Lexus IS VS Porsche Panamera
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Big price tag
- Short warranty
- No capped price servicing
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.
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Choosing a large German upper-luxury sedan used to be so simple. The ‘Big Three’ had it all sewn up with the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Merc S-Class.
So, Porsche is in there to challenge the Deutsche limo orthodoxy, and in an extra twist a couple of years ago the boffins in Zuffenhausen added a five-seat Sport Turismo wagon version of the current, second-generation car.
It offers a level of versatility and sporting personality the traditional players can’t match, and we spent a week with the recently released GTS version to see how it stacks up as a rapid executive express with a hint family practicality thrown in.
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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?
Big bucks are rewarded with a car that feels surer of its purpose in life. As the Gran Turismo Sport name implies, the Porsche Panamera GTS Sport Turismo can deliver refined, rapid cruising, or a maximum-attack backroad blast, combined with seating for five, wagon flexibility and top shelf quality. Niche filled.
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.
The first generation Panamera, launched in 2010, suffered a Quasimodo-style hump at the rear of its roofline because then Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking demanded (late in the development process) the car’s back seat should comfortably accommodate his lanky frame.
Happily, saner heads prevailed in the development of the far sleeker second-gen car, and this Sport Turismo variant, previewed by a concept version way back in 2012, bears more than a passing resemblance to its iconic 911 sibling.
That’s a good thing, with the nose defined by large vents and a lip spoiler across its lower half with the now familiar tapered headlights housing Porsche’s signature ‘Four-Point’ LED DRLs with LED main beams standard on the GTS.
The Panamera Sport Turismo is quite upright along its the sides, with the inward slope of the side glass (car designers call it tumblehome) relatively slight.
Large air extraction vents behind the front wheel arches, with pronounced strakes running back from them, add a racy touch, with the car’s lines subtly transitioning into broad 911-like haunches at the rear. Fat dual exhausts sit either side of a broad diffuser.
The sweeping LED tail-light treatment is straight out Porsche’s current exterior design playbook, with the Sport Turismo’s steeply raked rear door topped by a curved aero piece, which in turn houses an extendable rear spoiler (which automatically deploys at 90km/h).
Standard rims are 20-inch alloys, but our test example wore a set of optional ($2770) 10-spoke ‘Exclusive Design’ 21s, which filled the wheelarches to capacity, and to my eyes anyway, looked the business.
The interior is familiar Porsche territory, again with a strong hint of 911. Parallel horizontal lines define the dash’s upper and lower edges, with a customisable 12.3-inch touch display screen neatly integrated in the centre.
The instrument display allows for a classic 911-style five dial arrangement, or multiple other layouts to be configured across two 7.0-inch 'freeform' screens sitting either side of a fixed analogue tachometer in the centre.
The delightfully grippy steering wheel has the same drive mode dial sprouting from the four o’clock position as the 911. The GTS-specific sports seats, with single piece backrest look and feel superb, and the standard of fit and finish throughout is hard to fault.
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.
Porsche positions the Panamera Sport Turismo as a ‘4+1’, meaning it provides comfortable seating for four, with an occasional spot slotted into the centre of the rear seat (the standard Panamera is a four-seater).
There’s plenty of space for the front seat passengers, although the broad centre console enhances a cosy ‘cockpit’ feel.
There are two cupholders (L and XL) in the leading edge of the central armrest, with the flip-top lid beside them opening to reveal a medium-size storage box containing a 12-volt outlet, USB port and ‘aux-in’ jack.
This is supplemented by a small covered coin tray at the base of the centre console, a generous glove box and door bins with enough room at the front to hold a standard-size drink bottle.
The rear seats are as elegantly sculpted as the fronts, except for the squeezy centre position, and there’s plenty of leg and headroom on offer (cop that Wendelin Wiedeking).
Two big cupholders reside in the fold-down centre armrest, there are map pockets on the back of the front seats, but this time around the door pockets are modest and even small bottles are a no-go.
Back seaters are furnished with individual rear seat controls and adjustable vents in the door apertures and centre console as part of the four-zone climate control system. Very civilised.
Despite the wagon rear end luggage space with rear seats up is decent rather than cavernous at 520 litres (VDA). But drop the 40/20/40 split-folding backrest and you’ll have 1390 litres at your disposal.
Tie-down hooks at each corner, an additional 12-volt outlet and bright lighting are provided. But don’t bother looking for a spare tyre, a repair/inflator kit is your only option.
For those keen on towing, the Panamera GTS Sport Turismo is okay to haul a 2200kg braked trailer and 750kg unbraked.
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’re aiming up at the world’s luxury heavyweights, you’d better bring you’re A-game in terms of standard equipment, and the GTS Sport Turismo doesn’t disappoint.
We talked about this car challenging the Deutsche limo orthodoxy, and tagged at $371,400, before on-road costs, Porsche’s bahn-storming wagon puts $160k on Audi’s A8 55 TSI quattro LWB ($210,000), and $100k on BMW’s 7 Series flagship, the 50i xDrive M-Sport ($272,900).
So, aside from the performance-focused powertrain and on-board safety tech (covered in later sections), the GTS Sport Turismo features, full leather and Alcantara trim (the latter covering the door armrests, sun visors, headliner, as well as the A-, B- and C-pillars), heated multifunction sports steering wheel (with gear-change paddles), ‘Connect Plus’ (phone SIM card reader, wireless internet, Porsche apps and services), the digital Porsche ‘Advanced Cockpit’ (twin 7.0-inch screens), adaptive cruise control, adaptive, electric 18-way sports seats with memory, an electronic tailgate (with foot swipe ‘Comfort Access’ function), a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen running the configurable ‘Porsche Communication Management’ (PCM) system (including online navigation, audio, and more). The surround sound audio system features 14-speakers with digital radio as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Also included are auto LED auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and start, a panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control, the ‘Sport Chrono’ package (launch control, four driving modes, ‘Porsche Active Suspension Management’), adaptive air suspension, and ‘4D Chassis Control’ (fine-tuning longitudinal, lateral and vertical dynamics). That’s plenty of fruit, and so it should be for the money.
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.
Twin-turbo V8s are flavour of the decade for German hi-po engine boffins, with the Panamera GTS Sport Turismo’s 4.0-litre unit (also used in Audi’s RS6) matching Merc-AMG’s 4.0-litre V8 and BMW M’s 4.4-litre designs.
The GTS’s all-alloy, 90-degree V8 features direct-injection and ‘VarioCam Plus’ with adaptive cylinder control, incorporating variable camshaft timing on the inlet and exhaust side. Outputs are 338kW from 6000-6500rpm and 620Nm across a wide band between 1800-4500rpm.
Central location of the twin-scroll counter-rotating turbos in the inner ‘hot V’ (between the cylinder banks) optimises packaging and improves throttle response by shortening shortens the length of the exhaust plumbing to the turbos and the distance compressed air travels back to the intake side of the engine.
Iron coating of the cylinder linings and a chrome nitrite finish on the piston rings is claimed to improve durability and reduce oil consumption by up to 50 per cent compared to Porsche’s previous 4.8-litre naturally aspirated V8.
Drive goes through an eight-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch auto transmission to all four wheels, with an active, electronically regulated drive system managing a multi-plate clutch pack to vary torque distribution between the front and rear axles.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined cycle is 10.6L/100km, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 emitting 242g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway driving we recorded an average of 12.4L/100km (at the bowser) which isn’t exactly frugal, but still impressive for a 2.0-tonne high-performance GT.
Auto stop-start and cylinder deactivation are standard, minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 90 litres of it 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.
Some key facts to establish context here. The Panamera GTS Sport Turismo weighs 2025kg, measures just over 5.0m long, and is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 producing 338kW/620Nm.
Despite such considerable size and weight, that’s enough motive force to thrust it from 0-100km/h in 4.1sec, 0-200km/h in 15.4sec, and on to a maximum velocity of 289km/h. Which is crazy fast, as any good Porsche should be.
Less a torque curve, and more a torque right-angle, pulling power climbs in near vertical fashion to its maximum at just 1800rpm, remaining as flat as a billiard table all the way to 4500rpm. Which means mid-range punch is monumental. Squeeze the accelerator at just about any speed and your back will be firmly shoved into the Alcantara and leather-clad sports driver’s seat with a satisfyingly guttural engine and exhaust accompaniment.
The eight-speed dual-clutch auto does nothing do diminish Porsche’s reputation for producing positive and ultra-quick-shifting transmissions, with manual mode inducing all kinds of wannabe F1 driver fantasies.
More than echoing the 911’s looks, this Panamera comes up with a convincing dynamic impersonation, as well. The GTS’s sports chassis is lowered by 10mm, and the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system and ‘Adaptive Air Suspension’ offer a broad choice of driving personality.
Despite the big 21-inch rims, shod with Z-rated Pirelli P Zero rubber (275/35 fr - 315/30 rr) the comfort setting is just that, sitting at the cushy but still controlled and well damped end of the suspension spectrum.
Dial things into the performance-focused settings and the double wishbone front, multi-link rear set-up is transformed into a taut and even more responsive arrangement, which combines perfectly with the quick, yet feelsome and progressive electromechanical steering.
The all-wheel drive system helps the car put its power down brilliantly well, front to rear distribution happening continuously and seamlessly.
As you’d imagine the brakes are immense, with vented discs all around (390mm fr - 365mm rr) clamped by chunky six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston units at the back. The pedal is firm without overdoing the resistance, and stopping power is strong.
Ergonomic are spot-on, the standard digital ‘Porsche Advanced Cockpit’ is brilliant, as is the configurable media screen, and the audio system is superb..
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.
The Panamera hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but its outstanding dynamics go a long way towards avoiding a crash, and the GTS boasts an impressive portfolio of active safety tech.
You’ll also pick up a reversing camera, ‘Parking Distance Control’ (front and rear) and a tyre pressure monitoring system. Worth noting our car was fitted with ‘Lane Change Assist’ ($1890) and the ‘Night Vision Assist’ thermal imaging system ($5890).
But if all that fails to prevent a crash the airbag count runs to eight (dual front, dual front side, curtain and knee bags for the driver and front passenger).
An active bonnet helps minimise pedestrian injuries and there are three top tether points for child seats/baby capsules across the rear seat with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
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.
The Australian Porsche range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
But a 12-year (unlimited km) anti-corrosion warranty is included, as is twenty-four-hour roadside assistance, renewed every time you service your car at an authorised Porsche centre.
The main service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and no capped price servicing is available with final costs determined at the dealer level (in line with variable labour costs by state/territory).