Lexus IS VS Porsche Panamera
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Big price tag
- Short warranty
- No capped price servicing
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|
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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’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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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).