Lexus IS VS Maserati Ghibli
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
- Beautiful exterior design
- Beautiful interior feel
- Cinderella point in the range
- Seats lovely but a bit firm
- Confused sense of identity
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|
Maseratis make a certain amount of sense to a certain kind of person. As the folks who run the brand in Australia will tell you, its buyers are the kind of people who’ve driven German premium vehicles, but find themselves wanting something more.
They are older, wiser and, most importantly, richer.
While it’s easy to see the high-end lure of Maserati’s Italian sex appeal styling and luxuriously appointed interiors, they’ve always struck me as cruisers rather than bruisers.
Again, they’re for the older, more generously padded buyer, which makes the Trofeo range something of an oddity. Maserati says its Trofeo badge - seen here on its mid-sized sedan, the Ghibli, which sits below the vast Quattroporte limousine (and side on to the other car in the range, the SUV Levante) - is all about the "Art of Fast".
Read More: Maserati Ghibli 2017 review
And it certainly is fast, with a whopping V8 driving the rear wheels. It’s also completely bonkers, a luxury car with the heart of a track-chomping monster.
Which is why Maserati chose to launch it at the Sydney Motorsport Park complex, where we could see just how quick and crazy it is.
The big question is, why? And perhaps who, because it’s hard to imagine who wants, or needs, a car with such severe schizophrenia.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The Maserati Trofeo Ghibli is a very strange beast, but there's no doubt that it is a beast. Fast, loud and capable on a race track, and yet still closely resembling a classy, expensive Italian family sedan, it is genuinely unique. And genuinely strange, in a good way.
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 Ghibli Trofeo is an alluringly beautiful car from just about every angle, with a genuine sense of occasion and presence about its nose, a sleek side profile and a much improved rear end, where the light clusters have been redesigned.
The Trofeo special touches are impossible to miss, particularly from the driver’s seat where you look straight into two vast nostrils on the bonnet. There are also carbon fibre pieces on the front air duct and the rear extractor for a sportier, wilder look.
The red details on the air vents on each side are the highlight, though, while the lightning bolt on the Maserati trident badge is another nice touch.
The interior is simply beyond special and feels even more expensive than it is. Overall, I’d say it again, it’’s alluring. Italian style at its best and the Ghibli is the Cinderella point in the range, because the Quattroporte big brother really is too large, and the Levante is an SUV.
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.
From the driver’s seat, the Trofeo Ghibli feels spacious indeed, and while it’s not as vast in the back as a Quattroporte, there’s plenty of room for two adults, or even three small children.
The move to throw sportiness at the Ghibli has led to it having firm but fabulous seats. They’re comfortable, and the leather is luscious, but the actual seat back is constantly letting your spine know that this is no ordinary Ghibli.
Throw it around a track, though, and the seats feel just right, providing the kind of support you need.
Boot space is ample at 500 litres and the Ghibli feels like the sort of car you could take your family in, if only it didn’t make you feel like you were spoiling your children too much.
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.
At a price of $265,000, the idea of “value” becomes a different discussion, but you only need to glance at the Ghibli to realise that it looks like four times that much money.
The interior is also spectacularly boudoir-like, with lashings of carbon fibre and a whole cattle stud worth of full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather, “the best the world has ever seen”, as Maserati likes to say.
Perhaps most vitally, this Trofeo racy edition gets a Ferrari engine; a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 good for 433kW and 730Nm (the first time it’s been seen in the Ghibli), driving the rear wheels only through a limited-slip differential and an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. You also get very nice, expensive feeling paddles to shift those gears with.
Ghibli Trofeo models come with a Corsa, or Race, button for hard-core sporty driving, and a Launch Control function.
There’s also an MIA (Maserati Intelligent Assistant), featuring a rather large 10.1-inch multimedia screen with upgraded resolution.
The Active Driving Assist “assisted driving function”, which has been seen in Ghibli before, can now be activated on urban roads and ordinary highways.
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.
This will be the last time Maserati gets to enjoy a proper Ferrari engine - a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 good for 433kW and 730Nm - before it moves to a more electrified future, but it’s certainly going out with a lot of loud bangs.
Deafeningly lovely, the V8, which drives the rear wheels, will shove you to a shouty 100km/h in 4.3 seconds (fast, but not stupidly so, although it feels even quicker) on your way to a very Italian top speed of 326km/h.
We can report that it exceeds 200km/h with consummate ease and has epic amounts of torque on tap.
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.
Maserati claims a slightly inexact fuel-economy figure of 12.3 to 12.6 litres per 100km, but good luck ever achieving it. The desire to open the taps and really chew some fuel will aways be overwhelming.
We drove it on a race track and would easily have been exceeding 20 litres per 100km, so our test figure is probably best not spoken about.
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.
We were fortunate enough to drive all three Trofeo models - Ghibli, Levante and Quattroporte - on the track at Sydney Motorsport Park, which really is the only way to fully appreciate vehicles with Ferrari V8 engines, 433kW and rear-wheel drive.
Maserati is keen to point out that other premium brands don’t offer that kind of grunt in their rear-drive cars, indeed most of them are going all-wheel drive, and that level of playfulness is a real USP, it believes.
The thing is, the company also acknowledges that its buyers are older, wiser and wealthier types moving up from the German brands.
The Trofeo range, in particular, then, is a real niche within a niche. I picture Maserati buyers as being slightly sedate yet stylish. Fans of the nicer things in life, but not flashy, or thrashy, about the cars they drive.
And yet, unlike other Maseratis, the Trofeos are flame-spitting beasts that sound like Game of Thrones dragons. Clearly there are people who like their classy Italian saloons to be insanely fast and track ready. And hooray for them, because as weird as it seems to flog a car like this so hard, the Trofeo Ghibli was well and truly up for it.
It’s also the pick of the litter, being less SUV like than the SUV Levante, and less stupidly long and heavy than the Quattroporte.
Its shorter wheelbase and lighter weight make it the most fun and light on its feet when being thrown around. We hit an easy 235km/h on the front straight before hurling into Turn One well north of 160km/h, and the Ghibli just held on tight before using its torque to hurl it at the next bend.
It sounds, as I’ve said, amazing, but it’s worth saying again because it’s a real Maserati (or Ferrari, really) advantage of choosing this car.
The brakes are also up to the task of repeated track-hard stops, the steering is lighter and less talkative than a Ferrari perhaps, but still excellent, and the whole Trofeo Ghibli experience is best described, on circuit, as being better than you would possibly imagine.
Out on the road, you don’t have to put up with the firm ride that pressing the Corsa button compels, and the Ghibli reverts to its smooth, cruiser persona - while still looking sporty as hell.
The only letdown is the seats, which are a little on the firm side, but everything else about the cabin is so luxe you almost forgive it.
While this car makes no sense to me, it obviously excites enough people for Maserati to make a business case, and charge $265,000 for the Trofeo Ghibli. Good luck to them, I say.
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.
There is no ANCAP rating for the Ghibli as it has not been tested here.
The Trofeo Ghibli comes with six airbags, Blind Spot Detection, Forward Collision Warning Plus, Pedestrian Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Active Driver Assist and Traffic sign Recognition.
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.
Maserati offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, but you can choose to buy 12-month or two-year warranty extensions, and even a sixth or seventh-year drive-train warranty extension.
When much, much cheaper Japanese and Korean cars are offering seven and even 10-year warranties, this is so far off the pace that such a fast vehicle should be embarrassed. And if you're buying something Italian, a better, longer warranty would seem like a must. I'd be negotiating at sale for them to throw the longer warranty offer in.
Maserati says servicing for the Ghibli has a "ball park costing of $2700.00 for the first three years of ownership" with a service schedule of every 20,000km or 12 months (whichever occurs first)
Also, "please note that the above is indicative only of the manufacturers basic routine service maintenance schedule and does not include any consumable items such as tyres, brakes etc or additional dealership charges such as environmental levies etc."