Lexus IS VS BMW M5
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- 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
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|
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|
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.