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Lexus IS


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

Summary

Lexus IS

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

There are people who probably wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away. Call security, have it escorted off the premises. That’s probably because they don’t agree with its styling. For them, it’s not how a large four-door Mercedes-Benz should look, with its ‘rude’ coupe roofline. 

But for some of you those looks are exactly why you want it, and there’s enough of you out there for Mercedes-Benz to tell us at the launch of the new-generation CLS that the model is here to stay.

“You don’t surrender a segment… a vehicle has to do 100 units to justify bringing it – this will do 100 units no problem sat all,” were the exact words from Benz’s head of communications David McCarthy.

You could say Benz created the four-door coupe segment when it launched its first-generation CLS 14 years ago, triggering its rivals to fire back with their own four-door coupes - the Audi A7 and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.

Far from surrendering, the CLS has evolved again with this third-generation bringing new engines and styling. So, what do you gain and what will you have to surrender (for lack of a better word) if you choose to go down the non-traditional route of the CLS?

I found out when I drove the new CLS 450 4Matic for the first time on Australian roads at its recent launch.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Lexus IS7.6/10

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.


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class8/10

The Mercedes-Benz CLS has proven to be a niche hero, creating a segment and then evolving into something even more elegant, while keeping its unique appeal. A beautiful, modern cabin and the new engine in the CLS 450 provides the swiftness to match those looks.

Do you wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away or do you think it's just perfect? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Also, check out Matt Campbell's video review from the CLS's international launch: 

Design

Lexus IS8/10

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.


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class9/10

The new-generation CLS has arrived looking slipperier than a cake of soap on the bottom of the bath. This model has always had svelte styling, but things have become even smoother with Benz’s design chief Gorden Wagener insisting more lines be removed in the creation of this latest version.

So, while there’s the familiar profile of that roof tapering down into the boot lid, the long rear overhang and that sliver of a window opening arching and turning down sharply at the rear, it's a more flowing design now that there are less edges to break it all up.

A new ‘shark nose’ grille opening, and broad bonnet adds a hunk of muscle car toughness to the CLS’s face. But it’s refined thuggery, with that single-louvered ‘diamond studded’ grille flanked by flush-mounted headlights. The tail-lights, too, are so contoured to the body around them they look painted on.

As CarsGuide senior editor Matt Campbell pointed out in his review of the CLS at the international launch, the car looks far better in the metal than it does in any photo.

The CLS is based on the E-Class, sharing its platform and technology, but it’s about 20mm longer (at 4988mm) end-to-end. That’s almost 50mm longer than the previous generation CLS, too. At just over 1.4m tall the CLS is low-slung but wide at 1.9m across (almost 2.1m including mirrors).

The CLS’s cabin mirrors that of the E-Class, too, with a sweeping dashboard which flows through into the doors, two large landscape displays for your instruments and media, an oversupply of air vents and some darn sexy lighting. It’s a luxurious, stylish, comfortable, but snug setting cocooned by padded leather and polished surfaces.

The Australian CLS has been fitted standard with the AMG interior and exterior packages.

You can pick from 11 colours – eight of which are no-cost options and include, 'Polar White', 'Obsidian Black', 'Iridium Silver', 'Citrine Brown', 'Graphite Grey' and 'Cavansite Blue'. Optional colours include 'Hyacinth Red' and 'Selenite Grey Magno'.

Practicality

Lexus IS7/10

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. 


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class7/10

Remember how I said you were going to have to surrender something if you wanted a CLS? Well, yes, you’ve have to surrender your hard-earned money, but you’ll also have to give up quite a bit of practicality.

That swooping roofline makes entry into the front seats a bit precarious for people of my height (191cm) trying to swing themselves into the cockpit without clocking their heads on the A-pillar.

The impracticality only gets worse with entry into the back seats, and legroom in there for me is tight, too.

I can only just sit behind my driving position thanks to the contoured seat backs. Headroom is also limited.

It’s worth pointing out that this time the CLS is a five-seater – the previous generation sat just four.

Storage isn’t bad, running to a deep centre console bin with a split lid, there are two cupholders up front and another two in the rear fold-down armrest along with another covered drawer, and all doors have small bottle holders.

The CLS’s boot capacity is 520 litres, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40 to provide extra space.

Price and features

Lexus IS8/10

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.


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class8/10

Benz has dropped the 250d grade, which means you can no longer have your CLS with a diesel engine. That also means the new entry fee is higher with the CLS 350 kicking the line-up off at $136,900 (list price).

You’ll be rewarded with a decent amount of equipment for the outlay, though. Coming standard on the CLS 350 are those two 12.3-inch screens, a head-up display, a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Autodigital radio, surround view camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 'Brown Ash' wood trim on the centre console, wheel-mounted shifting paddles, AMG exterior and interior packages, auto-parking20-inch AMG wheels, air suspension, proximity key and privacy glass.

The CLS 450 4Matic lists for $155,529 and adds air filtering in the cabin, power closing doors, a sports exhaust system and all-wheel drive.

At the top of the three-grade range is the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+ for $179,529. The extra money buys you nappa leather upholstery, wireless charging, the ‘Night’ body kit, an AMG exhaust system, and of course, a lot more grunt which you can read about below.

Engine & trans

Lexus IS7/10

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. 


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class8/10

If you’ve skipped straight to this bit you’ll have missed news that there’s no longer a diesel engine in the CLS line-up. Instead you have a choice of three petrol engines – one for each grade and all of them are new to the model.

The CLS 350 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 220kW/400Nm. That grunt is delivered to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic.

The CLS 450 4Matic has a 270kW/500Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo and like the Mercedes-AMG 53 above it has an integrated electric motor called an EQ Boost. While it’s a hybrid system of sorts the electric motor doesn’t drive the wheels, instead it recuperates kinetic energy and charges the battery.

The CLS 450 uses the nine-speed auto, as well, and is all-wheel drive.

The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic has the same transmission and engine as the CLS450 but has been given a heftier twin-scroll turbo charging system and tuned to produce even more grunt at 320kW/520Nm. The 'EQ Boost' performs the same function as in the CLS 450, but also provides power to an electric turbocharger. The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic is also all-wheel drive and uses a nine-speed automatic.

Fuel consumption

Lexus IS7/10

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.


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class8/10

This is a good place to remind you (again) that only one CLS grade was available to drive at the Australian launch – the CLS 450, and we were only given the claimed fuel economy figures for that model.

After 197km through, on a route that bumper to bumpered its way out of Melbourne CBD and headed the long way to the airport via Woodend. our car’s trip computer was reporting close to an average of 10.0L/100km.

Driving

Lexus IS8/10

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. 


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class8/10

A reminder again, folks – Mercedes-Benz only had the CLS 450 available to drive. Okay? On with the review…

Nobody likes a traffic jam, apart from maybe taxi drivers. But sitting in a CLS deep in Melbourne’s CBD, stuck in road-work-infested roads, choked with cars going nowhere was as pleasant as the experience could be. 

Plush seats, pretty lighting, air filtered and fragranced, air suspension cushioning the patchy tarmac underneath as we wriggled our way north towards Mount Macedon and country roads.

If you read another review calling out a large degree of wind noise filtering into the cabin, they’re right and wrong. See, the weather was apocalyptic as we hit the motorway. Trees doubled over kind of windy, and sure you could hear it rushing past the windows when we were at 110km/h, but you could also hear it clearly when we were at 30km/h.

I like gadgets and so it was about 15 seconds into the motorway stint that I tested out the active cruise control, and automatic lane changing, which works near perfectly.

As the roads became more winding, I switched drive modes to 'Sport', firming up the suspension and steering, at the same time prompting the transmission to kick back into a lower gear.

This is a stable-feeling car, well balanced and effortless to steer. Smoothness is a word for everything it does, including covering the ground quickly.

While that acceleration is rapid, it’s not quite exhilarating, and the engine note under load is a little high pitched for a thug like this.

CLSs of the past were known for being a bit more aggressive and feistier, but this one seems to have mellowed in its third generation. I don’t see any issues with this. There are other angrier Benzs if that’s your thing.

Safety

Lexus IS9/10

Safety equipment and technology has been upgraded for the IS 2021 model range, though it is expected to carry over its existing five-star ANCAP crash test rating from 2016.

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.


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class9/10

The second generation CLS was never crash tested and this new one has yet to be as well. So, while it hasn’t been given an ANCAP star rating, given it shares so much with the five-star rated E-Class we’d expect it to score nothing less than that, too.

Along with nine airbags, ABS, and traction and stability control the level of advanced safety equipment onboard the new CLS is seriously impressive. There’s the 'Driving Assistance package Plus' which brings AEB with cross traffic function, evasive steering, blind spot warning with an active function and lane keeping assistance.

For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top ether anchor points.

Ownership

Lexus IS7/10

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.

 


Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class7/10

The CLS is covered by Mercedes-Benz’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12months/25,000km for the CLS 350 and CLS 450, while the CLS 53, like all AMGs needs to visit at 12month/20,000km intervals.

Mercedes-Benz says a capped price servicing plan will be available, but has yet to release the prices. We’ll update this as soon as the costs have been announced.