Lexus LS VS Audi S4
- 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
- Understated looks
- Goes like stink
- Overly heavy steering in Dynamic mode
- Tyre roar on some surfaces
- Can feel a bit computer-driven
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|
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new Audi S4 sedan and Avant, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch between Bathurst and Canberra.
Sometimes year a year flashes by and it's almost a shock to realise that Audi's B9 A4 has been with us here in Australia for almost that long. Performance buffs have had to wait for the first quick version of the A4 while the Allroad was rolled out, but here we finally have the first Audi Sport variant in the line-up - the S4.
As with the standard A4, there's a stack of new stuff and a stout standard specification list along with technical packages. There's one big piece of news, too - it's the first S4 to land with a price tag under $100,000.
|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.
It's not an exuberant machine and you can tell there's still a ton of room for the inevitable RS4 mean machine to go after the BMW M3/M4 and AMG C63. That means, however, that the S4 is a proper sleeper. Hardly anyone will notice what it is until they're eating your fumes while you whisk yourself away in (mostly) quiet and comfort.
The new S4 is lighter, slightly faster and more technologically advanced than its predecessor, while bringing the A4's charms to the go-faster part of the executive sedan segment. This one will rattle a few cages.
Audi S4 Sedan and Avant Specifications
List price: $99,900 (Sedan) / $102,900 (Avant)
Fuel Consumption: 7.7L/100km (Sedan) / 7.9L/100km (Avant)
CO2: 175g/km (Sedan) / 178g/km (Avant)
Fuel Tank: 58L
ANCAP: 5 stars
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Engine size: 2995cc
Fuel Type: PULP
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Spare: space saver
Turning Circle: 11.6m
Length: 4745mm (Sedan) / 4745mm (Avant)
Width: 1842mm (Sedan) / 1842mm (Avant)
Height: 1404mm (Sedan) / 1411mm (Avant)
“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.
Audi tells us that S4 owners don't like to shout about their purchase, which is just as well, because the S4 looks like a very mildly gussied up A4. That means the same sharp looks as the A4 but lower, 23mm to be exact. The standard 19s make it look lower still but all the standard A4 cues are there. This has been covered at length already, but just to be sure, every inch of the car is new, it just looks a lot like the old one.
Get up closer, though, and you'll see the serrated shape of the headlight, the clamshell bonnet and shutlines tighter than Scott Morrison on Budget night when it comes to funding hospitals. Audi says the body kit is aggressive but I think it's safe to say that the drug of choice at Audi's styling bureau is chamomile tea - it's fairly restrained, with just a few details (including a slightly daggy V6T badge on the front guards) to mark it out.
Inside is standard A4, too, with plenty of leather (both real and man-made), with some extra zing in the form of carbon and aluminium bits.
It's as roomy and comfortable as the standard car and looks just as good. It's a fine interior, the best in its class.
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.
The S4 has four bottle holders, cupholders front and rear for a total of four and various slots and spots for phones and keys in the front while the rear is a little less accommodating of bits and pieces.
The sedan's boot is the same as the rest of the A4s (and mid-size Germans) at 480 litres while the Avant bumps that up to a 505 litre minimum and a 1510 litre maximum when you drop the seatbacks.
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.
The S4 is available in two versions - sedan and Avant wagon. The sedan opens the bidding at $99,900 and the Avant closes it at $102,900. Both come with identical specifications and are available with much the same options. For a bit of pricing perspective, the first S4 was an Audi 100-based five-cylinder turbo that landed with a price tag of $132,000. In 1993.
The S4 has arrived with 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers, around-view camera, reversing camera, up-spec sat nav, adaptive cruise control, auto parking, auto headlights and wipers, high beam assist, keyless entry and start, electric tailgate (Avant only), heated folding electric mirrors, LED headlights, dynamic scrolling rear indicators, electric heated sports front seats, leather and Alcantara trim, three-zone climate control and interior LED lighting.
A ten speaker stereo is powered by Audi's MMI rotary dial system and the same 8.3-inch screen as the rest of the A4 range, which also means you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as two USB ports in the centre console to go with the Bluetooth. There's also a DAB+ digital radio.
Audi's Virtual Cockpit is standard and has an additional S mode which switches the dial view for a big tacho and a huge digital speed readout.
Being an Audi, you can get a collection of options in packs. The S Performance Package ($5900) adds an excellent pair of massaging S sport front seats with diamond stitching and Nappa leather, red brake calipers, more (synthetic) leather and carbon inlays in the interior.
The Technik Package adds the excellent matrix LED headlights, the 19-speaker B&O 3D sound system and a heads-up display.
Other options include variable ratio Dynamic Steering ($2210), quattro sport differential ($2950), premium paint (ahem, $1846), panoramic sunroof (Avant only, $2990), sunroof ($2470, sedan only), heated rear seats ($750) and the rear seat entertainment system ($2600-$4680 for one or two screens respectively, but you can't have it with the S Performance pack)
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.
Audi says the turbocharged V6 is brand new from the ground up. Developing 260kW (15kW up) and a nice round 500Nm (up 60Nm), the new engine is 14kg lighter than the supercharged unit it replaces, and more efficient.
Efficiency gains come from clever things like a "hot side inside" turbo placement (inside the V, meaning shorter exhaust paths to better turbo pressure), lift-off coasting and start-stop.
Power reaches the road via an Audi Sport tweaked quattro system which can send 85 percent of power in either direction and is rear-biased with a standard 60/40 rear/front torque split. The seemingly ubiquitous and always excellent eight-speed ZF transmission handles the job of getting the power from the engine to the road.
The standard self-locking centre diff can be flung and replaced with a trick quattro sport unit ($2950) with electro-mechanical control of the rear axle's torque split.
The sedan will rocket to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds, the slightly heavier Avant two tenths behind it.
Audi claims 7.7L/100km from the sedan and 7.8L/100km for the Avant. On a stinking hot day in central NSW and the ACT and with the accelerator spending a lot of time carpet-bound, the S4 still returned around 12L/100km. More time being driven less enthusiastically should see a marked improvement.
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.
The S4 is terrific fun. It's that simple. The new engine is an absolute belter, with all 500Nm of torque available at just 1370rpm. Lag is almost indistinguishable as the turbo spools up and rockets you along to 100kmh in under five seconds, that huge half-ton of torque sweeping you down the road.
With dynamic mode switched on, the car muscles up with firmer suspension and a slightly growlier exhaust. The steering really weights up, too, which takes a little getting used to after the lighter, friendlier setting in Comfort mode - thankfully you can set up an individual mode to dial the assistance back in while everything else is set up for go-fast.
The key to the fun is the rear-biased quattro system - while it's never going to match the purity of BMW's rear-wheel drive 340i, what you lose in steering feel and ultimate adjustability, you gain in off-the-line and mid-corner grip its German rivals could only dream of.
Going fast in an S4 is easy, leaving you to concentrate a little more on your line and gear selection, listening to the distant bark of the engine and the occasional turbo whistle. All of this is purely down to driving taste, of course but the point is, the S4 offers something a little different to the other two.
For most of the time the S4 defies its 1700kg-plus weight but there is the occasional hesitancy when changing direction through a challenging set of bends, as though the front tyres (245s all around, if you're interested) want to scrub and the quattro system makes a quick adjustment to stop it happening. You don't feel that's what's happening, of course - Audi Sport is better than that - but it's part and parcel of all-wheel drive. It takes a lot to find understeer and for most people, that just won't ever happen.
Further confidence comes from the terrific brakes - 350mm up front and 330mm at the rear, the big forward rotors are gripped by six-pot fixed calipers. Performance is epic and in hard, fast driving they stood up to a fair amount of punishment without fading.
The ride is excellent in all modes, which is quite an achievement given the fat rubber and big wheels, although big bumps at speed make a huge metallic thunk without actually upsetting progress. The eight-speed ZF is brilliant as always and unless you're really motoring, you don't even need its sport mode, which brings impressively fast and positive shifts.
The best thing is, if you don't look in the rear vision mirror, you can't really tell if you're driving sedan or Avant. That might be because it's quite absorbing on a launch drive, but I couldn't split the driving experience between the two.
The only black marks I could easily identify on the S4 is tyre noise on some surfaces and perhaps the steering could be a little more lively like its competitors.
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.
The S4 also retains the exit warning feature that tells you if you're about to door an approaching bicyclist or another car. What Audi calls "pre-sense rear" is a system to warn drivers behind you they're approaching too fast and are quite likely to hit you. Turn assist is also available, stopping you (at low speeds) from turning across approaching traffic.
The A4 scored five ANCAP safety stars, the highest available.
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.
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on the S4 with service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km whichever comes first. Roadside assist is part of the package, lasting for the first three years of the car's life.
You can pre-purchase three years/45,000km of servicing for $1620 under Audi's Genuine Care Service Plan. Full details are available on Audi's website, but it basically covers a scheduled oil changes and inspections and not a lot else.