Lexus IS VS Mercedes-Benz E63
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Incredible performance, easily accessed
- Amazing duality between performance and luxury
- Relatively subtle looks for battling tall-poppy haters
- No wagon version for Australia
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|
The faster you go, the less comfortable things become. Any race car will prove this theory, and the current C 63 S AMG also backs it up with its, shall we say, 'performance-focused' package.
As you’d expect, its mighty E 63 S bigger brother is faster again. But surely it can’t afford to be less comfy than its C-Class sibling, particularly when it adds more than $80k to the sticker price and typically appeals to a more mature audience.
And sure enough, it isn’t, but rather than simply becoming the larger equivalent of the C 63 S, the new fastest E-Class somehow has enough bandwidth to satisfy expectations of three-pointed-star luxury and boast more performance than any four-door AMG ever.
Oh, and it’s also all-wheel drive (AWD) for the first time in Australia. None of this seems to add up, so how have they done it?
|Engine Type||4.0L 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.
The new E 63 S is proof that you can be supercar quick without having to feel like you’re in a racecar all the time.
It’s hard to find a single thing wrong with it once you’re past the near-quarter of a million dollar asking price, but even that’s more than 10 grand cheaper than before.
The only thing I’d like to see is the wagon version in Australia, but not enough us want to buy one.
In my opinion, it’s the best four-door AMG you can buy, and the new M5 will have to be pretty amazing to topple it.
Would you be happy to park an E 63 S in your garage, or would you wait to see how good the new M5 is? 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.
Like the C 63 S, the easiest way to pick the E 63 S is by its bespoke front air dam, pumped front guards and the AMG-characteristic double-bulge bonnet. To the uneducated, it looks little more than an AMG-kitted lesser model, but is smartly distinguished from the regular body treatment.
No doubt a lot of $200k-plus performance sedan buyers would prefer it this way, instead of a giant rear wing and a bunch of extraneous vents to underline its supercar-like capabilities.
The wheels are unique to the E 63 S, with the 20-inch cross-spoke forged design measuring 9.5 inches wide up front and a full 10 inches at the rear. That’s as wide as Brocky’s Group C Torana A9X racer by the way, yet they snugly fit within the standard rear wheel arches.
The interior isn’t too far removed from a regular E-Class either - which is already a pretty swish place to be - but gets grippy, hard-backed 'Performance' seats, Alcantara grip sections and a straight-ahead marker added to the AMG steering wheel, plus a smattering of AMG logos.
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.
No supercar will ever be as easy to live with as the E 63 S, with the passenger-car requisite two cupholders front and rear with bottle holders in each door, ample legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers, and a 40/20/40 split-fold back seat leading to a cavernous 540-litre boot.
The E 63 S’s Performance front seats do lose their map pockets, though.
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.
With a list price of $239,611, it’s more than 2.5 times the price of a base E200, but Mercedes boasts that it’s also more than $10,000 cheaper than the model it replaced in May 2017, with a lot more equipment fitted standard.
This still puts it $82,000 higher than a C 63 S sedan and $80,000 more than the quite-quick V6 E 43, and a full $30,000 more than the regular E 63 that joined the range in December.
Whether the E 63 S’s extra fruit is worth it is up to you, but Mercedes expects most E 63 buyers will opt for the S.
Its extensive list of standard kit helps to justify its ask somewhat, with the only concession for performance being the deletion of the PRE-SAFE Impulse Side system because of the more sculpted Performance seats.
Our E 63 S was also optioned with $4200 worth of designo Selenite Grey magno matte paint, and the ceramic composite brakes signified by the gold calipers add a further $9900.
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 E 63 has also followed the C 63 in bucking the “no replacement for displacement” adage, dropping 1.5-litres over the model it replaced but gaining 20kW/50Nm for new totals of 450kW/850Nm.
This is thanks to an uprated version of the 4.0-litre twin turbo M177 V8, which is paired to a multi-plate clutch version of the excellent nine-speed auto for the first time.
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.
This area is unlikely to be a top priority if you’re shopping for a $240k V8 performance saloon, but the E 63 S’s 9.3L/100km official combined fuel figure should catch your eye if it is. We experienced 11.6L/100km on test, which is pretty amazing given how tempting that throttle pedal is.
Also helping to forgive this temptation is a bigger 80-litre fuel tank (20-litres more than the base E-Class) which promises a comfortable range between fills.
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.
Push the start button and the ensuing rumble will annoy your neighbours if you leave for work early. This has come to be an AMG V8 trademark, but even with the exhaust button’s ability to liberate a few more decibels, it’s still a smidge more discreet than the C 63 S.
Not all AMG exhausts are created equal you see, with the E 63 S’s particular flavour sitting somewhere between the C and the SL tune, based on my recent experience.
What you’re left with is still up there with the industry best, with the range of tunes from angry burble to pops and cackles on overrun setting the scene well for the E63 S drive experience.
Range is a key word when it comes to the E 63 S, with an incredible 0-100km/h claim of 3.4 seconds headlining the performance end of its personality. This is a full six tenths faster than the C 63 S sedan, and it feels every bit of it.
It’s difficult to articulate just how fast this is, but bear in mind Ferrari’s mid-noughties F1 racer for the road, the Enzo, carried a 3.6 second claim. The E 63 S is 0.2s faster than that!
The AMG’s full 850 Newton metres are available from just 2500rpm (to 4500 for the record), making any prod of the accelerator very effective.
The nine-speed auto doesn't fail to impress either, with fast and responsive shifts in the sportier drive modes, with none of the slow-speed lag or shunting and clunking you tend to get from some rivals' dual-clutch units.
Helping all those Newtons get to the ground is the fully active AWD system, which has been set up to preserve the AMG-characteristic tailiness with a 31:69 default torque split front to rear.
Controlling the apportioning of power side-to-side is an electronic rear-axle limited slip differential (as opposed to the regular E 63’s mechanical unit), and the net result will let the rear end hang loose just enough before the torque vectoring sends more power to the front to pull you back into line.
Unlike pretty much every AWD system this side of a ute, the E 63 S is able to send 100 per cent of its power to the rear wheels when ‘Drift Mode’ is engaged, with Race selected from the drive menu.
This also means deactivating the stability and traction control altogether, flicking the transmission to manual mode and pulling on the shift paddles, but in the interests of retaining employment and my general wellbeing, we’ll save Drift Mode for the race track.
Another claim we’ll have to leave purely theoretical is that the speed limiter has been relaxed by 50km/h to permit a full 300! This is a large four-door sedan, remember. How very German.
The abundance of aluminium in the W213 E-Class shell has led to a feeling of lightness that I feel detracts from the classic E-Class ‘bank vault’ sensation in the lesser models, but this actually works in the E 63 S’s favour.
At 1955kg, it’s a full 300kg heavier than the C 63 S sedan, but doesn’t really feel it. Granted, a lot of that weight would be down low, due to the AWD system, but it retains a general feeling of lightness and a willingness to change direction.
Also helping are bespoke front suspension architecture for a wider track and more hardcore geometry, a unique steering column, and the S also gets hydraulic engine mounts that tighten up to sharpen feel in the more aggressive drive modes.
Grip from the 265mm wide front tyres and 295mm rears is fantastic, but they will break away gently to give confidence when driving at the limit. This also makes a bit of tail wagging out of corners a lot less nerve-wracking.
The ceramic composite brakes fitted to our car also do an excellent job of reighning in all that performance quickly and consistently, and unlike a lot of similar setups they don’t squeal when cold.
Beyond this outstanding performance and driver appeal, the E 63 S’s trump card is its ability to return to regular E-Class luxury at the flick of a switch - back into Comfort mode.
The airbag suspension is arguably what is most responsible for this duality, but it’s also a sign of all the mechanical components being developed together to work in harmony, with such a spectrum of ability being targeted from the get-go. This is not an E-Class with AMG mods, this is an E-Class that’s been designed to be an AMG from the beginning.
Adding a “but wait, there’s more” edge to the E 63 S’s drive experience is the fact that like all versions of the new E-Class, the active safety systems work together to enable Drive Pilot semi-autonomous driving, which represents Level 2 autonomy.
This means you can drive down a motorway with only an occasional touch of the steering wheel as an input, and it will even change lanes if the indicators are activated. As amazing as they are, we recommend exercising great caution when using these features, however.
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.
Like all versions of the W213 E-Class, the E 63 S carries the maximum five-star ANCAP (tested 2016) and EuroNCAP safety ratings. A brilliantly integrated suite of active and passive safety features go well beyond its standard AEB, nine-airbag count, 360-degree parking cameras, rear cross-traffic alerts, and a pedestrian-protecting active bonnet.
The only slight compromise is the deletion of the PRE-SAFE Impulse Side system which moves the occupant away from a collision if a potential side impact is detected.
This is because of the E 63 S’s standard “Performance” front seats, but the system is restored if the less sculpted “sport seats” are optioned through the Active Comfort package.
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.
As with all Mercedes passenger cars, the E 63 S is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Service intervals are either 12 months or 20,000km and the first three services are capped at $736, $1472 and $1472 respectively.
This compares with $668/$1356/$1356 for the E 43, and 456/912/912 for a base E200, and the latter two models have 25,000km intervals.