Lexus LS VS Alfa Romeo Giulia
- That 'obnoxious face'
- Decadent and intriguing interior
- Comfortable ride
- Engines could do with more shove
- CVT in 500h is not suited for spirited driving
- Headroom could be better
Alfa Romeo Giulia
- Great tough looks
- Fantastic engine
- Excellent handling
- Road noise filters in cabin
- A and B pillars obstruct view
- Softer suspension does mean bouncy ride at times.
Almost 30 years after Lexus launched its original LS flagship sedan, the fifth generation of the car has arrived in Australia in what appears to be the brand’s never-ending battle to hunt down and beat Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi at their own game.
In some markets it looks as though Lexus is making headway. In the United States last year Mercedes-Benz was the best-selling luxury brand, followed by BMW and then Lexus. To give you even more insight, 50 per cent of all Lexus sales globally are in the US.
The story is different in Australia, with Lexus hardly a threat to the big three Germans, selling about a third less each month.
The Lexus LS is the Japanese prestige brand’s flagship and comes with a price that nudges up against formidable rivals. There’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi’s A8. Only the best cars from a few of the best brands in the world – no pressure, Lexus.
This may even be a reason to buy one – in that it’s not one of the traditional three. You could see Lexus as the popular underdog that in some ways does a better job than the usual suspects. A people’s favourite perhaps?
Just look at how often it’s mentioned in songs. According to lyrics.com.au the word Lexus has been used in 873 songs. Meanwhile Mercedes Benz appears in 500, Audi in 402 and BMW in 307.
With all this in mind we headed to the Australian launch to drive the LS 500 and its hybrid twin the 500h.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Alfa Romeo Giulia
You know how in the movie Rocky III Rocky Balboa has become all rich and successful, but unfit and he can’t really box to save himself.
Then the young maniac boxer James 'Clubber' Lang (awesomely played by Mr T) challenges him to a fight and his trainer tells him he’ll lose, but he fights him anyway, and gets knocked out.
But then he asks for a rematch, and Rocky trains hard and makes a comeback to beat Lang. Well that never happens. If it was the real world Rocky would have been beaten again.
Alfa Romeo is a bit like Rocky. The Italian carmaker used to be unbeatable in speed and looks – it won the first ever Formula One Grand Prix in 1950.
Alfas were drop dead gorgeous too, but then - like Rocky - things started to go downhill. It got successful, unfit and old. Yes, occasionally there were flashes of the genius we once knew, but if a car maker takes enough hits there’s every chance it will never get up again. Alfa Romeo had become a joke. It hurts to write that.
But there’s a big difference between Rocky and Alfa because a car maker can start afresh, build a fighter with a new body, more powerful fuel-pumping heart, stronger bones and given the right trainer it could become formidable.
Well that’s what Alfa hopes. The fighter’s name is Giulia. The trainer is Roberto Fedeli. The story goes that the head of Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne could see Alfa was circling the plughole and called in the only person he felt that might just have a chance of being able to reach in and save it before it went down.
That was Ferrari’s chief engineer Fedeli. Told to fix it or look for a new job, Fedeli reckoned it was possible, but he needed some money…five billion Euros in fact. Oh, and he’d need a team… of 800 designers and engineers. He wasn’t mucking around.
When the Giulia made its world entrance in 2016 the star of the range – the hardcore Giulia Quadrifoglio (or QV for short) stepped into the ring dripping in carbon fibre with an engine that had Ferrari’s finger prints all over it and mouthing off about having just set the new lap record at the Nurburgring.
It’s mission is to lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback… and slay BMW’s M3 on the way there.
Now, we recently had the chance to drive the new Giulia Quadrifoglio on a track and it made us so happy you could tell we were grinning even though our helmet. But what is it like to drive on the road? We found out at its Australian launch. How did it handle the real world? Does it have what it takes to beat the M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 S? More importantly is it enough to save Alfa Romeo?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Lexus LS 500 and 500h are both exceptional cars. The ‘obnoxious’ styling especially to the grille makes the offerings from BMW, Benz and Audi look bland and overly corporate inside and out. It’s really in the dynamics department that the LS falls short of its rivals and only the LS 500 is enjoyable if you like to drive with a degree of conviction.
Both the LS500 and 500h, though, have wonderfully comfortable rides and this together with those sumptuous interiors makes these the perfect place to be if you’re in the back being swiftly and quietly taken to you next meeting.
For me the sweet-spot pick would be the LS 500 F Sport for its value and dynamic ability.
You have $200,000. Would you spend it all on a Lexus LS or would you rather go for a Mercedes-Benz S Class, a BMW 7 Series or the Audi A8? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Alfa Romeo Giulia8.6/10
Absolutely stunning – both to drive and in looks. This is a monster, but one you can live with safely and practically. Proper rear seats, a proper boot and proper performance. A quality feeling package that feels more than a bit Ferrari but entirely Alfa Romeo. It does everything the M3 can. This looks very much to be a prize fighter that will lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback.
Comment call to action: Do you reckon the Giulia Quadrifoglio will make Alfa the next big thing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
“You’re either going to love them or hate them.” You can bet that whenever you’re told this just before being introduced to somebody then that somebody is going to be downright obnoxious. The same goes for the LS, well it’s face anyway, because those are the kinds of statements made about that grille.
The thing is, the LS needs an obnoxious face because its up against The Establishment - the Mercedes-Benz S -Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, and given there’s no way they’ll ever let Lexus into their little ‘club’ it’s good that the LS has steered clear of imitating them and is boldly different.
This was also the type of thinking which inspired the grille’s creator, Tokuo Fukuichi. The so called ‘spindle grille’ first appeared in 2010 on the CT200h before rolling out to the rest of the Lexus line-up. The look polarised the opinions of fans and even executives inside Lexus. But Fukuichi was adamant the key to the brand’s survival and success was to not to be boring.
That massive gaping mouth is anything but boring, and for this new-generation LS the spindle grille has been overhauled. Yes, some car companies might make a few tweaks to a grille, but not Lexus. Using a CAD computer program, it took designers six months to refine each of the 5032 surfaces on the F-Sport’s grille and the more than 7000 on the Sports Luxury’s. If only you didn’t have to slap a number plate on these exquisitely spun net-like structures.
New LED headlights and the ‘Zorro blade-slash’ LED running lights are equally obnoxious and therefore perfectly suited for the LS’s face. So too are the enormous air inlets below them in the bumper. If only the rest of the car’s exterior was as wild and not mild and milder the further you get from the grille. The rear looks stately, modern and sleek but could have done with something more adventurous (similar to IS’s taillights).
But the LS’s insides make up for that dullness, with a cabin that’s decadent and alien at the same time. A dash which sweeps from door to door features asymmetrical string-like design elements which are a theme carved through wood and glass and stitched into leather throughout the cabin. The quality is superb, while the fit and finish is better than I’ve seen on some of its competitors.
There are four no-cost interior packages on the Sports Luxury ranging from 'Moon White' trim with walnut decorative inlays to black trim with 'Crafted Latte' inserts. But it’s the $9800 optional 'Black with hand-pleating' and 'Kiriko' glass which is a stand out. It’s an intriguing look, the pleated fabric which cascades around the hand-cut Japanese glass.
The F Sport’s cabin is less decorative with seats that hold you tighter in three no-cost option leathers from 'Moon White' to 'Flare Red' with aluminium door and dash decorative elements.
Both cabins are sumptuous, although they fall a little short in gob-smacking tech like those amazing, expansive, floating dash screens and the virtual instrument cluster in the S-Class. Yes, there’s the large screen up front and the seat-back screens in the rear but the styling of the graphics and typeface reveal the Toyota DNA.
The LS has the presence a prestige brand’s flagship car should - imposing, long and wide. Look at the LS’s dimensions. At 5235mm end-to-end and 1900mm across, the LS is longer and wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but swoops in lower at 1450mm. The LS’s wheelbase is longer than a regular S-Class’s at 3125mm, too.
Apart from the grille you can tell an F Sport from a Sports Luxury by its black brake calipers and black elements in the front bumper, boot lid and sill.
To tell a 500 from a 500h, the difference is subtle. There are the badges, of course, but the 500's rear bumper also has a different design with chrome exhaust surrounds.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
With its long, nostrilled bonnet, high roofline, short tail and almost no overhangs to mention there’s more than a sniff of BMW 3 Series going on. That’s no bad thing – its intentions are clear.
It’s actually smaller than the M3. The dimensions reveal that at 4639mm the Giulia Quadrifoglio is 32mm shorter end to end than the Beemer, but only 4mm narrower at 1873mm in width and just 2mm taller at 1426mm.
The Giulia is light at 1585kg thanks to the driveshaft, roof, bonnet, front splitter, plus the rear spoiler and side skirts being made of carbon fibre. Meanwhile the engine, suspension, brakes doors and wheel arches are all aluminium.
Inside, the cabin swallows you up in stitched leather, there’s a dash that that swoops and curves in front you and holds the impressive display screen. Many Alfa cabin traits are there such as the driver-orientated controls which tend to make the front passenger feel like, well just a front passenger.
Under all of this is an entirely new platform called Giorgio – it’s scalable like Volkswagen’s MQB. This means the Giulia is just one of the cars to be based on it – the Stelvio SUV also uses it and Alfa says there are more to come.
Anything with a 3.1m wheelbase has to be practical right? Well, legroom in the back is excellent, but I can’t properly stretch out in that reclining rear seat with the ottoman without my feet hitting the seatback.
Headroom is also a bit a restricted in that rear row for me, too. That’s something to keep in mind for taller passengers (I'm 191cm tall).
A cargo capacity of 480 litres is 30 litres shy of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, while the cooler box in the rear (that comes with the Sports Luxury trim) eats into the boot space and drops the total to 440 litres.
The LS is a five-seat sedan, but that centre rear seatback folds forward to become the armrest and houses the controls to the massage and reclining functions, plus two cupholders.
There’s another two cupholders up front and pockets in all the doors. While the storage area under the centre console armrest in the front and back is good – that’s about it for storage.
An access mode will raise the car by 30mm when getting in and lower it by 10mm when getting out. Those wide opening doors also make entry and exit easier.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
I don’t normally fit Alfa Romeos because I have Viking ancestry and don’t come from a land where the people have short legs and long arms. So as much as I’ve liked driving Alfas, when I do my legs are cramped and yet I feel too far from the wheel.
Not so in the Giulia, everything feels the right distance away. And the pedals, which in other Alfas are far too close and cause me to constantly hit the brake and accelerator at the same time just because my feet aren’t like a ballerina’s are a proper distance apart. Not once did I embarrass myself with my ‘brakcellator’ trick.
Room in the back is excellent – it’s a four seater and even at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position with a good three fingers space between my knees and the seatback.
Boot space is also excellent and matches the M3’s 480 litres.
Storage inside is good in some places – such as wide the centre console storage bin, but not so great in others – the door pockets are only enough for small bottle and there only two cupholders – they’re in the front.
Price and features
The line-up is simple. There are two powertrains: the turbo-petrol V6 LS 500, and the petrol-electric LS500h hybrid, and there's no price difference between them. Then, there are two trim levels: the F Sport for $190,500 and Sports Luxury for $195,500.
Coming standard on the F Sport are 'F Sport' seats with leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone climate control, 28-way power adjustable front seats and head-up display. The multimedia system comes with a 12.3-inch screen, sat nav, DVD player, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
There’s also LED headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels and a kick-open tailgate. While the F-Sport misses out on some of the plush features of the Sports Luxury it does get hardware for better on-road dynamics which you can read about in the driving section below.
The Sports Luxury has that large screen, those power adjustable front seats and the multimedia system with that Mark Levinson stereo, too, but adds much more. The front passenger seat slides and folds itself forward to allow the seat behind it to recline and extend its ottoman-style leg rest.
Both rear seats are 22-way power adjustable and heated. If you’re lucky enough to be lounging back there, you’ll also two 11.6-inch seat-back screens with a DVD player. Plus, there’s four-zone climate control, a rear cooler box and power sun shades.
The F-Sport and Sports Luxury have their own choice of no-cost interior options. The Sports Luxury also gives you the option to buy (for $9800) one of four special interior packs – you can read about the standout one with the hand-cut glass below.
There are 11 body colours to choose from: Sonic Quartz, Sonic Silver, Titanium, Liquid Metal, Onyx, Graphite Black, Vermillion, Scarlet Crimson (a dark red), Metallic Silk, Deep Metallic Bronze and Deep Blue.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The Quadrifoglio is the king of the Giulia range and lists at a right royal $143,900. Sounds like a fair bit of coin, but it undercuts the M3 Competition’s $144,615 and C63 S’s $155,510.
Standard features are excellent – there’s the 8.8-inch display, 14-speaker Harman Kardon 900w sound system, the carbon fibre bonnet, roof, side skirts and rear spoiler and carbon fibre interior trim, leather and Alcantara upholstery, the steering wheel with starter button, quad exhaust tips, aero curtain on the front bumper, active aero splitter, rear diffuser, B-Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-high beam, aluminium pedals and advanced safety equipment which we’ll tell you about, too.
Engine & trans
Let's talk engine specifications .The LS 500 has a 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 making 310kW/600Nm, with drive being sent to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission. That's impressive horsepower, but this car is heavy is a weight of about 2.3 tonnes.
The LS 500h has a 220kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 (a different engine to the 500’s) plus two electric motors driving the rear wheels. The total power output is 264kW. Shifting gears in the 500h is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Just a reminder, too, the LS 500h is not a plug-in hybrid. Regenerative braking re-charges the lithium-ion batteries.
If you're looking for a diesel, you won't find one here. Same goes for a manual gearbox. And, while buyers can choose an all-wheel drive (awd) Lexus LS in other markets around the world, ours are all front-wheel drive.
Alfa Romeo Giulia10/10
When it comes to six cylinder engines it’s hard to beat an inline six – the balance is near perfect, they scream and BMW’s delivers its power beautifully.
The Giulia has a V6. It’s a 2.9-litre twin turbo that makes more power than the M3’s 331kW at 375kW and also more torque at 600Nm.
It is a potent power plant and Alfa won’t say it too loudly, but with the same bore and stroke as the V8 in Ferrari California T it’s pretty much the same thing only with two cylinders chopped off.
Sending all that grunt to the rear wheels is an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission – I have pictures of this transmission on my fridge – it’s in a lot of cars and I am yet to find another road car transmission I like more.
A claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds beats the M3 by 0.2 seconds.
My first experience of the new LS was from the back seat of a 500 Sports Luxury being driven from the airport to the venue where Lexus Australia would deliver the presentation on its fifth generation of the car.
Seat reclined, I was whisked quietly and comfortably through the traffic, barely any road or wind noise, the ride was superb on that air suspension, a little floaty but still damped well enough for it not to become bouncy, with minimal head sway (the movement that makes you car sick).
Cocooned in leather with seat-back screens for audio and DVD the ride and environment was just right for a limousine chauffeuring important business types who need swift and tranquil transportation. Not for weirdos like me who were only interested in the way the front and back multi-link suspension kept a 2.3-tonne car with a 3.1m wheelbase so civilised, even through roundabouts. I wondered if this was actually the best way to experience the LS – from the back seats, being driven?
When I did drive the 500 and 500h in the two trims later it more or less confirmed that first impression. The 500 in F Sport trim was the best to drive, while the 500 in Sports Luxury was the best to be driven in. Why? I’ll explain.
The LS 500’s 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 makes more power than the hybrid for starters, which is always a good thing when you need to move a car this heavy. Even then the LS 500’s acceleration isn’t super quick, and the engine needs to work hard when asked to get a wriggle on. That 10-speed automatic transmission is excellent though.
The same can’t be said for the CVT in the 500h which under harder acceleration does what CVTs do in that situation, make more noise without seeming to get the drive effectively to the wheels.
The 500h’s naturally aspirated V6 is a good thing, but it seems the weight of the car and the CVT work against it being exciting to drive. After a couple of hundred kilometres in a 500h blasting through the countryside steering it became tiresome rather than rewarding with the engine constantly kicking in and whining incessantly when asked for more beans, please.
This car is far better suited to slipping silently through city streets than it is galloping through the bush – that’s where the 500 is a lot more at home.
The 500 and 500h are rear-wheel drive cars, and this, along with an almost 50-50 balance, sets the ground work for good cars to pilot. The F-Sport trim adds an active rear stabiliser bar as standard equipment and brings a more sophisticated version of Lexus’s 'Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management' (VDIM) – a stability system using data from suspension, ABS, traction control, electric power steering, the stabiliser bar and rear steering. The result is the control of longitudinal, vertical, yaw, roll and pitch movements for better ride and handling.
The F Sport trims adds bigger brakes, too with 400mm x 36mm discs on the front and 359mm x 30mm at the back, plus staggered tyres with 245mm rubber at the front and 275mm at the rear.
The electric steering is light, which makes it easy to manoeuvre in carparks, and an 11.2m turning circle is great for the class.
On the open road at speed the steering is pinky-finger light even in Sport+ mode, and while it’s smooth and accurate, I want to feel more connected to the wheels and where they’re pointed.
While the LS 500 is more the driver’s car than the 500h neither perform as well dynamically as Benz’s S-Class, but from the back seat the LS feels just as comfortable and even plusher.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Starting in the Giulia with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes ($13,000) and the equally optional carbon fibre sports buckets ($7150) we joined Port Macquarie’s peak-hour traffic. Those anchors felt ‘doughy’ first thing in that cool morning and it wouldn’t be until they had some serious heat in them that they’d start to come to life. That wouldn’t be long because we were heading for the hills where great roads waited. But it gave us a good chance to drive this car in ‘normal’ conditions.
Straight away that ride felt so comfortable, so soft even that I was worried it affect handling later. I’d just got out of testing a BMW M3 which feel rock hard even on a ‘soft’ suspension setting. Steering was one-finger light. The dash is high, the window sills are high, the Recaros felt tight.
As we trundled down the main street that V6 gurgled deeply in third gear – that didn’t sound like any V6 I’d driven lately. Coming out of a roundabout and a gear change back to second and the V6 stirred louded but kept its throaty roar – this was special. Dabbing the accelerator the nose lifted up. This thing wanted to go. It felt light, ‘pointable’. Everything felt light – from the accelerator pedal to the steering and body weight. It was happy to stay on the leash. Well behaved, patient.
As we left the city behind I clicked the drive mode from ‘Natural’ into Dynamic and with heat now in the brakes decided to see what $5 billion euros and 800 engineers and designers felt like.
With acceleration so hard each shift upwards felt like a punch in the back. Those turbos are wound up with 35psi of boost it’s not until second gear that it rushed it then it’s time to for third and fourth. Using those giant paddles it’s hard to shift fast enough to keep up.
The only thing more impressive than the acceleration are those ceramic brakes – we’re talking 100km/h- 0 in 38.5 metres.
Swapping into a Giulia Quadrifoglio with standard brakes and seats I found stopping power was still impressive – those seats actually more comfortable for me.
As we scrambled through the tightest corners through the bush heading higher and higher it became clear that this was different from the M3. The BMW feels harder, firmer, more planted. But the Quadrifoglio was just as adept but did it in a softer more flowing fashion. It’s was agile, changing direction as easily as you could think it.
Also changing direction in the front splitter – it’s active meaning it moves up or down depending on when you need the extra down force.
It’s more powerful than the M3 and you can feel it – it’s wilder, less serious and slightly crazy, but smoother and softer in its suspension – there were times we scuffed the front splitter in dips.
There’s road noise – lots of it on the course chip. That is probably the only complaint. That and visibility front and side is hampered by the thickness and placement of the A and B pillars. The indicators are confusing and hard to stop indicating… but these are small things.
At full roar the Quadrifoglio bellows likes it has so much more to give, the M3 screams into battle.
Both are so so good, and do the same job, but differently.
The Lexus LS has not been crash tested, but all the signs are there that this is an exceptionally safe vehicle, from the structure of the car to the advanced safety technology such as AEB (forward and reverse) with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
For child seats there are three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the rear seats.
Both the 500 and 500h are fitted with run-flat tyres.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The left-hand drive version of the Giulia Quadrifoglio has scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, which is yet to be recognised by ANCAP. There's so much more than a reversing camera too, with active cruise control, AEB, lane keeping and rear cross traffic warning and auto high beam.
There’s two top tethers and two ISOFIX points in the back seat.
The Lexus LS is covered by a four-year/100,0000km warranty. Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or 12 months. There is no capped price servicing program. Being a Toyota family product the Lexus LS also comes backed by the same reputation for reliability and you may experience lower maintenance costs than perhaps its German rivals.