Lexus IS VS Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Great drive
- No spare tyre
- Fiddly steering wheel controls
- Tight rear headroom (with roof up)
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|
People that know what they’re doing have a habit of making whatever it is they do look easy. Jack Nicholson, Usain Bolt, J.K. Rowling – how hard can it be to act, run and write like a champion?
And you might think making a convertible car is easy. In fact, why even bother the designers? Just break out the gas axe, lop the roof off, perch a canvas top over the hole you’ve created; job done.
Yet despite the seemingly simple premise, it’s all too easy to get it wrong.
Happily, Australia wasn’t on the receiving end of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a text book case study in getting it horribly wrong. Although we did cop the answer to a convertible question few people were asking, in the shape of the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabriolet. And more recently there have been mutterings about the aesthetic success, or otherwise, of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible. Not to mention the necessity of its existence.
Which brings us to the sleek, subtle, and effortless charm of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. A masterclass in getting a convertible design exactly right.
|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?
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet fulfils its intended brief, with classic design, exceptional comfort, luxurious specification, flawless quality, and a sporting edge lurking just below the surface. The ‘entry-level’ E 300 is the pick, boasting a big chunk of the E 400’s equipment and performance for significantly fewer dollars. That’s how you get a convertible design right.
Does Merc's new E Class Cabriolet sit at the top of the mainstream luxury convertible tree? 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.
At over 4.8m long, nudging towards 1.9m wide, and around 1.4m high, the new cabrio is substantially larger than the model it replaces. And the increase in exterior dimensions is underpinned by a longer wheelbase and wider track.
Joining the existing E-Class sedan, coupe and ‘All-Terrain’ wagon line-up, sitting on a suspension 15mm lower than the sedan’s, and rolling on fat 20-inch AMG rims, the cabrio shares the two-door coupe’s muscular but refined look.
The exterior manages to combine gentle, rounded transitions between major surfaces with more sharply angled and aggressive elements like the ‘powerdomes’ running the length of the bonnet, a hard character line defining the lower third of the car’s flanks, and a neatly integrated lip spoiler on the boot’s trailing edge.
Lowering the roof does nothing to upset the car’s balanced proportions and athletic stance.
Inside, a cool combination of top-shelf leather and ‘black ash open-pore’ wood trim, is contrasted by brushed alloy and chrome accents on everything from the sports steering wheel and distinctive circular air vents (claimed to be “inspired by turbo engines”), to the door handles and ‘Comand’ multimedia controller.
Dominating the dash is a pair of 12.3-inch hi-res displays, presented in a single widescreen panel, the first housing a configurable ‘virtual’ instrument cluster, and the second, more central screen running a full suite of multimedia functions.
A row of more conventional rocker switches at the top of the centre console controls the air-conditioning and various driver-assistance systems, with digital read-outs underneath.
The overall interior look and feel is luxurious form matched by fuss-free function.
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.
Extra length, and more specifically, a longer wheelbase usually means more interior space, and the new E-Class Cabriolet is no exception.
Seating is for four, and those in the front are provided with ample space as well as helpful touches like a feeder arm that automatically extends the seat belt out to the driver and front passenger (with override control via a button on the centre console).
There are also two cupholders, a decent glovebox, a lidded bin between the seats, and door pockets big enough for bottles.
Access to the rear, even with the roof up, is a civilised process, thanks to front electric seats that not only slide but rise and tip forward at the touch of a single release handle on the backrest.
Merc claims, on a like-for-like measurement, that rear legroom has increased no less than 13 percent (+102mm) and sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm frame, there’s plenty of space. It’s also worth noting that sensors in the front seats’ adjustment system stop them from hitting a rear passenger’s knees. Clever, and polite.
With roof up, the solar panel otherwise known as my bare pate was just brushing the soft fabric lining, although headroom improved markedly with the roof down.
Backseaters are well catered for with a pair of cupholders between the seats, adjustable air vents, map pockets, and some oddments space near the outside armrests.
Boot capacity is a handy 385 litres, with a redesigned rear seat splitting 50/50 to offer through-loading space. An electrically controlled, retractable separator defines the space filled by the roof when folded (which still leaves 310 litres). Impressive.
In case you’re keen on towing with your new convertible, forget it, the new E-Class Cabriolet is a no-tow zone, and you won't find a spare wheel of any description because the tyres are run-flats.
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.
There are two E-Class Cabriolet models on offer; the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder E 300 ($123,500), and 3.0-litre, V6 E 400 ($157,500), each boasting a standard equipment list longer than Donald Trump’s register of alternative facts.
Highlights for the E 300 include ambient interior lighting (with 64 different colours!), leather upholstery (with horizontal quilting), AMG sports pedals (brushed stainless steel with black rubber studs), ‘Comand’ multimedia (with touchpad, 3D nav, and smartphone integration via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay), ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating (in front), DAB+ digital radio, scrolling (directional) indicators, electrically adjustable and heated sports front seats (with three memories for seat and exterior mirror position), illuminated door sill panels (with Mercedes-Benz lettering), sports steering wheel (with flat bottom section), ‘Thermatic’ dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, the 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, ‘Aircap’ automatic draught-stop, ‘Agility Select’ (with five driving programs), keyless entry and start, ‘Multibeam’ LED headlights (with 84 individually controllable LEDs), ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus’, and ‘Parking Pilot’ with ‘Active Parking Assist’. Phew…
Then, the E 400 adds Burmeister surround-sound audio (13 speakers, nine-channel DSP amplifier, and 590W output), head-up display (with virtual-image windscreen projection), and metallic paint.
Yes, the cost of entry is reassuringly high, but that’s a large basket of standard fruit.
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 E 300 is powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injection, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine, producing 180kW/370Nm, and driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission (with steering wheel shift paddles).
Step up to the E 400 and a 3.0-litre direct-injection, twin-turbo-petrol V6 sits under the bonnet, pumping out 245kW/480Nm, and driving all four wheels through the same nine-speed auto and Merc’s ‘4Matic’ all-wheel-drive system.
Claimed fuel economy for the E 300 on the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.4L/100km, with C02 emissions sitting at 170g/km.
Not surprisingly the faster, more powerful E 400 is thirstier, ranked at 8.7L/100km, and 195g/km.
On a launch drive program covering around 300km of city, B-road and freeway running, we saw dash-indicated figures of 8.3L/100km for the E 300, and 9.2L/100km for the E 400. Not bad.
A switchable stop-start function is standard, and you’ll need 66 litres of 95 RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
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.
The word that most accurately describes the E-Class Cabriolet drive experience is polished. From the supple ride to the flexible drivetrain (in both models) and smart design, this soft-top Merc is a beautifully resolved package.
Although peak power (180kW) arrives at a lofty 5500rpm, the E 300’s maximum torque (370Nm) is available from a more useful 4000rpm, and despite a 100kg weight penalty relative to its coupe equivalent, mid-range response is healthy. A standard sports exhaust (not fitted to the E 400) produces an agreeably spicy note, and you can expect 0-100km/h acceleration in the mid-six second bracket.
It may have more power (245kW) peaking at the same revs as its four-cylinder sibling, but it’s the E 400’s extra spread of torque (480Nm from 1500-4000rpm) that stands the top-spec cabrio apart. With all that pulling power available across such a broad plateau, the E 400 is genuinely rapid, with 0-100km/h achieved in the mid-fives.
The smooth nine-speed auto helps keep both engines in their performance sweet spots (manual shifts via the wheel paddles are sharp), while the ‘Air Body Control’ suspension, working in concert with an electronically controlled adaptive damping system (adjusting each wheel individually), delivers exceptional compliance, even on ordinary backroad surfaces.
A multi-layer, acoustic soft top keeps noise levels down, and can be raised or lowered in 20 seconds, at speeds up to 50km/h. And Merc is determined you should be able to enjoy roofless motoring year-round with a swag of gizmos on board to keep the elements under control.
The ‘Aircap’ wind deflector integrated into the top of the windscreen frame works in parallel with an electric draught stop behind the rear seats to minimise turbulence in the cabin, especially for rear seat occupants.
Raise the side windows and even at highway speeds top-down conversation is relaxed. In cool weather, the ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating system in the front seats works seamlessly, the seat heating comes into its own, and even the climate-control system recognises when the roof’s down, adjusting its settings accordingly.
‘Agility Select’ offers five modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual) adjusting transmission shift points, steering ratio and weight, throttle response, and suspension tune.
We found the ideal open road ‘Individual’ combination (in both cabrio models) was suspension in Comfort, with the throttle, steering and transmission in Sport. Grip from the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle (run-flat) rubber (245/35 front - 275/30 rear) is tenacious, braking is progressive and powerful, and the ‘Direct-Steer’ speed-sensitive steering delivers good road feel. Eating up the corners and kays in the E-Class Cabrio is a pleasure.
One niggle. While points are awarded for the attempt to simplify steering-wheel functions, the ‘finger swipe touch controls’ for on-board computer, and other systems are frustratingly fiddly.
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.
In terms of active safety the new E-Class Cabriolet showcases an imposing array of technology including ‘Adaptive Brake with Hold’ (plus brake drying and priming, with Hill Start Assist), ESP, ABS, ASR, ‘Brake Assist System’ (BAS), ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Driving Assistance package Plus’ (‘Drive Pilot’ - ‘Active Brake Assist’ with cross-traffic function, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Active Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Active Lane Keeping Assist’ and ‘Pre-Safe Plus’), 360-degree camera (with dynamic guidelines), and a brake pad wear indicator.
Then, if all of the above can’t help you avoid a crash, passive-safety features include, roll-over protection (developed specifically for the cabriolet design), nine airbags (front, combined pelvic/thorax bags for the driver and front passenger, sidebags for rear occupants, headbags in the doors and a kneebag for the driver), an active bonnet (to minimise pedestrian impact injury), automatic-locking doors with emergency opening, central locking with interior switch and crash sensor, crash responsive emergency lighting, and a first-aid kit.
Both rear seats feature child restraint top tether points and ISOFIX anchorages, and all E-Class variants score a maximum five ANCAP stars.
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.
Mercedes-Benz Australia’s warranty covers you for three years/unlimited kilometres, and the recommended service interval for the E Class Cabriolet is 12 months/25,000km.
Capped price servicing for the E 300 & E 400 Cabriolet runs to $456 for the first service, then $912 for the second and third, for a total of $2280 over three years.