Lexus IS VS Tesla Model S
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
Tesla Model S
- Rocketship speed
- Clean interior design
- Ever-improving proposition
- Sadly, it's not a sports car
- It's a lot of money
- Lack of convenient charging
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|
Tesla Model S
If you have even a passing interest in the Tesla Model S, you'll have seen the endless internet videos where someone has lined up a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or another fast exotic car you could name, to race against it.
There's a long build-up, usually involving men who can't operate a baseball cap, a drag strip and idiotic words in the headline like "destroys" or "rips", or whatever. There's usually a bunch of honking bros with bad haircuts watching on, already planning their next viral video where they set a perfectly good mobile phone on fire.
It's facile and idiotic and doesn't give you any real clue as to the depth of whatever supercar it has "humiliated" or, just as importantly, the depth of the Model S and its spectacular engineering.
So, I won't be spending the next thousand words building up to the conclusion that the Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode is up there with the world's fastest production cars from 0-100km/h, because I'll tell you now that it is, and it does it in a claimed 2.7 seconds.
Now that's out of the way, there's quite a bit more to the Model S than a "broken" Nissan GT-R owner weeping into their bento box.
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?
Tesla Model S8.3/10
I spoke to a friend who bought a Model S before one had even hit the ground here in Australia. He chuckled when I told him how much this car cost but then said something I'd already suspected. "My mates who own a P100D would never drop that kind of money on a normal car. Buying a Tesla is like buying shares in the company, you're buying into the future."
And that's kind of the point. A $300,000 Audi RS7 (fully-loaded, obviously) is a bit slower in a straight line, looks just as good, is extremely well-built and emits noises that make people like me go as weak at the knees (just as the Model S' acceleration does). And would probably win a 10 lap race with the Tesla around Mount Panorama.
The Tesla is the future of cars. It may still be decades before the internal combustion engine is gone, but Tesla buyers are getting the jump, and today the Model S is the best car in which to make that leap.
Does the Tesla have the spark you need or do old-fashioned hydrocarbons still light your fire?
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.
Tesla Model S7/10
The Model S is definitely the looker of the three Tesla models on sale (the Model 3 might be some way from release, but you can reserve one and it's... weird-looking). With a slinky, Jaguar XF/Audi A7 roofline and low-slung stance, it looks the business. Like the X, the detailing of the car's surfacing and panel gaps aren't where other $200,000+ cars are, but it has improved a lot over the last couple of years.
The styling is quite sparse, really. Teslas look like computer renders in real life, especially in white, with little in the way of jewellery or detailed design elements. And that's probably the idea. It's a cleaner design than when first launched, with a simpler, flatter snout that brings out the headlights better.
The cabin has improved even more than the exterior. It's still the same minimalist design, but it fits together much more tightly than it used to. The 17.0-inch portrait screen is still there in its central but skewed-to-the-driver position and is now up to version 8. It's an impressive interface, covering off the vast majority of functions in the car, and is mostly easy to use. The responsiveness is key to its usability. If it was underpowered, you'd quickly start demanding real buttons.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S is a rare car in this class in that it has an almost completely flat floor, meaning rear seat passengers don't have to negotiate a transmission tunnel. The two motors run physically independently of each other so there's no crankshaft to get in the way.
The floor is thicker than a normal car, it's like a big skateboard underneath. That means your knees are up higher, which might cause numb bum on a long trip. The rear seats are comfortable enough, but middle seat occupants might feel like the outboard passengers are falling into them.
The view out isn't too bad given the rising window line, and if you've got the big two piece sunroof (without cover, irritatingly... ), it's quite airy out back. And hot (with the sunroof), but you do get rear air-con vents.
The boot is an eminently sensible 744 litres with the seats up and 1795 with the seats down, although the floor doesn't fold flat. While it's a big boot, it's relatively shallow so your suitcases go in on their sides. Up in the front boot (or froot) there's another 150 litres, so you can pack a lot in to the Model S. And with all that torque, when you do load it up, the extra kilos barely make a dent on the performance.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla is basically a technology company - well, a battery company - that makes cars, so the features and options reflect that. It's a gadget-laden five-door hatch powered exclusively by electricity and seemingly full of things that will drain the batteries quickly.
If you view the car's price purely through its standard features list and the cost of options, you're missing the point. If it had a 3.0-litre turbo six, there's no way you'd pay this kind of money for the Model S. But it doesn't have that, it has a bleeding edge battery pack and propulsion system.
The Model S can be had for as little as $118,652 for the 60 offering 400km range, rear-wheel drive, and 5.8s 0-100km/h (but move quickly, Tesla has just axed this model), or as much as this P100D which starts at $250,582.
Standard are a seven-speaker stereo, leather-like trim, 19-inch alloys, reversing camera, 17.0-inch touchscreen, keyless entry and start, forward collision warning, digital dashboard, electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, internet connectivity via included SIM card, power mirrors and windows and air suspension.
Our P100D came with 21-inch grey 'Turbine' wheels ($6800), panoramic roof ($2300) multi-coat pearl paint (white, $2300) and carbon-fibre interior trim bits for $1500, as well as a carbon lip spoiler for another $1500.
We also had the 11-speaker audio upgrade (with neodymium magnets, don't you know) for $3800 and the 'Subzero Weather Package' (seat heaters, heated steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters) and on-board high-power charger (speeds up charging with the 'Tesla Wall Connector', $2300).
There was also 'Enhanced Autopilot' ($7600) and 'Full Self-Driving Capability' ($4600). The former is meant for highway running, and comes with four cameras (up from one) and 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car, as well as upgraded processing power to run it all.
The full self-driving is meant for around town. The idea is you punch in a destination, or speak to the computer or passive-aggressively stay silent, which triggers the car to check your calendar and take you to the address in the appointment. Part of the extra cost of that is yet more cameras (up to eight), more sensors, and more number-crunching power.
We would love to tell you how all that worked, but being Tesla 'Hardware 2', it's not ready yet. While these features are being fleet-tested by 1000 cars in the US, your car will run it all in "shadow mode" for data and behaviour validation. One day you'll go to your car and a software update will be ready to download and install the functionality.
Unusually, you can retrofit both of these features for about $1500 more (each) than if you order them up-front. That's very cool and Tesla is probably the only car company in the world that will let you do it.
The 17.0-inch screen's software is regularly updated, like a mobile phone's. Also like a mobile is the sometimes less successful update, in this case the slightly bewildering and difficult-to-use music interface that is very keen for you to make a selection with voice commands, but not ones that go through your phone.
A 'Premium Upgrades' package adds the overkill of a 'Bioweapon Defense (sic) Mode' that knocks out 99.97 per cent of exhaust particulates and other contaminants, using two activated carbon air filters for other nasties like NO2 and hydrocarbon exhaust fumes.
LED turning lights and fog lights, real leather on the armrests, steering wheel and lower dashboard (if you also have leather seating), nappa leather and Alcantara on the dashboard, soft LED interior lighting, power tailgate and backlit door handles for $5300. Thankfully, the silly self-opening front doors in the Model X's pack aren't in this little lot.
Grand total? $297,792. On the road in, say, NSW... $313,013. Youch.
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.
Tesla Model S10/10
The P100D ships with two electric motors fed by a huge battery pack which triples as the bulk of the chassis and a super-strong crash structure. It's also shared with the Model X SUV.
Combined power output is 568kW with more of it out the back rather than up front. Torque is quoted at 1000Nm, but it's likely more than that. Claimed 0-100km/h time is a mildly unbelievable 2.7 seconds, with a further two-tenths to be shaved off when you press and hold Ludicrous Mode and accept a warning that you'll wear the car out faster if you use it.
With 'Ludicrous Mode' comes not just software but a higher capacity fuse that allows more power to be drawn from the batteries for longer to provide the searing acceleration.
Tesla Model S10/10
Zippo. Obviously with the new rules for Tesla Superchargers, it's not as cheap to own and run a Tesla as it was before (from January 2017, all new orders don't get free juice after the first 400kWh), but if you charge it at home (and can get away with it), it'll probably be cheaper than using Tesla's chargers. If you look, there's a company offering $1 per day charging for electric cars.
If I'd charged the car to 100 percent rather than the 80 percent recommended by Tesla for most charges (past that mark, the charge rate drops and the software has to slow to a trickle, doling out the electrons to the different cells), I would have managed just over 400km on the charge.
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.
Tesla Model S7/10
The first time I drove a Model S, I enjoyed the acceleration and the silence of the electric motor (this was back in the Dark Ages when even the P90 only had one motor). And that has remained, with the air suspension providing a firm but comfortable ride despite the P100D's 21-inch rims and very low profile tyres. Electric motoring in any electric car is addictive.
Much progress has been made (yes, I'm getting to the acceleration, stay with me) in the way it drives. The earlier cars felt too computer gamey, with little feel through the wheel or the seat of your pants. The steering is better, especially in Sport mode, but not a lot gets through the air suspension, so it takes a while to build confidence in the chassis.
On the freeway (look, you can read ahead if you must) it's amazingly quiet, with just a bit of a rustling around the mirrors. Well, of course it's quiet, it's electric. For chassis and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) squashers, not having the marvellous engine noise means much harder work to dull the other noises you just don't hear when there's an internal combustion engine.
And there's the acceleration. As the driver, you obviously know it's quick. Mash the throttle and the response is instant, the horizon closing in on you like you're attached by a very stretched and immensely strong bungee strap that's just been released. The way cars disappear in your rear vision mirror is hilarious.
It's more fun as a passenger, though. The Model X elicited whooping and laughing, but the P100D's extra 0.6s-worth of acceleration over the P90D, delivered with a truckload more G-force, equals silence. One woman said she was glad I'd caught her before dinner rather than after, before bursting forth with a range of expletives. One passenger became quite emotional, almost crying. And not just because they were stuck in a car with me.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, three ISOFIX points, rollover sensors, emergency power disconnect. Additionally, when the software arrives, you'll have full AEB (ours was limited), self-driving and an ultra-clever active cruise that'll change lanes and overtake if the car you're following falls below your set speed.
The Model S scored five ANCAP stars, the maximum available, in April 2015 via the sharing arrangement with EuroNCAP.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty with a parallel eight year/unlimited kilometre warranty for the battery and drive units. Roadside assist applies for the four year warranty period.
Tesla offers two maintenance plans, three and four years in length. The three year plan costs $2100 and the four year $3175. Paying for the services individually over the same period will cost $2300 and $3425 respectively. That includes a wheel alignment (if needed), but it isn't particularly cheap when compared with 'normal' luxury cars.
Your first 400kW/h of recharging is free using Tesla's supercharger network, so that would be four full charges from empty (which you wouldn't do, obviously), or about 1600km worth. After that, it's 35c per kWh or $35 for a full charge.