Lexus IS VS Maserati Quattroporte
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Terrific powertrain
- Huge luxurious cabin
- Great looks and badge
- Iffy entertainment software
- Weird sensations through electric steering
- Some dodgy plastic chrome bits
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|
Maserati's Quattroporte is part of a dying breed. A decade or so ago, the European manufacturers took a huge amount of pride in their range-topping big luxury sedans, cars you can either drive or be driven in, bristling with the latest technology.
While by no means low-tech, the Maserati Quattroporte takes the high style route, focussing on a luxurious interior with that handmade feel.
|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.
Beauty is way more than skin-deep in the Quattroporte and while the 330 doesn't have the punch of the S, it's hardly that much slower. Maserati reasons you will want to spend the $25,000 saved on options, concentrating on the Italian craftsmanship rather than the outright performance available in the V8 or the efficiency of the less aurally attractive diesel.
As with any car of this type, you've got to want one in the first place, but for a big, beautiful sedan, there's nothing as good looking this side of an Aston Rapide. The Quattroporte 330 does nothing to dim the allure of Modena's big mover and, if you're that way inclined, nobody on the outside will ever know.
For Quattroporte money would you stick with the Italian or be tempted by one of its German rivals? Let us know 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.
Long, flowing lines mark out the Maserati as something quite different to its German, British and Japanese competition. This Quattroporte has increased in every dimension but the lines cover its size beautifully.
Big wheels, long wheelbase, low ride but it still looks like a sedan rather than pretending to be a coupe.
The elegance of the lines is complemented by a distinct lack of bling – there's little in the way of chrome work or shouty details. There's plenty satin finishes available and the beautiful paint, while available in pretty much any colour you like, is best kept to a restrained, deep hue. Or silver.
The cabin will doubtless age well. Classic shapes house a fairly conventional but hugely comfortable cabin. The front seats have heaps of adjustment and are large but supportive. Naturally, the leather is soft and supple.
The central screen isn't the dominant feature, like a 50-inch LCD screen in a small living room while buttons are kept to a minimum.
The rear seat is sensationally comfortable, with hectares of available space and a seat comfortable for either lounging or working.
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.
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.
The 330BHP uses the same, Ferrari-built V6 but detuned to 'just' 330 bhp. The price has been detuned too, dropping $25,000 from the V6 S's entry price to kick off at $210,000.
Maserati 330bhp benefits from an overall specification improvement across the range, landing in your garage with a ten-speaker stereo with USB and Bluetooth, power everything, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, cruise control, sat-nav, auto headlights and wipers, double glazed windows and an interior covered in leather and wood.
Later in the year, your Quattroporte will be available with a new silk trim from Zegna
Only very occasionally does it become clear that Maserati is part of the Fiat Group and that moment comes when you use the 7.0-inch central screen in the dash.
The software is based on the group's UConnect and it isn't great. It's not bad, but it feels its age (however, it's much better than the system on the Gran Turismo), needing a lot more work or a quick surrender to Apple's CarPlay or Android Auto.
Once you work your way through the weird menus, it's fine to use and is miles ahead of the not-much-cheaper Lexus LS unit which is almost unusable.
Sound from the ten speaker stereo is crystal clear and the phone performance is also very good.
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.
Like the S, the 330bhp is powered by Maserati's twin turbo 3.0 litre V6, made with more than a dash of Ferrari involvement. As the name suggests, it produces 243kW and a chunky 500Nm. With just under two tonnes to shift, the ubiquitous eight-speed ZF automatic transmission whisks the Quattroporte 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, only half a second down on the 301kW V6 S.
Maserati claims 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle (with the help of stop-start), which seems reasonable given our figure of 10.8L/100km, which we got a with a mix of city and highway running as well as a very enthusiastic blast through some secret back roads.
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.
Just a few hundred metres behind the wheel is all it will take to convince you the Maserati belongs in the same class as the competition. It's incredibly quiet – courtesy of the acoustic double glazing – and all occupants benefit from supreme comfort.
While the 330 is 58kW down on the full fat V6, you won't really miss them. There's a fat torque curve, with all 500Nm available from 1750 to 5000rpm, meaning easy progress for the 5.2 metre sedan.
The Quattroporte has two sport buttons to choose from – one looks after the drivetrain and exhaust valving while the second stiffens up the Skyhook suspension.
With the first sport button pressed, you get a more lively throttle, sharper shifts and a glorious noise from the exhausts, although they are a long way from your ears.
It's still a fast car, with strong acceleration from standstill and in the gears, the power as linear as you like with no real turbo lag and a most un-turbo noise to go with the performance.
The only dynamic problem is the electric steering – it seems to get confused between your inputs and feedback from the road, the tyres feeling like they're 'nibbling' an uneven surface, tweaking the wheel in your hands.
The assistance is a little spotty, too, unexpectedly changing weight. It's just a bit weird. In normal driving, you'll never notice it.
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.
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.