Lexus IS VS Jaguar XF
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
- Beautiful to look at
- Fantastic drivetrain
- Properly luxurious
- The cost
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Not really a five seater for long trips
No it isn’t an all-new car. It might look like it, but the 2021 Lexus IS is actually a heavy facelift of the existing model, which originally went on sale way back in 2013.
There have been significant changes to the look of the new Lexus IS, including a revised front and rear end, and the company has widened the track and made “substantial chassis changes” to make it handle more adeptly, too. Plus there is a whole raft of newly added safety features and in-car technology, despite the cabin being, largely, a carryover affair.
Suffice to say that the new Lexus IS 2021 model - which the brand describes as having been “reimagined” - carries over a few strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. But does this Japanese luxury sedan still have enough quality traits to compete with the likes of its main rivals - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
If a Jaguar owner fell through a wormhole from 2003, the company they bought their car from would be almost unrecognisable. Back then, it was a bewildering mess making an odd assortment of cars, yet to emerge into the light after Ford's confused and debilitating period of ownership.
Why 2003? Fifteen years is a nice round number and pre-dates the arrival of the brand-saving XF.
Today, Jaguar has three SUVs, and the gorgeous F-Type, the XE, its second-generation XF and the big XJ. It has three SUVs (the F-Pace, E-Pace and I-Pace) because without them Jaguar would be a niche manufacturer before long, because big sedans, formerly the brand's trademark, are continuing their gentle decline. Oddly enough, one of the market segments contracting even faster than sedans is wagons.
So what better time to launch into a draining pool from the three-metre board than now? Jaguar has bravely taken that risk and brought us the puzzlingly named XF Sportbrake.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
The new-look Lexus IS takes several steps forward over its predecessor - it’s safer, smarter, sharper to look at and still pretty well priced and equipped.
It is feeling its age inside, and the competition has moved on in terms of engines and EV tech. But even so, if I was buying a 2021 Lexus IS, it would have to be the IS350 F Sport, which is just the most fitting version of this car, though the IS300h Luxury does have plenty to like for the money, too.
With that iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove wrapped in bubble wrap engine, excellent ride and gorgeous looks, the XF Sportbrake ticks all the boxes. Apart from the entry price and options prices, there are few objective reasons not to buy the car. It's just as good as any of its German competition and arguably the prettiest of the lot.
Should Jaguar have taken the dive? Given the XF Sportbrake is a luxury wagon done right, yes.
So you've decided you want a prestige wagon? Is it the Jaguar for you, or do you need a German machine to lug your load?
You either get the Lexus look or you don’t, and I think this latest version is possibly more agreeable than the IS in years gone by.
That’s partly because the brand has finally done away with the odd spider-eyes twin-section headlights and daytime running lights - now there are more traditional headlight clusters, which look a lot more resolved than before.
The front end still features a bold ‘spindle’ grille, which gets different treatment depending on the grade, and the front, to my eye, looks better than before but still very much stuck in its ways.
At the side you’ll notice the giveaway windowline hasn’t changed, despite the chrome trim line having broadened as part of this facelift, but you can tell the haunches have muscled up a bit, with the new IS now 30mm wider overall, and the wheel sizes are 18s or 19s, depending on the grade.
The rear accentuates that width, with an L-shaped lighting signature now spanning the entire re-sculpted boot lid, giving the IS a pretty tidy rear end design.
Overall dimensions for the IS are 4710mm long, making it 30mm longer nose to tail (on an unchanged 2800mm wheelbase), while it now spreads across 1840mm (+30mm) and is 1435mm tall (+5mm).
The exterior changes really are impressive - I think it is a more purposeful but also more pleasant looking car now than it ever has been in this current generation.
The interior? Well, there’s not a whole lot to talk about in terms of design changes, aside from the repositioned and larger media screen - which sits 150mm closer to the driver because it’s now a touchscreen with the latest smartphone mirroring tech. Otherwise it’s a carryover affair, as you can see from the interior pictures.
The second-generation XF is a very pretty car. A few carmakers have a had a crack at that four-door coupe idea, but Jaguar's Ian Callum got it right first go. You might expect the wagon to be a bit dumpy but it's far from it. That's not to say wagons can't be good looking - many are better-looking than the car they're based on (the weirdly proportioned Golf wagon being the exception to the rule). The XF sedan just looks right.
Anyway, the Sportbrake is basically the same until behind the B-pillar, with the roof continuing on to steeply raked tailgate glass. Obviously the lights are different back there but it's a nicely integrated job, it doesn't look like a dodgy extension. Rolling on the optional 20-inch wheels it looks amazing - low, long and well-proportioned. Unfortunately, it's more than vaguely hearse-like in black (the only First Edition colour).
Inside is standard XF, with the obvious exception of the rear seats and the big open load area. With this First Edition's glass roof the cabin seems infinite. Either way it's big and comfortable, although fit and finish could be a bit tighter.
The interior design of the IS, as mentioned, hasn’t changed dramatically, and it is starting to feel old compared to some of its contemporaries.
It’s still a nice place to be, with comfortable front seats with electric adjustment and heating across all grades, and cooling on many variants, too.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is a nice unit, and means you can essentially do away with the silly trackpad system that still resides near the gear selector, so you may still end up bumping it accidentally. And the fact the IS now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though neither are wirelessly connectable) does further its appeal on the multimedia front, as does the standard 10-speaker Pioneer stereo - though the 17-speaker Mark Levinson unit is an absolute blinder!
The centre stack below the media screen retains a CD player, and still has the electromagnetic temperature adjustment sliders as well. That part of the design is dating it just as much as the transmission tunnel console area, which looks a bit out of touch by modern standards, though still incorporates a pair of cup holders and a reasonably large centre console bin with soft armrest padding.
The front doors feature trenches with bottle holders as well, while in the rear doors there is still no drink storage - a carryover annoyance from the pre-facelift model. However, the middle seat in the back doubles as an armrest with pop-out cupholders, and there are rear air vents too.
Speaking of that middle seat, you wouldn’t want to sit in it for long, as it has a raised base and uncomfortable backrest, plus there’s a huge transmission tunnel intrusion eating into leg and foot space.
Outboard passengers also miss out on toe room, which - for my size 12s - is an issue. And it’s hardly the roomiest second row in this class for knee room and headroom, as my 182cm frame was a touch squished behind my own driving position.
Children will be better catered for in the back, and there are two ISOFIX anchorages and three top-tether attachment points for baby seats.
The boot capacity varies on the model you buy. Choose an IS300 or IS350 and you score 480 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity, while the IS300h has a battery pack that robs it of some boot space, with 450L available.
Front and rear passengers enjoy plenty of space. Storage includes a not-quite-big-enough-for-a-phone tray ahead of the rotary dial gear selector and a pair of cupholders. Those in the rear have plenty of space, except for the middle seat occupant who must straddle a stout transmission tunnel. The rear armrest holds a pair of cupholders and the doors have slim pockets.
The boot holds 565 litres with the seats in place and "up to" 1700 litres with the seats down - that latter figure does not feel like a VDA number.
Price and features
The updated 2021 Lexus IS range has seen a number of pricing changes, and a reduction of variants, too. There are now five IS models available, down from seven prior to this update as the Sports Luxury model has been axed, and you can only get the IS350 in F Sport trim now. However, the company has expanded its “Enhancement Pack” strategy across the different variants.
Opening the range is the IS300 Luxury, which lists at $61,500 (all prices listed are the MSRP - not including on-road costs, and are correct at time of publishing). It has the exact same equipment as the IS300h Luxury model, which is $64,500, and that ‘h’ stands for hybrid, which will be detailed in the engines section.
The Luxury trim is equipped with items such LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, a 10.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation (including live traffic updates) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, plus a 10-speaker sound system, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory settings for the driver, and dual-zone climate control. There’s also auto headlights with auto high beam, rain sensing wipers, power steering column adjustment, and adaptive cruise control.
Indeed, there’s a raft of safety technology included - more on that below - and there’s also a number of Enhancement Pack options.
Luxury spec models can be equipped with a choice of two Enhancement Packs: the $2000 Enhancement Pack adds a sunroof (or moonroof in Lexus speak); or Enhancement Pack 2 (or EP2 - $5500) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, cooled front seats, high-grade leather-accented interior trim, and a power-operated rear sunshade.
The IS F Sport trim line is available across the IS300 ($70,000), IS300h ($73,000) or the V6-powered IS350 ($75,000), and it adds a number of additional features over the Luxury grade.
As you can probably tell, F Sport models get a sportier look, with a body kit, 19-inch alloy wheels, standard fit adaptive suspension, sports front seats with cooling, sports pedals, and five drive modes to choose from (Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom). The F Sport grade also includes a digital instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch display, as well as leather-accented trim, and scuff plates.
Buying the F Sport grade allows customers to add further goodies by way of the Enhancement Pack for that grade, which costs $3100 and includes the sunroof, 17-speaker sound system and rear sunshade.
What’s missing? Well there’s no wireless phone charging in any grade, and no USB-C connectivity either. Note: the spare wheel is a space saver in the IS300 and IS350, but there is only a repair kit in the IS300h as there are batteries where the spare wheel would go.
There’s no go-fast IS F model sitting at the top of the tree here, nor is there a plug-in hybrid to compete against the circa-$85K BMW 330e and Mercedes C300e. But the fact the IS models all come in below $75K means it’s a pretty decent value proposition.
Over the years the XF has edged its way upmarket and is now playing with the Germans in the big luxury segment. And as is now customary for Jaguar, the Sportbrake is available in First Edition guise. First Editions are available for a model's first year of production and are usually based on the top-spec (in the Sportbrake's case, that's the 30d S) with a few extra bits and pieces to make things interesting.
While the 30d S retails for $123,450, the FE weighs in at $137,300. For that you'll waft out of the showroom with 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, a huge panoramic glass roof with gesture-activated roof blind, around-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, 11-speaker Meridian-branded stereo with DAB, sat nav, head-up display, electric gesture-activated tailgate, keyless entry and start, rear air suspension, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim and a space-saver spare.
Jaguar Land Rover's 'InControl' media system is presented on a whopping 12.3-inch screen and, as ever, is steadily improving but goes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sound is, as you might expect, pretty good.
Our car had a few options fitted. 'Active Safety Pack' (see below), carbon-fibre trim ($3470), driver and passenger memory pack ($3210, including perforated leather trim), 20-inch wheels upgrade ($2790), cold-climate pack ($2540), illuminated metal treadplates ($2110), privacy glass ($950), 'InControl Protect' ($630), configurable interior lighting ($540), nets and rails ($390 and $320 respectively), extra power socket ($240) and 'InControl Apps' ($100). Most of it is cosmetic and/or unnecessary and took us to $158,950.
And there is still a plethora of boxes to tick.
Engine & trans
The engine specs depend on the powertrain you choose. And at a glance there’s no variance between the earlier version of the IS and the 2021 facelift.
That means the IS300 model still runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor producing 180kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 350Nm of torque (at 1650-4400rpm). It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all IS models, it is rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD) - there is no all-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) model here.
Next up the spectrum is the IS300h model, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol motor teamed to an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine is good for a 133kW (at 6000rpm) and 221Nm (at 4200-5400rpm), and the electric motor produces 105kW/300Nm - but the combined total maximum power output is 164kW, and Lexus doesn’t provide a maximum torque figure. The 300h model runs a CVT automatic transmission.
The big horsepower offering here is the IS350, which runs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, producing 232kW of power (at 6600rpm) and 380Nm of torque (at 4800-4900rpm). It runs an eight-speed auto.
All models have paddle-shifters, while the two non-hybrid models have seen tweaks to the transmission software that is said to “estimate driver intentions” for better enjoyment.
With all that power and torque, the XF Sportbrake cracks 100km/h from rest in 6.6 seconds.
The air suspension means you can tow up to 2000kg with a braked trailer.
There’s still no diesel model, no plug-in hybrid and no full electric (EV) model - which means that while Lexus was at the forefront of electrification with its so-called “self-charging” hybrids, it is falling behind the times. You can get plug-in versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the Tesla Model 3 plays in this space in full-electric guise.
As for the fuel-sipping hero of this trio of powertrains, the IS300h is said to use 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle fuel test. In reality, our test car’s dashboard showed 6.1L/100km across a mix of driving.
The IS300 with its turbocharged 2.0L engine is next best for fuel use, claiming 8.2L/100km. On our short launch drive of that model, we saw 9.6L/100km on the dashboard.
And the full-fat IS350 V6 petrol claims consumption of 9.5L/100km, while on test we saw 13.4L/100km.
The emissions for the three models are 191g/km (IS300), 217g/km (IS350) and 116g/km (IS300h). All three are Euro 6B compliant.
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres for all models, meaning your mileage range for the hybrid model could be considerably longer.
With the engine at the front and drive to the back, it has the ingredients for a pure driver’s car, and Lexus made a bit of a big deal about the new-look IS being more focused thanks to chassis adjustments and track width improvements - and it does feel a pretty nimble and tied-down car in the twisty stuff.
It is competent at stitching together a series of corners, and the F Sport models are particularly adept. The adaptive suspension in those models includes both anti-dive and anti-squat tech, which is designed to make the car feel solid and flat on the road - and it does, thankfully without feeling twitchy or uncomfortable, with good suspension compliance even in the most aggressive Sport S+ drive mode.
The 19-inch wheels on F Sport models are fitted with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) and there’s plenty of tarmac tenacity.
The grip from Luxury-spec models on 18s could be better, with those Bridgestone Turanza tyres (235/45 all around) proving not quite the most enthralling.
Indeed, the IS300h Luxury I drove felt very different in character to the F Sport IS300 and 350 models. It was surprising how much more of a plush-focused model the Luxury grade feels, and likewise it wasn’t as impressive in dynamic driving due to the tyre grip and less-enthusiastic drive mode system. The non-adaptive suspension is a touch more jittery too, and while it’s not to the point of discomfort, you might expect better for a car on 18s.
Across all models the steering is accurate and direct enough, with predictable response and decent feel to the driver’s hands for this electric power steering setup. The F Sport models have even further retuned steering for “an even sportier drive experience”, though I found at times it could feel a little numb for rapid changes of direction.
As for engines, the IS350 is still the pick. It has the best zest, and feels the most fitting powertrain for this model. It sounds good, too. The auto transmission is pretty clever, there's easily enough pulling power, and it's probably going to be the last of the non-turbo V6s in Lexus's line-up when this cars life-cycle is up.
The IS300's turbo engine was the most disappointing, lacking some urge and constantly feeling bogged down by turbo lag, transmission confusion, or both. It felt underdone in enthusiastic driving, though in dull day-to-day commuting circumstances it came across as more acceptable, though the remapped transmission software was far less impressive in this application than in the IS350.
The IS300h was a lovely, quiet and refined experience all around. It’s the one you should go for if you don’t really care about all that go-fast stuff. The powertrain is proven, it accelerates with nice linear delivery, and at times it’s so hushed I found myself looking down at the instrument cluster to see if the car was in EV mode or if it was using the petrol engine.
There's no getting away from the size and heft of the Sportbrake. Where a four-cylinder sedan comes in under 1600kg - not bad for an almost five-metre-long car - up here at the top it's well over 1800kg. With big wheels and a long wheelbase it's not going to win any wards for manoeuvrability, with a big turning circle and a length that's challenging to shopping centre car parks.
The 3.0 V6 twin-turbo is a fantastic unit. It can be a bit noisy when cold but it's super smooth and with all that torque it crushes overtaking with little need for advanced planning. The Sportbrake wafts along, lazily turning over in traffic and keeping the vibe calm.
Despite those big wheels, the ride is excellent. Even when in Sport mode, it's a rare bump or surface that will cause drama. It's very comfortable and very quiet, almost to the level of the XJ limo.
If you do fancy a bit of amusement, the V6 and well-sorted chassis are ready to play. In reality, Sport mode is where both myself and my wife left the car the whole time we had it. Both of us found the steering a little too light and preferred the more lively throttle response. The XF features torque vectoring using the brakes and coupled with a well-judged stability and traction control system, it delivers a good impression of a sporty sedan.
But the XF is best when you keep it relaxed. Both in town and in the cruise, it's a lovely, quiet place to be and a relaxing, undemanding drive.
Only a couple of things were annoying - the light steering we've already covered. The heated windscreen was more reflection-prone so the head-up display could be hard to see in some lighting conditions. And sometimes it beeped for no apparent reason, which I eventually traced to the blind-spot warning.
The facelifted version scores auto emergency braking (AEB) with day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection (from 10km/h to 80km/h) and car detection (10km/h to 180km/h). There’s also all speed adaptive cruise control with low speed following.
The IS also has lane keeping assistance with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, a new system called Intersection Turning Assist which will brake the car if the system judges the traffic gap isn’t big enough, and there’s also road sign recognition.
Plus the IS has blind-spot monitoring on all grades, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking (below 15km/h).
And beyond that, Lexus has added new Connected Services features, including an SOS call button, automated collision notification if an airbag deploys, and stolen vehicle tracking.
Where is the Lexus IS built? Japan is the answer.
For child seats you've a choice of three top-tether anchors or two ISOFIX points.
Our car had the $4360 Active Safety Pack, which adds blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise and driver-attention detection. If you were to ask me, this little lot should be standard at this level.
Despite that, the XF scored a maximum five ANCAP stars following assessment in 2015.
On paper, Lexus’s ownership offer isn’t quite as enticing as some other luxury car brands - but it has a strong reputation for blissful ownership.
The Lexus Australia warranty period is four years/100,000km, which is better for duration than Audi and BMW (both three years/unlimited km) but not as accommodating as Mercedes-Benz or Genesis, each of which offer five-year/unlimited km warranty.
The company has a three-year capped price servicing plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The first three visits cost $495 each. That’s okay - but Lexus doesn’t offer free servicing like Genesis, and nor does it offer prepaid service plans - for three to five years for a C-Class, and five years for Audi A4/A5, for instance.
There is complimentary roadside assistance for the first three years, too.
That said, the company has its Encore ownership benefits program that allows a number of experiences and deals, and the service team will collect your car and return it, leaving you with a loan car if you need it.
Jaguars are offered with a three-year/100,000km warranty with a matching roadside-assist package. You can purchase a five-year/130,000km service plan for an oddly reasonable $2200. Even more reasonable are the service intervals - 12 months or 26,000km (!).