Lexus IS VS Holden Calais
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Plenty of cabin space
- Safety gear on-point
- Punchy V6
- Fuel use on the high side
- Four-cylinder turbo petrol unavailable
- Diesel not an option
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|
If Holden had a dollar for every time someone had criticised the new and international flavour of Australia’s formerly home-grown hero, it would surely have more than enough spare cash to blow the dust of that vast South Australian factory and restart local Commodore production immediately.
Hell, there’d probably be enough left over to relaunch the Camira while they were at it. And maybe even knock out a new Gemini or two.
So we’re not going to do that again here. The all-new Commodore, in this case the Calais Tourer, is now here - granted having travelled further than the one it replaces - and so we’ll be playing this review with the straightest of bats.
Because the truth is, if you peel the badging - and thus the swirling emotion - off its elongated rump, then you’ll find this German-built Tourer is, really and truly, a very good thing.
|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.
A best-of-both-worlds option that should have us questioning our SUV obsession, the Calais Tourer delivers plenty of practicality perks and a higher ride height in a dynamic and car-like package. The equipment levels are spot on, including the comprehensive safety package, and it you act smartly, you'll get a hugely long warranty to boot.
It sure is thirsty, though, and we can't help but think plenty of owners would be happier with a smaller, more-efficient engine.
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.
Less an SUV (happily), and more a high-riding wagon, the Calais Tourer borrows a little from the Subaru XV in its exterior design, sporting the same plastic cladding over each wheel arch. Clearly there is a whole heap of shared DNA between the Sportwagon and Tourer, and so it offers similar perks; like its SUV-shaming boot space.
Elsewhere, the Tourer shares the same soft and rounded edges as the rest of the Commodore range, and while it is genuinely quite handsome from most angles, it is at its best viewed front on, where a simple front-end is bookmarked at each corner by a narrow headlight on top, and an encased fog light below. It’s all a touch understated, sure, but it looks sharp in the metal.
Inside, it’s a clean and functional cabin design, with most of the touchscreen functions controlled by a simple row of four horizontal buttons, and with a gloss-black surround encasing the centre console. The thin leather wheel feels lovely under the touch, and the contrasting door trims and soft-touch materials find their way into the backseat, too.
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.
The Tourer serves up identical storage space to its Sportwagon near-enough twin, with 793 litres of storage (to the roof line) with the rear seats in place, and 1665 litres with the rear seat folded down. That’s about 200 litres more than the regular Commodore hatchback.
Where the Tourer does differ from the Sportwagon is in its exterior dimensions, measuring 5004mm in length (versus 4986mm in the Sportwagon) and 1525mm in height (versus 1483mm). Width and wheelbase are identical, though (1871mm and 2829mm), and so the interior space dimensions - like headroom and legroom - are identical no matter which of the estate-style Commodores you opt for.
The key dimension here, though, is ride height, with the Tourer offering 20mm more ground clearance (42mm greater height overall) than the Sportwagon. That, combined with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system, allows for some light off-roading - though you won’t be conquering Everest.
Up front, expect two cupholders hidden under a gloss-black cover, as well as power and USB connections located in a central cubby. The back seat is home to two extra cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider, and there is room in each of the doors for bottles. The back seat is also home to air vents (but no temperature controls) and two USB charge points located just below the vents.
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 Calais has long formed the most luxurious rung of the Commodore ladder, and the wagon-ish Tourer is without doubt the most practical version. It will set you back $45,990 ($47,990 drive-away) in the guise we’ve tested here, and $53,990 In Calais V specification.
Not to be sneezed at, then. But it does arrive with plenty of stuff to help justify your investment.
Outside, you’ll find 18-inch alloys, a handsfree auto-opening boot, heated mirrors, keyless entry with push-button start, a remote start function, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights with LED DRLs. Inside, expect leather seats that are heated in the front, a leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, standard satellite navigation and a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
On the technology front, an 8.0-inch touchscreen pairs with an eight-speaker stereo, and it’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. There’s also a genuinely impressive standard safety package, too, but we’ll drill down on that under the Safety sub-heading.
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.
A really rather good 3.6-litre V6 engine Is parked under the bonnet, feeding 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm at 5200rpm to all four wheels as required, thanks to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The suspension is tuned specifically for its high-riding antics, too.
The 3.6-litre engine means a braked towing capacity of 2100kg, and an unbraked max of 750kg.
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.
Not so good, I’m afraid. The offical number is on the high-side at 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle (though that's less than the equivalent Subaru Outback), but we were averaging a smidge under 14.0L/100km after what was admittedly quite a lot of city driving. Still, that’s high.
Emissions are pegged at 212g/km or C02, and the Tourer’s 61-litre tank will accept cheaper 91RON fuel, or an E10 blend.
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.
Really very good. That 3.6-litre engine (why they haven’t offered the Tourer with the smaller and smarter turbo engine is something of a mystery) might be a touch old-school and a touch thirsty, but it’s a rich and powerful thing, and it gives the Calais-stamped Tourer a perky personality that defies its dimensions.
The Calais Tourer was built in Germany, and fitted with an engine and transmission from the USA, before undergoing local tuning here in Australia (think bespoke steering and suspension tunes calibrated both at the company’s testing facility and after a 200,000km test on Aussie roads), and it’s the last of those Dr Frankenstein ingredients that have had the biggest impact here.
The Tourer’s ride is fantastic, perfectly poised between firm composure and everyday comfort, and - like most good wagons - it will honestly leave you wondering why so many people are clamouring aboard the SUV train when you can all the space with better dynamics in a humble estate.
The nine-speed ‘box is smooth and sharp in its operation, too. But the fuel use is a concern. Sure, we spent the bulk of our time in the city, where stop-start traffic naturally uses more fuel. But then, surely so would most owners?
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.
You’ve got to hand it to the Lion for the standard safety package here, which includes the Holden Eye camera system as standard, adding auto emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. You’ll also find semi-autonomous parking, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Calais Tourer adds blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to that pretty comprehensive package. All of which helps the Commodore range qualify for the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Finally, you can add six airbags and two ISOFIX attachment points to the mix.
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.
Holden has recently relinquished the initial warranty offering, now including the Commodore in its seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty program, meaning it mixes with the very best in the aftercare business. For now, at least; normally, the Commodore carries the brand's standard three year/100,000km warranty. But be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time.
Service intervals are pegged at 12 months or 12,000kms, and the Commodore falls under Holden’s extensive capped-price servicing program, and it will cost between $259 and $359 for each of the first seven annual services.