Lexus IS VS Jaguar XJ
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Characterful supercharged V8
- Agile handling with great ride
- Individual looks
- Options pricing
- InControl software a bit ordinary
- Too much in-cabin chrome
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.
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As a child, my parents - who aren't car people - would see a Jaguar and point. It didn't matter if it was an XJ, Daimler Double Six or a Mark II, there was a great deal of mystique around these bastions of Britishness. It also didn't matter that these weren't necessarily good cars. The Seventies and Eighties saw the brand slide into a funk while being passed between owners like hot potatoes.
Somehow, the brand survived its brush with Ford's useless Premier Automotive Group strategy which only came good towards the end as Jaguar's management woke up and put in place a change in direction that produced the Ian Callum-designed XF. Riding high on that design, Jaguar then promptly introduced the very pretty Jaguar XJ.
It has been on sale for ages, but with the addition of a few bits and bobs to stay competitive, it's as compelling as ever. Most importantly, the performance-focused R has kept its unique supercharged V8.
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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?
It might be old and facing German competition bursting with advanced technology, but the XJR is still a car you can buy with heart and head. But mostly your heart. It goes like stink, has a much better interior than the Quattroporte and is more interesting than just about anything this big or this grand.
It's also a better car than the Maserati Quattroporte if you want to get on with the driving yourself and is far prettier than the Porsche Panamera. It's a wonderful thing and even more wonderful that Jaguar continues to build it. Long live that supercharged V8 and the XJ is a great home for it.
Is the XJ your cup of Earl Grey or are you more interested in a Maserati espresso (sorry) or a Porsche stein (sorry, again)? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
The XJ has a marvellously exaggerated length, with a rear overhang redolent of Jag's sporting coupe and roadster pair of the time of its launch, the XK. There's nothing else in the segment like it, with the three Germans - Mercedes' S-Class, Audi's A8 and BMW's 7 Series - having gone all Hugo Boss and and in the latter two's case, almost shrinking violet. The only credible Japanese alternative, the Lexus LS, looks like a Lexused 7 Series. The XJR is a more emotional car, like Maserati's Quattroporte.
The R adds an aggro grille, 20-inch wheels with low-ish profile tyres, a bootlid spoiler, red brake calipers and vents in the bonnet. Bits and pieces get the black gloss treatment and there are V8 and R badges, as well as a rather large leaper on the bootlid. Capping it all off are four exhausts poking out from the bumper and distinctive vertical taillights.
Inside remains largely unchanged. The cabin is big and luxurious, leather-lined and very, very comfortable. The front air vents have to be modelled on the de Havilland Comet's integrated jet engine intakes and, again, the dash design stays away from the horizontal lines of its obvious competition.
There is probably a bit much chrome for my liking, particularly on the centre console and around the rotary dial shifter, which reflects sunlight into your face during the day.
The lovely 'Riva Hoop' - a band that sweeps from door to door across the top of the dash - is a great touch and remains a defining feature in the cabin. The last update brought an Audi-like digital dashboard, including maps, but it's not nearly as slick as the German. The graphics for the dials are good (and quick) but the maps are a bit so-so.
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.
It might be over five metres long, but the Jag's cabin isn't as gigantic as that might suggest - luckily, if you want space, the XJ L has it. The SWB version is roomy enough, though, just not palatial. You can fit five people, but the big transmission tunnel will limit the size of that fifth.
Front and rear passengers have a pair of cupholders each, with rubber bubbles to help hold smaller cups in tight. The front and rear doors have pockets but aren't really for bottles.
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.
As is expected at this level, Jaguar was not mucking about with price or specification - the XJR starts at a mildly terrifying $299,995, which is very close to the rather more tranquil Autobiography long-wheelbase relax-o-mobile.
Standard are 20-inch alloys, a 20-speaker stereo, power everything with three memory positions, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front and rear seats, sat nav, LED headlights and DRLs, leather everywhere, auto wipers and (LED) headlights, electric boot lid, heated steering wheel and a space saver spare.
The Meridian-branded stereo is an absolute cracker, powered by the improved but still laggy 'InControl Pro' system. Oddly, it's all crammed into an 8.0-inch touchscreen when there is seemingly room for the larger (and better-performing) 10.0-inch screen. The software is far superior than the version that preceded the last update, but the screen is hard to use, as targets are placed right in the corners and are hard to hit.
A long list of options are available, some of which should probably be included in the big sticker price - DAB+ ($620), premium paint is a splutter-worthy $2060 (although, to be fair, the vast majority of the 19 colours are free), adaptive cruise with queue assist ($2200), adaptive headlights a further $2620 and 'Parking Assist', which adds side sensors and a front camera, a further $2780. Reverse cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning cost yet another $1460. Ouch.
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.
Jaguar's lovely 5.0-litre V8 with supercharger continues under the XJ's long and shapely bonnet, delivering a walloping 404kW and a tyre-shredding 680Nm. The sprint to 100km/h for all 1875kg of XJR is completed in an impressive 4.6 seconds, which was very competitive at the car's launch in 2009.
The combined cycle figure for the V8 is listed at 11.1L/100km but fully expect to see the 16.1L/100km we got, especially as you try and fail to tyre of the monstrous power delivery and lovely (if muted) V8 roar.
Luckily, even if you're belting it, the 82 litre tank is a generous size and you'll cover a fair amount of ground.
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.
Indecently quick, surprisingly agile and heaps of fun. While the first descriptor applies purely because of its size, the next two shouldn't when you're in command of 5.13 metres of motor vehicle. As with the Audi and now the 7, the Jag has a lot of aluminium to help keep the kilos off and good gracious, it has worked.
The R is based around the short wheelbase version of the XJ for perhaps obvious reasons. Even so, it appears to be the shorter-again XF's because this thing turns in like a demon. No, it won't stay with the dearly-departed XF-R but it does a mighty fine impression of one, just with a better ride quality.
Rear seat passengers should be prepared to feel a lot of wheelslip, especially when in Dynamic mode, as even the fat Pirelli P-Zero's struggle for purchase when the right foot hits the carpet. The V8 rumbles rather than bellows, but the rears cheerfully spin up until the computers and active differential rein things in. Traction control off and you've got a proper tyre-smoker if you're not playing by the rules. Jag's engineers are clearly hooligans at heart.
As always, ZF's eight-speed transmission does an incredible job of marshalling the horses in a rearward direction and when you're not after a bit of sound and light, have achieved a tremendous amount with the damping. When in normal mode, the car glides along, so much so that the lady of the house wasn't so sure it was a sporting sedan.
Once she was apprised of dynamic mode (you have to cycle the button through winter mode first, for some reason), her only complaint was that it was too long and the steering wheel too big for this type of car. I was persuaded of the latter, especially after stepping out of an Audi S3 which has a tiny wheel. Long story short, the XJR is now 'her' car (to be more accurate, the XFR is, but that hasn't arrived yet, so...), as it felt smaller than it was when not parking and she's a sucker for a torquey V8.
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 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.