Lexus IS VS Maserati Ghibli
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Okay warranty
- Marginal on value
- Fast but not furious
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|
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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.