Lexus IS VS Maserati Ghibli
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Okay warranty
- Marginal on value
- Fast but not furious
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
So, there’s two hundred grand burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re keen to extinguish the flames by purchasing a premium, full-size, high-performance sedan.
Both can tear the tarmac off the road thanks to outputs in the ‘getting on for 600 horsepower’ range, and dynamic systems finely honed by unhinged boffins in Munich and Affalterbach.
But what if you prefer to follow a less-predictable path? One that sends you due south to Modena in Northern Italy, the home of Maserati.
This is the Maserati Ghibli, specifically the new S version, offering more power and torque than the standard issue.
It’s the famous Italian brand’s take on a serious sports sedan. But the elephant-sized question in the room is, why choose the road less travelled? What does this Maserati have that BMW or Merc’s finest doesn’t?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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?
Maserati will tell you people are drawn to its motor-racing heritage and sporting DNA, and that the Ghibli offers something different in a world of grey, business-like conformity.
There’s no doubt the M5 and E63 are left-lane autobahn hot rods, stunningly fast but relatively remote. The Ghibli S delivers a more nuanced driving experience. And the design details all through the car actually do connect with the brand’s history.
So, before you go Deutsche you might want to think about a high-emotion Italian relationship.
Does the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport's dynamic character put it at the top of your premium performance sedan wish list? 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.
For 2018, the Ghibli is available in two new trim levels. Add $20k to the ‘standard’ price tag and you can choose between the GranLusso, with a focus on luxury (including the option of a Zegna silk interior treatment!), or the more performance-focused GranSport you see here, the high-output S version, resplendent in ‘Blu Emozione’.
The GranSport is identified by its unique front and rear bumpers, as well as a chrome concave grille, with two wings and a prominent splitter underneath it.
More recent Maserati design signatures, including three stylised vents in the front guards, and aggressively angular (adaptive LED) headlights, merge with classic references like delicately formed trident badges on each C-pillar to form a distinctively dynamic exterior. It’s aerodynamically slick, too, boasting a low 0.29 drag coefficient (down from 0.31 for the 2017 car).
Then you open the door and step inside. In this case, the bright-blue exterior is matched with a black and red interior. Make that mostly red, in fact mostly very red leather on the seats, dash and doors, with trademark touches like the oval-shaped, dash-mounted analogue clock, hooded instrument binnacle, and racy alloy-finish pedals setting the tone.
Taking a different path to its Teutonic competition, the Ghibli S dash and centre console combination manages to blend gentle curves with an occasional sharp turn. Cover over the trident badge and other brand giveaways inside, and it doesn’t feel like the usual suspects. It‘s a distinctive, characterful design.
Also worth calling out is the fact that when you crack the bonnet open to impress your friends they’ll actually be able to see the engine, or at least major parts of it. Like alloy cam covers, complete with Maserati in old-school cursive script in the casting. Yes, there’s some plastic dressing on top, but the ability to lay your eyes on real metal warms the heart.
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.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a spacious feel, thanks largely to the dashboard’s progressive slope towards the windscreen, rather than the hard-edged, upright layout more commonly found in high-end sedans.
There are two cupholders in the centre console, but locating anything bigger than a piccolo latte in them would be a struggle. Same goes for the doors. Yes, there are storage bins, but forget water bottles or anything much thicker than an iPad (in a Gucci slipcase of course).
That said, there are several covered storage boxes in the centre console, as well as multiple connection options including an ‘auxiliary in’ socket, USB port, SD card reader and 12v outlet, plus a specific drawer for your mobile (in place of a now-deleted DVD player).
No surprise then that rear space is generous. I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, with plenty of legroom and more than adequate headroom. The gap for your feet under the seat in front is kinda squeezy, but it’s nowhere near a deal-breaking issue. Three large adults across the rear is do-able, but tight.
There are two adjustable vents for rear-seaters, map pockets on the seat backs, small door bins, plus a neatly configured storage box and (small) twin cupholder combination in the folding centre armrest.
The rear seat backs split-fold 60/40 to increase the standard 500-litre cargo capacity and improve load flexibility. There’s a 12v outlet, a side net pocket, and decent lighting back there, too. But don’t bother looking for a spare, a repair kit is standard issue, and an 18-inch space saver is an option.
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.
Cost of entry to this exclusive Italian club is $175,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Ghibli S, with an additional $20,000 opening up the choice of Ghibli S GranLusso or S GranSport ($195,990).
No small chunk of change, and in the same territory as the M5 and E 63, so what does that mean in terms of standard spec and tech?
For a start, the S GranSport rolls on 21-inch ‘Titano’ alloy rims, and features an eight-speaker, 280-watt Harman/Kardon sound system (including DAB digital radio). You’ll also luxuriate in extended leather trim (including a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel), carbon and piano black interior highlights, 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, keyless entry and start, sat-nav, LED headlights, power rear window sunshades, power boot lid (with hands-free mode) and soft-close doors.
There’s also dual-zone climate control air, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera (plus surround view), rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, ambient lighting, alloy-finish pedals, a 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, and an 8.4-inch colour multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto present and accounted for.
That’s plenty of luscious fruit, which is cost-of-entry in this rarefied market territory.
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.
The Ghibli S is powered by 3.0-litre, 60-degree, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, designed by Maserati Powertrain in Modena and manufactured by Ferrari, just up the road in Maranello.
It’s an all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection, variable cam timing (inlet and exhaust), low-inertia parallel turbos, and a pair of intercoolers.
While it can’t match the powerhouse Germans on outright numbers the Ghibli S still produces just over 321kW, or around 430 horsepower at 5500rpm, and 580Nm of torque from 2250-4000rpm. That’s a boost of 20kW/30Nm over the outgoing Ghibli S.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission.
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.
So, the first thing to say is the Ghibli S GranSport is fast, but it’s not in the same eye-widening league as the M5 and E63. The sprint from 0-100km/h is covered in 4.9 seconds, and if you’re game (and your driveway is long enough) claimed maximum velocity is 286km/h. For reference, the just released (F90) M5 is claimed to hit triple digits in 3.4sec, and the E 63 in 3.5.
The V6 turbo sounds nice and growly in the Sport setting, the soundtrack controlled by pneumatic valves in each bank of the exhaust. In ‘Normal’ mode, the bypass valves are closed up to 3000rpm for a more civilised tone and volume.
Maximum torque is available across a useful band from 2250 to 4000rpm and the twin-turbo set-up helps with linear power delivery, while the eight-speed auto is quick and positive, especially in manual mode.
The sports seats (12-way electric adjustable) feel great, a 50/50 front to rear weight distribution helps the car feel balanced, and the standard LSD helps put power to the ground without fuss in tight going.
And despite a 1810kg kerb weight, it does, in fact, manage to feel lighter and more involving than its high-profile, highly powerful German rivals.
Braking is courtesy of big (red) Brembo six piston calipers at the front, and four piston at the rear on vented and cross-drilled rotors (360mm front/345mm rear). They’re up to the task, and the claimed 100-0km/h stopping distance is impressive at 36m.
The new electrically assisted power steering (a first for Maserati) is light at parking speeds, but it points nicely and road feel improves as the speedo needle twists to the right.
Suspension is double-wishbone front, five bar multi-link rear, and despite big 21-inch rims wrapped in high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (245/35 front-285/30 rear), ride comfort is amazingly good, even on patchy surfaces.
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.
Maserati’s ‘ADAS’ (Advanced Driver Assistance Package) is standard on the Ghibli S, and now includes lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and traffic-sign recognition.
There’s also AEB, forward-collision warning, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’, ‘Rear Cross Path’ and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
The 2018 Ghibli and larger Quattroporte sedan are also the first Maseratis to feature IVC (Integrated Vehicle Control), a tailored version of ESP (Electronic Stability Program), using a smart controller to predict driving situations, adapting engine speed and torque vectoring (by braking) in response.
The ‘Maserati Stability Program’ (MSP) also wraps up ABS (with EBD), ASR, engine brake torque control, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’ and a hill holder.
In terms of passive safety the Ghibli is equipped with seven airbags (front head, front side, driver’s knee, and full length curtain) as well as anti-whiplash headrests.
There are three top tether points across the rear for child seats, with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
Although ANCAP hasn’t assessed the Ghibli it rates a maximum five stars from EuroNCAP.
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.
Maserati supports the Ghibli S GranSport with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is now some way off the industry leading eight years (160,000km) from Tesla, and seven years (unlimited km) from Kia.
But the recommended service interval is a lengthy two years/20,000km, and the ‘Maserati Maintenance’ program offers pre-paid schedules for Ghibli and Quattroporte owners, covering required inspections, components and consumables.