Lexus LC500 VS Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
- Superb driving dynamics
- Stunning concept-like styling
- Good value
- Cramped back seats
- Poor storage space
- Touch pad controller
- Sleek styling
- Beautiful cabin
- Ride and handling
- Limited rear legroom
- Higher entry price into range
- No diesel variant
It was in the car park of a well-known hardware chain (that also happens to be famous for sausage sizzles) that it happened. I was closing the boot lid of the Lexus LC500 when a grinning, middle-aged bloke - arms almost breaking under bags of cow manure - waddled past me and said: “I’d so have this over a Porsche 911. Any day.”
That was the kind of reaction the LC500 provoked wherever I took it, and by the end of my week with it I had became convinced that this was one of the best sports cars I'd driven in my eight years of reviewing cars.
Not quite... because while that sounds like the final verdict rather than an introduction to a review, there's more to it. See, while there's so much that I love about the LC500, there are other parts that would make me think twice about getting one.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
There are people who probably wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away. Call security, have it escorted off the premises. That’s probably because they don’t agree with its styling. For them, it’s not how a large four-door Mercedes-Benz should look, with its ‘rude’ coupe roofline.
“You don’t surrender a segment… a vehicle has to do 100 units to justify bringing it – this will do 100 units no problem sat all,” were the exact words from Benz’s head of communications David McCarthy.
You could say Benz created the four-door coupe segment when it launched its first-generation CLS 14 years ago, triggering its rivals to fire back with their own four-door coupes - the Audi A7 and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.
Far from surrendering, the CLS has evolved again with this third-generation bringing new engines and styling. So, what do you gain and what will you have to surrender (for lack of a better word) if you choose to go down the non-traditional route of the CLS?
I found out when I drove the new CLS 450 4Matic for the first time on Australian roads at its recent launch.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The LC500 is good value and superb to drive – from its comfortable ride to its great handling - offering an outstanding and engaging experience. There are a few reminders of its lower-brow connections, such as the media unit and that touch pad controller which is really frustrating to use.
The LC500 is also less practical than some of its rivals. Yes, it’s a sports car, but it’s a luxurious one and should offer better cabin storage as a modern grand tourer.
That said, the LC500 proves that you don’t need to spend any more than $200K to have an exceptional driving experience.
Is the LC500 the smartest luxury sports car buy on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Mercedes-Benz CLS has proven to be a niche hero, creating a segment and then evolving into something even more elegant, while keeping its unique appeal. A beautiful, modern cabin and the new engine in the CLS 450 provides the swiftness to match those looks.
Do you wish the Mercedes-Benz CLS would just go away or do you think it's just perfect? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Also, check out Matt Campbell's video review from the CLS's international launch:
Just look at it. Even in the extremely ordinary photos I took in a hurry before the sky fell in, you can see that the LC500 is absolutely drool-inducing. It's gothic-meets-the-21st-century-meets-1980s-Miami-Vice styling, and it all works superbly.
Even better, it still retains the almost impossible looks we saw when the LC500 Concept debuted at the Detroit motor show in 2016. And yes, there's more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus LFA supercar from 2011.
Low at just 1.3m tall, wide at 2m across, and long at 4.8m, the LC500 is all bonnet and hips and giant 21-inch rims that tuck into those enormous arches.
I was also taken by the tear-drop styling to the head- and taillights, and that now familiar spindle grille looks more at home on this Lexus than on any other. The door handles which sit flush against the body of the car and pop out when you poke them are also a nice touch.
The LC500 we tested was fitted with the $15,000 Enhancement Pack, which includes the carbon roof, active rear wing, carbon interior scuff plates, leather-and-Alcantara seats and a rear-wheel steering system.
The cabin can't quite match the exterior for its stunning looks, but it’s still special, from those elegant door handles and the stitched upholstery to the thickly bolstered seats that you drop down deeply into.
There is some Toyota/Lexus ordinariness in the cabin, though, such as the screen, which while wide and majestic, is more Microsoft than Apple if you get what I mean. And that also goes for the media unit, too, and that controller pad with its silly PC-style curser.
The new-generation CLS has arrived looking slipperier than a cake of soap on the bottom of the bath. This model has always had svelte styling, but things have become even smoother with Benz’s design chief Gorden Wagener insisting more lines be removed in the creation of this latest version.
So, while there’s the familiar profile of that roof tapering down into the boot lid, the long rear overhang and that sliver of a window opening arching and turning down sharply at the rear, it's a more flowing design now that there are less edges to break it all up.
A new ‘shark nose’ grille opening, and broad bonnet adds a hunk of muscle car toughness to the CLS’s face. But it’s refined thuggery, with that single-louvered ‘diamond studded’ grille flanked by flush-mounted headlights. The tail-lights, too, are so contoured to the body around them they look painted on.
As CarsGuide senior editor Matt Campbell pointed out in his review of the CLS at the international launch, the car looks far better in the metal than it does in any photo.
The CLS is based on the E-Class, sharing its platform and technology, but it’s about 20mm longer (at 4988mm) end-to-end. That’s almost 50mm longer than the previous generation CLS, too. At just over 1.4m tall the CLS is low-slung but wide at 1.9m across (almost 2.1m including mirrors).
The CLS’s cabin mirrors that of the E-Class, too, with a sweeping dashboard which flows through into the doors, two large landscape displays for your instruments and media, an oversupply of air vents and some darn sexy lighting. It’s a luxurious, stylish, comfortable, but snug setting cocooned by padded leather and polished surfaces.
The Australian CLS has been fitted standard with the AMG interior and exterior packages.
You can pick from 11 colours – eight of which are no-cost options and include, 'Polar White', 'Obsidian Black', 'Iridium Silver', 'Citrine Brown', 'Graphite Grey' and 'Cavansite Blue'. Optional colours include 'Hyacinth Red' and 'Selenite Grey Magno'.
It's not. The boot is small at 197L, while cabin storage is almost non-existent with a tiny centre console bin, no cupholders, narrow door pockets and a small glovebox.
As for people space, the LC500 is a 2+2 seater and those back seats are impossible for me to sit in thanks to the low roof and the zero legroom behind my driving position. With a bit of wrestling I did manage to fit a booster sit in there for my four year old.
For charging you'll find a USB port and a 12V outlet up front.
Yes, it's a sportscar but the Lexus LC500 needs a re-think when it comes to storage and space. Other sports cars (a 911 for example) are more practical. As a parent, this impracticality would see it off my shopping list.
Remember how I said you were going to have to surrender something if you wanted a CLS? Well, yes, you’ve have to surrender your hard-earned money, but you’ll also have to give up quite a bit of practicality.
That swooping roofline makes entry into the front seats a bit precarious for people of my height (191cm) trying to swing themselves into the cockpit without clocking their heads on the A-pillar.
The impracticality only gets worse with entry into the back seats, and legroom in there for me is tight, too.
I can only just sit behind my driving position thanks to the contoured seat backs. Headroom is also limited.
It’s worth pointing out that this time the CLS is a five-seater – the previous generation sat just four.
Storage isn’t bad, running to a deep centre console bin with a split lid, there are two cupholders up front and another two in the rear fold-down armrest along with another covered drawer, and all doors have small bottle holders.
The CLS’s boot capacity is 520 litres, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40 to provide extra space.
Price and features
The LC500 lists for $190,000. That's peanuts considering you can pay a lot more than this for a sportscar from another brand that doesn't feel as good to drive.
The extensive standard features list includes a 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, a 10.3-inch display, head-up display, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, leather upholstery with heated front seats, stainless steel pedals, LED headlights.
Our test car was also fitted with the $15,000 Enhancement Pack - worth it I think, and you can read what it adds above in the section on design.
The LC500 is a lot less expensive than the cars it takes aim at - we're talking the Porsche 911 (the most affordable is about $240K to get on the road), the Jaguar F-Type V8 R (which lists for about $250K) and the BMW 850i (with a list price of about $273K).
It's safe to say that buyers looking at a 911 are not going to be looking at a LC500. But somebody checking out a BMW 640i Gran Coupe, which lists for $185,900, should know they can get more firepower and luxury in the LC500 for just five grand extra. Same goes for anybody considering the F-Type V6 R-Dynamic or Mercedes-AMG E53.
Remember at the start how I said there were some aspects that would make me think twice about getting an LC500. Well the media unit’s ‘Remote Touchpad’ and the joystick is up there as the most frustrating interface I’ve ever used. Not only is the infotainment menu confusing and non-intuitive, the uncoordinated controller makes the entire user experience dreadful. And I’m being nice.
Benz has dropped the 250d grade, which means you can no longer have your CLS with a diesel engine. That also means the new entry fee is higher with the CLS 350 kicking the line-up off at $136,900 (list price).
You’ll be rewarded with a decent amount of equipment for the outlay, though. Coming standard on the CLS 350 are those two 12.3-inch screens, a head-up display, a 13-speaker Burmester stereo, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, surround view camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 'Brown Ash' wood trim on the centre console, wheel-mounted shifting paddles, AMG exterior and interior packages, auto-parking, 20-inch AMG wheels, air suspension, proximity key and privacy glass.
The CLS 450 4Matic lists for $155,529 and adds air filtering in the cabin, power closing doors, a sports exhaust system and all-wheel drive.
At the top of the three-grade range is the Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic+ for $179,529. The extra money buys you nappa leather upholstery, wireless charging, the ‘Night’ body kit, an AMG exhaust system, and of course, a lot more grunt which you can read about below.
Engine & trans
Fear not, the LC500 has the firepower to match those battle-cruiser looks. Under that enormous bonnet is a 5.0-litre petrol V8 and it makes 351kW and 540Nm. No turbos here, and that is absolutely fine by me. Actually, I prefer it; I'm not a fan of the lag or 'boosty' acceleration associated with turbocharging.
This naturally aspirated V8 has linear, controlled acceleration as the 10-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly though the gears, with the dash from 0-100km/h over in just 4.7 seconds. That’s not supercar fast, but this isn’t a supercar. The LC500 is a grand tourer.
On start-up, the LC500's V8 is breathy and high-pitched. When I pressed the ignition button for the first time its banshee-like scream echoed through our underground car park and I'm fairly sure my CarsGuide colleague Tom White (who was standing next to it at the time) soiled his trousers.
If you’ve skipped straight to this bit you’ll have missed news that there’s no longer a diesel engine in the CLS line-up. Instead you have a choice of three petrol engines – one for each grade and all of them are new to the model.
The CLS 450 4Matic has a 270kW/500Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo and like the Mercedes-AMG 53 above it has an integrated electric motor called an EQ Boost. While it’s a hybrid system of sorts the electric motor doesn’t drive the wheels, instead it recuperates kinetic energy and charges the battery.
The CLS 450 uses the nine-speed auto, as well, and is all-wheel drive.
The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic has the same transmission and engine as the CLS450 but has been given a heftier twin-scroll turbo charging system and tuned to produce even more grunt at 320kW/520Nm. The 'EQ Boost' performs the same function as in the CLS 450, but also provides power to an electric turbocharger. The Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 4Matic is also all-wheel drive and uses a nine-speed automatic.
After 279km of testing on a combination of motor ways, country roads and city peak hour traffic I measured a mileage of 16.4L/100km at the pump. The official combined fuel consumption is 11.6L/100km.
While it’s thirsty, that fuel usage would not make me think twice about getting an LC500 – it’s a petrol V8 powered monster and you need to feed it to have fun. If fuel is an issue for you either financially or ethically then there’s always the LC500h hybrid version.
This is a good place to remind you (again) that only one CLS grade was available to drive at the Australian launch – the CLS 450, and we were only given the claimed fuel economy figures for that model.
After 197km through, on a route that bumper to bumpered its way out of Melbourne CBD and headed the long way to the airport via Woodend. our car’s trip computer was reporting close to an average of 10.0L/100km.
Outstanding. Brilliant. Superb. But I didn't expect it to be. Many of the breeds of Lexus I've driven look edgy and dynamic, but then feel like paper weights to drive. The LC500 is different. It's comfortable. Easy to pilot. Dynamic. And so much fun.
The big grunt and the measured way it's ladled out suits the character of the LC500 perfectly. This isn't a track weapon like the Lexus RC F, this is a monster that eats motorway miles - and that's what I did with it.
Don't ask why, but I needed to travel from Sydney to Newcastle for a 20-minute appointment and then come straight back again. I'm not a fan of that corner-less M1 Motorway, but the LC500 cruised up effortlessly without breaking a sweat - and with instant acceleration under my right foot whenever I needed to overtake. In the LC500, 110km/h felt too slow, like it wanted to keep running all the way up to its 270km/h top speed.
I took the old Pacific Highway back. The road surface is shoddy, but the sweeping corners and twists made the long way home so much more enjoyable. The LC500 performed beautifully, with superb handling while staying comfortable and composed. The big nose felt light, the steering perfectly weighted, and the throttle just needed a gentle prod to push it wherever I wanted.
Our LC500 wore Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, and despite them being runflats and 35 profile at the front and 40 at the rear on 21-inch rims, the ride - even over Sydney's shocking roads - was comfortable thanks to the air suspension.
That made daily commutes into the city fairly painless, too. And piloting the LC in traffic and car parks was also made easy thanks to good all-round visibility.
A reminder again, folks – Mercedes-Benz only had the CLS 450 available to drive. Okay? On with the review…
Nobody likes a traffic jam, apart from maybe taxi drivers. But sitting in a CLS deep in Melbourne’s CBD, stuck in road-work-infested roads, choked with cars going nowhere was as pleasant as the experience could be.
Plush seats, pretty lighting, air filtered and fragranced, air suspension cushioning the patchy tarmac underneath as we wriggled our way north towards Mount Macedon and country roads.
If you read another review calling out a large degree of wind noise filtering into the cabin, they’re right and wrong. See, the weather was apocalyptic as we hit the motorway. Trees doubled over kind of windy, and sure you could hear it rushing past the windows when we were at 110km/h, but you could also hear it clearly when we were at 30km/h.
I like gadgets and so it was about 15 seconds into the motorway stint that I tested out the active cruise control, and automatic lane changing, which works near perfectly.
As the roads became more winding, I switched drive modes to 'Sport', firming up the suspension and steering, at the same time prompting the transmission to kick back into a lower gear.
This is a stable-feeling car, well balanced and effortless to steer. Smoothness is a word for everything it does, including covering the ground quickly.
While that acceleration is rapid, it’s not quite exhilarating, and the engine note under load is a little high pitched for a thug like this.
CLSs of the past were known for being a bit more aggressive and feistier, but this one seems to have mellowed in its third generation. I don’t see any issues with this. There are other angrier Benzs if that’s your thing.
The LC500 has not been given an ANCAP score but there’s nothing to suggest it’s not incredibly safe.
Along with eight airbags it comes standard with a stack of advanced safety technology such as AEB, lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. There’s also adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam lights.
Run flat tyres means no spare wheel.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor mounts across the back seats.
The second generation CLS was never crash tested and this new one has yet to be as well. So, while it hasn’t been given an ANCAP star rating, given it shares so much with the five-star rated E-Class we’d expect it to score nothing less than that, too.
Along with nine airbags, ABS, and traction and stability control the level of advanced safety equipment onboard the new CLS is seriously impressive. There’s the 'Driving Assistance package Plus' which brings AEB with cross traffic function, evasive steering, blind spot warning with an active function and lane keeping assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top ether anchor points.
The LC500 is covered by Lexus’ four-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km.
There is no capped price servicing, but the first service is complimentary, and Lexus says you can expect to pay $866.95 for the second visit (30,000km), $870.14 for the third (45,000km) and $866.95 for the fourth (60,000km).
The CLS is covered by Mercedes-Benz’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12months/25,000km for the CLS 350 and CLS 450, while the CLS 53, like all AMGs needs to visit at 12month/20,000km intervals.
Mercedes-Benz says a capped price servicing plan will be available, but has yet to release the prices. We’ll update this as soon as the costs have been announced.