pretty much leave you in the hands of your chosen deity.
Regardless of mode, the system works in conjunction with the 'Active M' locking rear differential used across the M range.
The next biggest change to the M5’s drivetrain is the move away from the seven-speed (DCT) dual-clutch transmission in favour of an M-tweaked version of the eight-speed ZF torque converter auto found in most high-end longitudinal applications (BMW included) these days, including the Audi RS 6.
Labeled ‘M Steptronic’ in M5 tune, it promises ‘similar’ shift speed to the previous dual clutcher while improving low speed response. It’s doubtful anyone who’s lived with an F10 M5 in everyday traffic will disagree with this move.
Like before, the new unit is able to be controlled manually via paddle shifters or sequentially via the selector, while also incorporating 'Drivelogic' shift speed options which can be controlled individually.
Providing the M5’s thrust in the first place is a slightly tweaked version of the previous F10’s hot-V twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, which now carries the S63B44T4 designation.
Rather than the name of a Star Wars robot, this code represents 441kW/750Nm, with the latter available from just 1800rpm all the way to 5600rpm. This is 18kW/70Nm up from before, but is notably still 9kW and 100Nm shy of the new E 63.
The only key mechanical change for the S63B44T4 has been the adoption of an electronic oil pump, which allows fully variable control of lubrication to suit specific conditions.
You simply can’t expect a car of this size and performance to sip fuel when you’re using it to its potential, but the new M5’s 10.5L/100km official combined fuel figure suggests you’ll get a decent range on the highway out of its 68-litre tank.
This is actually 0.6L more than the previous model’s official figure, but the difference is likely to be negligible in the real world.
Impressively, BMW’s press material states that it will accept Regular 91RON unleaded if needed, but full-strength 98RON is recommended.
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.
Back to the full throttle, 90 degree bend scenario, the new M5 proves itself to be pretty much idiot proof at Turn 12 on our second lap of Sandown. Floored at the apex in 4WD mode to get the best out of Pit Straight, it just gets up and goes without any fuss.
We only had time for three hot laps per session, which gave us one lap to properly warm up, one lap to push it in full 4WD mode, and one lap to see what happens when the leash is loosened in 4WD Sport.
The full nudie run 2WD mode was kyboshed by the party police for our brief stints, but 4WD Sport liberates a healthy dose of tail wagging all around, which converts the experience from admiration of sheer speed to smile-inducing indulgence.
Approaching Turn 12 in the same fashion, the rear steps out quite nicely, and the front wheels (and remaining traction aides) step in at just the right time to make you feel like you’ve played a role in pulling it straight again.
It’s hard to avoid superlatives when describing something with 441kW, 750Nm, a 0-100km/h claim of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 305km/h when the M Driver’s Package is optioned, even before you consider we’re talking about a large sedan with all the creature comforts for five adults.
The 0-100km/h time is only a small part of the story here. It’s the 0-200 in a claimed 11.1 seconds that you feel on the track, and we were nudging 250 along the back straight.
Through the twisties at either end of the track, the M5 does a great job of changing direction for its size. It’s clearly not as nimble as something like an M2, but its one very agile big sedan.
The cars we used on track were fitted with the optional carbon ceramic brakes, which seem well up to the task of managing the M5’s 1855kg, and showed no signs of fading over three laps of the fast circuit.
BMW claims the F90 is quicker than the F10 around a racetrack even in 2WD mode, so it’s hard to describe the new model as anything other than a net gain.
That’s without considering it’s on-road performance of course, but the M5 is instantly impressive as an everyday performer.
It does make quite a racket from the exhaust on start-up, which brings a bit of a supercar vibe, and like the previous model it’s more of a techy bark than the Merc’s offshore powerboat roar. This perception doesn’t change, and I’d wager BMW’s approach would be easier to live with in the long term.
Plonked straight into Melbourne urban driving for our road drive loop, it is instantly clear how much of a benefit the new transmission is.
Gone are the sometimes jerky and slow automatic shifts, as are the occasional robot noises as two clutches reveal the complexity of their jobs. The new model simply gets along like any other 5 Series would, comfortably, responsively and without fuss.
It retains the same adjustability of the old model, with individual controls beyond the driving modes for shift speed, throttle responsiveness, engine acoustics, stability control, steering and suspension.
Your favourite combos can be saved for ready access behind those M1 or M2 buttons, and if you’re not happy with your own M5 calibrations, you can always pick one of the default modes instead.
Left in full comfort mode, the ride quality is really quite liveable. You can tell it's a performance car, but it probably won’t drive you mad using it for the daily commute.
And, when you find yourself stuck in motorway traffic you can while away the hours marvelling at the semi-autonomous mode for 30 seconds at a time.
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 new M5 is yet to be tested by ANCAP, and the maximum five star rating awarded to the 520d doesn’t officially carry across to the performance flagship.
It may retain all of the safety equipment of the lesser models, but its all-wheel drivetrain and bespoke under-bonnet hardware can’t guarantee the same crash performance.
This standard safety list includes AEB, dual front and driver’s knee airbag, full-length side and head airbags.
The active cruise control system works in harmony with lane guidance and front and rear cross-traffic monitoring to allow up to 30 seconds of semi-autonomous driving at a time.
One BMW strong point is the 'eCall' system, which automatically detects incidents when a certain g-force is registered. The system then attempts to contact you by phone, and if there’s no response, it automatically alerts the emergency services with an estimated severity of the incident and the GPS coordinates of your location.
One other freebie that might help you avoid ever needing eCall is the BMW Driving Experience course which is thrown in for M buyers, to show you what your M5 is capable of with professional guidance.
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.
The new M5 is covered by BMW’s standard three year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Service intervals are condition based, meaning the vehicle will alert you when a service is required.
To add some certainty to the cost of ownership, a capped service plan is available for the first five years or 80,000km for $3641.