Lexus IS VS Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- 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
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|
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|
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.