Lexus LS VS BMW 3 Series
- 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
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
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|
BMW 3 Series
Over 44 years BMW has produced more than 15 million examples of the 3 Series. That's roughly one every minute and a half... for over four decades.
And the latest, seventh-generation version of what the famous German maker defines as the "heart and soul" of its brand has landed in Australia.
The new '3' is longer and wider. It's also claimed to be slicker aerodynamically, up to 55 kilos lighter, more fuel efficient, and faster.
And it'll need every advantage it can muster to take a chunk out of its arch rival, the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite BMW's wholehearted embrace of the SUV its 3 Series is still a critically important model for the brand in Australia. And this new version certainly has the spec and tech to take the fight up to Merc's C-Class. And if you're in the happy position of making that choice, it's now a whole lot harder. For our money the 330i marks the sweet spot with extra performance, safety tech and standard features for only a fraction more than $3k over the 320d entry-point.
Could this new 3 Series steer you away from a Merc C-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments section 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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Changes to the exterior design are more evolutionary than revolutionary. You're never going to mistake this car for anything other than a BMW 3 Series.
But even if the face is familiar, aerodynamic efficiency is outstanding. BMW admits its claimed Cd of 0.23 was achieved with a base model running on 17-inch wheels (not offered here), but even if bigger rims knock a few fractions off that number it's still an amazing result for a conventional four door sedan.
Big contributors are a full width front spoiler, 'air curtains' managing flow around each corner of the nose, almost complete sealing of the largest areas underneath the car, and a functional rear diffuser section.
The signature kidney grille has grown and is delivered as a single piece, with active shutters incorporated to manage cooling air flow through to the engine. Twin adaptive LED headlights (standard on all models) feature a sharp notch on their lower edge, a big clue for new model spotters.
Broad, carefully managed surfaces characterise the bonnet and flanks of the car, with a distinct character line just above door handle height enhancing its confident stance.
The slightly smoked L-shaped LED tail-lights sit proud of the body, and 18-inch alloys are standard on the 320d, stepping up to 19s on the 330i.
The interior has been redesigned with revised controls and new materials, including slick 'aluminium teragon' finish on the console and dash in the M Sport.
As you can see in our interior images, it's been tidied up and simplified considerably, although it will still be instantly recognised by current BMW drivers.
Highlights are a 12.3-inch configurable digital 'Live Cockpit Professional' instrument display (lifted directly from the X5), a new 10.25-inch media touchscreen and a standard (larger) head-up display.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
A longer wheelbase (+41mm) has helped increase overall cabin space and rear room specifically.
There's plenty of storage provided with a large lidded box between the front seats as well as two large size cupholders in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are big bins in the doors with separate holders for full-size bottles.
Rear legroom is generous. At 183cm, sitting behind my own driving position, there was plenty of fresh air between knees and seatback, with lots of foot room to boot.
Headroom was more marginal with a straight back leading to a bonce/roof interface. But there are adjustable rear vents, twin cupholders in a fold-down centre armrest, and big bottle holders in the doors. Multiple USB ports (Type A and Type C) and a 12-volt power outlet are provided front and rear.
The boot space offers up a 480-litre luggage capacity with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. Local towing capacity is yet to be confirmed, but indicative (European) ratings for both models are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg braked.
Standard rubber is run-flat so there's no spare of any description.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Pricing for the two-model launch line-up starts at just under $67,900 before on-road costs for the 320d, rising to $70,990 for the 330i.
Given many previous Australia-bound 3 Series models have been built in South Africa it's fair to ask where is the BMW 3 Series built, and the answer this time around is Germany.
And the standard features list is long, including 'Adaptive LED headlights' (with 'High-Beam Assistant'), LED fog lights and tail-lights, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (with electric fold-in function), rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, electrically-adjustable sports front seats (with memory function for driver and front passenger), wireless smartphone charging, 'Aluminium Tetragon' interior trim finishers, 12.3-inch 'BMW Live Cockpit Professional' digital instrument display, 'Navigation System Professional' with 10.25-inch digital touchscreen display also managing a 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system, including a 20GB hard drive and DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay is included.
Also included are 'BMW TeleServices' taking in 'ConnectedDrive'(free use of vehicle apps via 'BMW Online'), real-time traffic info and 'Concierge Services'. The 'BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant' responds to a "Hey BMW' voice command with a range of hands-free functions like nav, calls and texts. We had mixed success in challenging this friendly PA.
The default M Sport trim includes 18-inch 'M Double-spoke' light alloy wheels, BMW Individual high-gloss 'Shadow Line' black treatment on the window frame and air breather surround, the 'M Aerodynamics package' (aero front and rear bumper trims, and side sills), Alcantara/Sensatec (vinyl) upholstery (black with contrast blue stitching), Anthracite BMW Individual headliner, and an M leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons).
The no-cost 'Luxury Line' treatment swaps in 'Vernasca' leather seats, ash grey-brown interior wood trim, a sport leather steering wheel, the instrument panel trimmed in Sensatec and standard level sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 19-inch alloys, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry to all doors), adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, 'Driving Assistant Professional' (active cruise control with 'Stop&Go' function, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and 'Evasion Aid'), and 'Parking Assistant Plus' ('Parking Assistant' with 'Active Park Distance Control' rear, 'Reversing Assistant', 'Surround View', 'Panorama View', and '3D View').
In terms of colours, 'Alpine White' and black are no-cost, wihle metallic shades - 'Black Saphire', 'Melbourne Red', 'Glacier Silver', 'Mineral White', 'Mineral Grey', 'Mediterranean Blue', 'Sunset Orange', 'Velmont Bronze' (brown), and 'Portimao Blue' add $2000 (rrp). And the 'BMW Individual' metallic shade of 'Dravit Grey' adds $2350.
Lots and lots of fruit without any change to the price. Clearly BMW is determined to bring the 3 Series back to prominence.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
The 320d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, featuring common-rail direct-injection and variable inlet timing. It produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
The turbo's multi-stage design incorporates a small, high-pressure, fixed-vane turbocharger as well as a larger, low-pressure, variable-vane turbo to maximise response, performance and efficiency.
A 2.0-litre single turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine sits under the 330i's bonnet incorporating direct-injection, as well as variable valve and cam timing. Peak outputs are 190kW from 5000-6500rpm and 400Nm between 1550-4400rpm.
Mark the date because this is the first time the BMW 3 Series has been offered in Australia without a manual gearbox option. Both launch models send drive to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic (with wheel-mounted shift paddles) only.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite each car's performance potential claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is commendably low.
BMW says the 320d delivers excellent diesel fuel economy, consuming a miserly 4.5L/100km, emitting 119g/km of CO2 in the process, with the 330i's fuel consumption figure coming in at 6.4L/100km and 147g/km.
You'll need minimum 95 RON premium unleaded in the 330i, with both petrol and diesel requiring 59 litres to fill the tank to full capacity.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
First, the performance figures. BMW claims the 320d will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec, which is agreeably quick, while the 330i knocks that down to 5.8sec, which is properly fast.
Both engines deliver the same 400Nm of maximum torque at low rpm; 1750-2500rpm for the 320d, and a broader 1550-4400rpm spread for the 330i. Mid-range acceleration is strong and satisfyingly linear in each, the 330i that bit more urgent at the top end.
The eight-speed auto is velvety smooth, with the wheel-mounted shift paddles on hand for rapid 'manual' changes. Engine noise is muted at low revs but nice and rorty under pressure.
A stated aim in the development of this 3 Series was "dynamic engagement", and the standard strut front, multi-link rear suspension has been tuned to reinforce the driving part of the brand's long-standing 'ultimate driving machine' promise.
The standard suspension includes tricky two-stage dampers front and rear, but with all cars at the local launch fitted with the optional active damper system we'll have to wait to report on its quality (or otherwise).
This car's centre-of-gravity is 10mm lower than the model it replaces, which may not sound like much, but in engineering terms, absolutely is. In concert with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and wider tracks front and rear, it helps deliver an overall planted feel and predictable cornering balance.
The electro-mechanically assisted steering is accurate and linear with good road feel, which is not always the case in recent Beamers.
The launch fleet was also rolling on 19-inch rims (standard on 330i, optional on 320d) shod with Bridgestone Turanza run-flat rubber (225/40f - 255/35r) and despite that type of tyre's reputation for harsh characteristics and a moderate level of road noise, ride comfort on the typically coarse rural roads we covered in the Victorian high country was impressive.
Braking on both models is by ventilated disc front and rear, and even in spirited cornering maintained their power and efficiency. The M Sport brake package fitted to the 330i dials things up with four-piston alloy calipers (sourced from Brembo) up front.
The standard sports steering wheel is fat and grippy, the sports front seats combine firm location with long-distance comfort and overall noise levels are low. Overall, this is a super-impressive touring car.
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.
BMW 3 Series9/10
The new 3's active safety package is exactly where it needs to be, with all the 'cost-of-entry' items like ASC, DSC, ABS, 'Braking Assist', and traction control included. But additional tech includes everything from all-speed AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Change Warning', head-up display and 'Front Collision Warning' (with brake intervention), to 'Cornering Brake Control', 'Rear Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Rear Collision Prevention', 'Speed Limit Information', 'Parking Assist' (with 'Reversing Assistant') and 'Dynamic Braking Lights'.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 'Steering and Lane Control Assist', 'Emergency Stop Assistant', 'Auto Speed Limit Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', 'Front Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Evasion Aid', 'Crossroads Warning' (with 'City Braking' function), 'Wrong Way Warning', as well as 'Parking Assistant Plus' (with 'Surround View Camera' and 'Remote 3D View').
On the passive side, the airbag count runs to eight (front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, and head airbags for all four outer seats). 'Intelligent Emergency Call' is also included.
There three top tether anchors for child seats/baby restraints across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
This seventh-generation 3 Series is yet to be assessed by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but it's a safe bet it will pick up a maximum five-star safety rating.
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.
BMW 3 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is drifting off the pace now with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of service packages in 'Basic' and 'Plus' grades up to 10 years/200,000km.