Lexus IS VS Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Amazing technology on offer
- Super smooth to drive
- Luxury for days
- Some terseness from run-flat tyres
- Controls could be simpler
- Non L models not that spacious in the back
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|
Imagine a car that can pretty much drive itself, if you let it. And it’ll do that while you get a massage, pump some Beyonce, and enjoy the fragrance of a field full of flowers… And then, it can teach you to do stretches and exercises in the driver’s seat.
It may sound like fictional fiction, but it’s factual fact. And it’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018 model, which has taken the so-called ‘wellbeing’ of the driver to a new level.
The facelifted model has seen plenty of styling changes and some tech upgrades, and while making the flagship car in a particular brand’s line-up is often a task fraught with issues, the German company’s big, expensive, luxurious, limousine is undoubtedly a more thoughtful car for 2018.
But just remember, its predecessor was considered - at least for a little while - as the best car in the world by some automotive journalists.
Now Mercedes-Benz has updated it, and it reckons it’s better than before, bringing a bunch of new technology, new engines, a reworked model range and, perhaps not essentially, but still pleasantly, lower pricing.
Read on to see how Beyonce factors into the equation.
|Engine Type||4.7L 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 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains a technological tour de force, a luxury sedan to be reckoned with - one that has safety, technology, comfort, finesse and performance all rolled into a stylish package.
It's hard to see why you'd need anything more than the S 350 d, which is now much more attractively priced. It'd be my pick, but I'd have to get the Energizing Comfort Control package, and probably the AMG styling pack, too. And even then it would cost less than its predecessor.
Is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class your kind of luxury car? Let us know in the comments section 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.
I swear it has been facelifted, and the changes are bigger than they might appear. There is no doubt that the S-Class shape is largely unchanged, but the German company has kept the modifications minimal in the scheme of things.
That doesn’t mean those changes are unnecessary, though. The new headlights, for example, are standard on every model, and are constructed with 84 LEDs (including three for the daytime running lights), and of course they’re adaptive with automated high-beam - meaning they’ll shield other road users from the glare of the lights at night. And the lights themselves will throw a main beam up to 650 metres, according to the company.
Other things are slightly more cosmetic, like the revised three-bar grille treatment, new front and rear bumper designs that feature broader sculpted sections to widen the stance of the car, and there are new LED tail-lights as well.
The smallest set of wheels used to consist of 18-inch rims, but now the base car rolls on 19s, while the rest of the expansive range sits on 20s.
The inside has seen some changes, too, but the appearance of things in the cabin isn’t the focal point - its the usability of the technology that's the big change.
Oh, but I should tell you there are now 64 ambient lighting colours to choose from, which is up from seven, and now you can also set the lighting in three different zones - so theoretically you can have blue, orange and green areas of the cockpit, if you’re gross.
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.
If you’re buying a Mercedes-Benz S-Class there’s a good chance you’re more interested in the back seat than the front: you could be buying it for a business, or you could like to be driven around - and there are definitely worse places you could be.
We would suggest, though, that the best place you could be if that’s your caper is in the back of a long-wheelbase S-Class model, which has extra legroom.
And if you happen to be in a LWB model with the 'Business Class Package', you’ll enjoy two individual rear seats rather than a three-seat bench, folding tables for your bento box or laptop, and an ‘executive seat’ on the passenger side that features a foot rest and allows you to slide the front seat forward to liberate more room. Deluxe.
No matter if you are in one of the stretched models demarcated as such by the ‘L’ suffix or not, you will enjoy excellent seat comfort and good head- and shoulder-room. Legroom in the regular models isn’t as plentiful as you might expect: much more affordable cars like the Hyundai Sonata give the S-Class a run for its money in that regard.
There are good storage options for odds and ends, with the back seat featuring a fold-down armrest with pop-out cupholders and a storage box, as well as map pockets - and the boot space varies depending on the model, but the S 350 d has a 510-litre cargo capacity (VDA). All four doors have bottle holsters, and a bit of extra room besides. Of course there are rear-seat air-vents, and if you’re kids are lucky enough to ride around in a S-Class, the two ISOFIX/three top-tether points will be welcome.
Up front there are two cupholders between the seats, and a new wireless phone charger in the centre console (Qi compatible phones only). There are two USB ports as standard in most models, while models with the rear seat entertainment package fitted get rear USBs.
The huge screen that runs across two-thirds of the dashboard has seen the noticeable join marker removed for this update, with the monitors being upgraded to a higher resolution and the graphics have been reworked, too. The codpiece-style controller of the Comand media interface remains, and while it still isn’t as simple as other controllers, it is reasonably easy to get used to.
So … what about Beyonce?
She comes in as part of the Energizing Comfort Control system, which is standard in some models and a $1400 option in those that don’t have it fitted.
Essentially it allows you to choose between different set moods: 'Joy', 'Freshness', 'Vitality', 'Warmth', 'Comfort' and 'Training', the latter of which offers three different stretching/exercise programs that last for 10 minutes to stop fatigue. The instructions are given by voice over the sound system.
Each of the moods will adjust the temperature and ventilation (the Freshness setting offers ‘gusts’ of fresh air as if you’re at the beach!), ambient lighting, air fragrance and intensity, and the massage function for the seats. And the music bit - there are predefined songs the system can cue up to suit the mood, or it can identify songs on a hard-drive or USB that suit the programs by analysing the tempo of the tune. Amazing, right?
The new steering wheel looks a lot sportier than the one in the pre-update car, and it has finally done away with the awkward cruise control stalk in favour of steering wheel buttons for the adaptive cruise control system.
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.
If you can call a car that starts near two-hundred grand good value, then you have much more money than I do. But there is no escaping it: the new S-Class 2018 range is better value than before.
The starting point in the range is entry-grade S 350 d, which is $195,900 plus on-road costs.
Standard kit for that model includes 19-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, nappa leather-wrapped steering wheel, those great new headlights and the new ambient lighting system, a panoramic sunroof, head-up display, dark brown 'Eucalyptus' trim, auto-dimming rear-view and side mirrors, a wireless phone charging system, keyless entry and push-button start. The entire S-Class range now gets auto-closing doors and an electric boot lid, too.
The media system in the S 350 d includes sat nav with traffic monitoring, a 13-speaker Burmester sound system, digital TV, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the 'Comand Online' system with internet capability.
Next up the model range is the S 400d L (at $222,500), and the S 450 L ($227,500) - both of which are specified identically. Over the base model car they feature the extended wheelbase, as well as electronically adjustable rear seats with memory function, side window blinds, a rear blind, rear climate control, and 20-inch wheels.
The S 560 sees the price head north to $270,000 (for the short-wheelbase model, which loses the abovementioned stuff in the L models), or $295,000 for the S 560 L. It adds the following nice features: nappa leather, brown burr walnut trim, a wood/leather steering wheel, 'Energizing Comfort Control', different (five-spoke design) 20-inch wheels, laminated glass and an anti-theft protection package. The S 560 L has luxury rear head restraints - they’re more like pillows, honestly - an individual rear-seat entertainment system and two wireless headsets.
The top of the regular S-Class model range is the Mercedes-AMG S 63 L, which is a princely $375,000. It builds on the kit offered in the models below, and pushes the sports luxury aspect further, with a full AMG body kit, 20-inch AMG wheels, AMG specific drive programs, AMG brakes, an uprated exhaust, sports steering and retuned suspension. Inside there are model-specific elements, special wood trim, front seats with active bolstering, and heated and ventilated rear seats.
If you’re shopping at this end of the market, then you’ll likely also be tossing up between a BMW 7 Series, or maybe a Bentley Flying Spur. An all-new Lexus LS will arrive in April 2018, and the all-new Audi A8 isn’t far away, either.
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 big news for the majority of S-Class buyers is the new engine in the S 350d, which is a 2.9-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel with 210kW of power and 600Nm of torque. It has a nine-speed automatic and is rear-wheel drive (RWD).
That same diesel engine is wicked up in the S 400d L, with that model churning out 250kW and 700Nm, and remains rear-drive with a nine-speed auto.
The petrol model range is opened by the S 450 L with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo mill producing 270kW/520Nm. Again, nine-speed auto, RWD.
The S 560 and S 560L run the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol with 345kW of power and 700Nm of torque. Nine-speed auto, rear-drive - naturally!
The AMG-fettled S 63 has a thumping twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine with 450kW and 900Nm, with a nine-speed MCT multi-clutch auto and - you guessed it - RWD.
The diesel models are - unsurprisingly - the most frugal in the range, with the entry-level S 350 d using a claimed 5.4 litres per 100km across a range of disciplines.
The S 400 d L - which uses a higher-output version of the same diesel drivetrain as the model above - uses only a minuscule amount more: its claim is 5.5L/100km.
The most frugal of the petrols is the S 450 L, with its six-pot petrol twin-turbo using a claimed 8.4L/100km.
Every model has stop-start - including the AMG - and the V8 petrols also feature cylinder deactivation when in 'Eco' mode.
That cylinder deactivation system helps the S 560 achieve an incredibly low claimed consumption of 8.5L/100km. So does the longer, slightly heavier S 560 L.
The higher-out Mercedes-AMG S 63 L uses 9.0L/100km, according to its claim. Amazing for the outputs of the engine.
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.
Smooth. It wasn’t even because I’d chosen the Energizing Comfort Control mood to elicit that vibe. It’s smooth - and so it should be.
Whether it’s the near-silent new six-cylinder diesel, which hauls the near two-tonne sedan along with less fuss than a medical centre receptionist dealing with a room full of coughing patients. There is no fuss. You just hand over control to the engine, and trust it will get you where you need to be.
The V8 petrol in the S 560 also has a bit of a silent killer vibe to it. There’s perhaps not as much noise as a V8 fan might want, but the mumbo is there, and in both cars the gearshifts are sublimely timed and super smooth.
Admittedly, the stiff-sided run-flat tyres on both the 19- and 20-inch wheels can exhibit a slight terseness over sharp edges, but when it comes to rolling over pockmarked surfaces or rougher country backroads, the ride offered up by the air suspension with variable dampers is superb. Put it in Sport mode and it stiffens up to the degree you’d expect, but Comfort is no doubt the best place to be.
The steering is super light but accurate, meaning it’s easier than you’d think to pilot this behemoth of a sedan through corners. The grip on offer is excellent, too, even if traction can be an issue - I had a full couple of seconds of strobe light action from the traction control light when I buried the throttle in the S 560.
I didn’t get a chance to drive the six-cylinder petrol S 450 L, or the S 400 d L. And, I’m really sad to report, there was no opportunity to drive the AMG S 63 L, either.
But the overall feeling of the updated range is that it remains a deluxe and delightful limousine - whether you have the good fortune of being in the driver’s seat or not.
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.
Easily one of the safest cars, if not the safest car, on the road today if technology is anything to go by. Well, we can’t go by a crash test score, because the S-Class hasn’t been crashed by EuroNCAP or ANCAP. So I can’t really give it a 10/10 for safety…
But when the standard safety kit list is as lengthy as the S-Class’s, it seems a safe bet. Items fitted include a 360-degree camera system, parking sensors front and rear, auto emergency braking, active blind-spot monitoring, active lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with active steering assist, drowsiness detection, crosswind assist, and pedestrian detection with evasive steering assist (which allows you to turn the wheel harder to avoid impact with a pedestrian).
Plus there are other items like the company’s Pre-Safe crash detection system which can flash the car’s hazard lights at other road users, and tighten the occupant’s seatbelt in anticipation of being hit. And if that happens, there are eight airbags (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain).
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 offers a standard three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 25,000km on all engines except AMG drivetrains, which require servicing every year or 20,000km.
Mercedes-Benz has a (pricey!) capped-price servicing plan. The standard diesel and petrol models in the S-Class range cost $596 for the first service, and $1192 for the second and third visits. The costs for the sole AMG model is $736 for the first service, then the second and third visits are $1472 per.