Lexus IS VS BMW M5
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Effortless power
- Dimensions seem to shrink in sports mode
- RWD setting means much fun
- Hefty price hike
- Design, inside and out, could be more adventurous
- Still no phone mirroring
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|
Remember back when people were saying the BMW M5 would lose a little something by shifting from its traditional rear-wheel drive set-up to all-wheel drive?
It would drain a little sparkle, maybe. Or some excitement. It would become more predictable, more placid - hell, even boring.
But hindsight is always 20/20, and we know now that switching to AWD has done nothing but allow BMW to funnel even more power into the tarmac, with the German brand upping power outputs and dropping lap times in one fell swoop.
Consider the M5 Competition, then, BMW’s way of delivering the ultimate 'I told you so'. Because it’s not just the most fun, most potent AWD M5 ever - it’s the best M5 period.
|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 term bigger is better doesn't often apply to performance cars, but it fits the M5 Competition perfectly. Big inside, but small outside when it matters, BMW's new performance flagship might be expensive, but there's no shortage of bang for those bucks.
Is the bruising BMW M5 your high-performance sedan from heaven or hell? Tell 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.
Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? The BMW M5 Competition gets a new colour ('Frozen Dark Silver'), as well as new 20-inch (and lightweight) alloy wheel designs, and the grille, aero-designed wing mirrors and boot lip are finished in high-gloss black. The quad exhaust pipes are a black, too, as is the rear diffuser. Elsewhere outside, though, it’s the more muscular 5 Series of old.
Parked next to the much smaller M2, you quickly realise just how much bulk the M5 is carrying. It stretches 4966mm in length and 1903mm in width, and it looks every centimetre of those dimensions in the metal.
Climb inside, and you’re greeted with the familiar BMW interior design, with a huge centre screen, digital driver’s binnacle and a spaceship-level number of buttons surrounding the shift lever. The M5 Competition also arrives with full leather (seats and dash) trim, with carbon-effect dash inserts and aluminium pedal and foot rest trims.
Is it the most adventurous design treatment, inside or out, that we’ve ever seen? Well, no. But it looks polished and premium outside, and feels plenty comfortable inside.
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.
As far as performance cars go, the M5 Competition is a rolling Swiss Army Knife. For one, it’s bloody massive, which pays considerable dividends for passengers.
Up-front, the seats are far enough apart to ensure you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly nobody. The centre console Is super wide (all the better for fitting all those buttons), allowing for a sizeable centre storage bin, joined by two cupholders and a second storage bin in front of the shifter which is also home to your USB, power and 'aux-in' connections.
In the back, there’s business-class levels of leg and headroom, and you can even fit another whole adult in the centre seat if you’re so inclined. The pull-down seat divider is home to two extra cupholders, sitting in front of a thick armrest, and the rear air vents get their own temperature controls. There’s an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat, too. Pop the capacious boot and you’ll find 530 litres of storage space.
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.
Parking the M5 Competition on your driveway will require a $229,000 investment. That's not chump change, and a considerable jump over the regular M5, which arrived (in launch-edition guise) wearing a $199,529 price tag.
Outside, that money buys you new and lightweight 20-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto-dipping and active cornering, keyless entry and a four-tipped sports exhaust. Inside, expect a 'full leather' interior (seats, dash and door inserts),a nav-equipped screen which pairs with a 16-speaker stereo (but Apple CarPlay is a cost option) and dual-zone climate control.
Performance wise, M-designed variable dampers, a lightweight carbon-composite roof and a M sports exhaust all join the standard features list. Still, $30,000 is fair jump over the standard (and well equipped) M5. But if money is no object, you'll be buying plenty of fun.
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.
Yes, our all-electric future feels inevitable. And yes, there’s much fun and performance to be had from battery-powered EVs. But you can’t help but hope that future is a Star Wars style far, far away when you get acquainted with the BMW M5 Competition’s monstrous twin-turbo V8.
It’s good for a wondrous 460kW (up 19kW on the regular M5) and 750Nm. Both of which are big numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'M Steptronic' automatic. Happily, you can, at the push of some buttons, make the M5 a rear-driver again. It’s slower, but damn if it ain’t much more fun.
As a result, the performance numbers need to be seen (or better yet; felt) to be believed. The near-two-tonne M5 Competition will blaze from 0-100km/h in 3.3secs, 0-200km/h in 10.8secs, and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h (or 305km/h, provided you do some BMW driver training).
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.
Well, BMW tells us you’ll return 10.7-10.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. But we would suggest that’s unlikely, unless you have Miss Daisy lounging in the back seat. Drive it like you definitely will drive it, and you can expect to pay for that privilege at the pump.
Emissions are a claimed 243-246g/km of CO2, and the M5 Competition’s 68-litre tank will demand a premium unleaded petrol.
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.
Things this large simply shouldn’t be this potent. Like John Goodman suddenly toppling Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the BMW M5 Competition is bulk-defyingly good at the fast stuff.
The secret is its ability to hide those sprawling dimensions on a race circuit or twisting road. BMW’s engineers have poured plenty of work into stiffening the chassis of the M5 Competition, from new anti-roll mounts to additional under-bonnet bracing, to make the brand’s biggest performance sedan feel more lithe and responsive when pushed.
And while its size never vanishes completely - and you find yourself praying you don’t encounter oncoming traffic on skinnier roads - engaging the Competition’s sportiest settings unlocks a Copperfield-level vanishing act.
The engine helps too, of course, pushing the M5 along with staggering ease, even when you’re pottering at suburban speeds. But really flatten your foot and the big V8 will force you to reassess your knowledge of physics. It’s really very fast, the Competition, the power flowing uninterrupted to the tyres, the engine still very willing to deliver more oomph long after your courage has jumped ship.
The steering, direct though it is, lacks some natural feel, but you are always left with the impression that the Competition is going to go where you point it.
More fun stuff? Well, you can switch the traction control to a half-off setting, allowing for some smoking, drifting heroics before it drags you back into line. BMW calls it M mode, and it’s designed to make a hero of even the most ham-fisted of pilots, myself included. The braver still can deactivate traction control all together which, combined with rear-wheel-drive mode, turns the M5 Competition into the biggest and possibly most expensive drift car of all time .
Away from the track, though, the Competition version of the M5 is almost as good as transforming into a comfortable everyday commuter as its less hairy siblings. The adaptive suspension can be softened, and the steering lightened, to make toppling traffic a doddle.
The keen-eyed among you might well have noticed we’re yet to touch on any major downsides of the drive experience. And you'd be correct.
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 is yet to confirm full specifications for the M5 Competition, but you can expect the safety offering to largely mirror that of the regular M5. And while the performance variant has not been crash tested, the regular 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating.
Expect dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver, and a parking camera. You'll also find AEB, active cruise (which allows for brief spells of autonomy), thanks to its lane-keep assist.
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.