Lexus LS VS Alpina B5
- Sumptuous luxury for the price
- Impressive efficiency/performance balance
- Excellent comfort and refinement
- Styling looking a little dated
- Multimedia system too downmarket and also looking dated
- A bit more driver involvement would be terrific
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
Lexus is returning to its roots and playing to traditional strengths with the 2021 LS update, as the Japanese luxury brand braces itself for the imminent release of an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
On sale now from $195,953 before on-road costs, the facelift ushers in a raft of comfort, refinement, driveability and technological upgrades, striving to deliver the quietest and most luxurious experience in the upper luxury sedan segment.
The blink-and-you'll-miss-it makeover runs to redesigned headlights, wheels, bumpers and tail-light lenses, as well as the inevitable multimedia screen update, improved seating revised trim and better safety.
Along with an all-in equipment list and unparalleled levels of ownership benefits, the goal is to emulate the dramatic differences that existed between the LS and its mostly German competition more than 30 years ago, which helped make Lexus a disruptor, decades before the term was even coined.
The MY21 range will continue offering two grades – the racier F Sport and opulent Sports Luxury – in either V6 twin-turbo petrol LS 500 or V6 petrol-electric hybrid LS 500h powertrain choices, as per the XF50-generation's Australian debut back in late 2017.
The question is: has Lexus gone far enough with its limousine flagship?
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
The BMW Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo is not actually a BMW. Not according to the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, at least.
Nope, the modifications applied by tuning house Alpina to the 5 Series are deemed so significant that if you open the bonnet and look inside the engine bay, you'll see that the BMW VIN has been struck through twice and an Alpina vehicle number stamped underneath it.
The B5 is not the first model to be recognised in this way, either; the German government has recognised Alpina as a seperate car manufacturer since 1983.
The B5 has other ‘B' siblings, too. There's the B3 S Bi-Turbo, which is based on the BMW 3 Series, the B4 S Bi-Turbo (the BMW 4 Series) and the B7 Bi-Turbo (I don't need to tell you what this is based on, right?) which I've reviewed, too.
So just what has Alpina done to this unsuspecting BMW 5 Series? Is it really worth the extra money? How does the B5 compare to an M5? Could it actually be superior? And did they really take the speed limiter off to let it warp-speed to beyond 300km/h?
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
One might be surprised to learn that, without having driven the latest S-Class, rival large luxury sedans have struggled to juggle comfort and refinement with agility and speed. Even in this modern age of adaptive dampers and air suspension. The Germans, in particular, seem to struggle at times.
The latest Lexus LS, however, walks the line with impressive confidence and poise, prioritising the former yet without dropping the ball with the latter. Just keep in mind that the 500h Sports Luxury manages the balance best.
The bar may just about be raised with the bestselling Stuttgart's arrival from March, but even then, with its extensive and complete specification, outstanding hybrid efficiency/performance combination and remarkable build quality and presentation, Japan's master luxury sedan deserves to find more buyers in this country.
Well done, Lexus.
The Alpina B5 is a special car – more special than most people will ever give you credit for if you own one. Those that do know what an Alpina is will let you know; people will cross dangerously busy streets to talk to you about your car. Insanely fast, almost incomprehensibly comfortable and effortlessly powerful to drive.
Does the Alpina B5 make a BMW even better? Or do you think the M5? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The XF50 series is a long and imposing machine, but is also arguably the most Toyota-looking LS in history, sharing design cues with most larger sedans the company builds – and yes, even the Camry. This is a departure from the Mercedes aping ‘90s and '00 generations. If the latest S-Class can look like a 200 per cent enlarged CLA, why not?
The most obvious – and pleasing – changes are realised when the headlights are switched on, revealing the BladeScan tech. In the F Sport, the redesigned bumpers' air intakes are noticeably larger and have jazzier pattern inserts, as part of a broader exercise in differentiating the grades with what's perceived as ‘sportier' elements throughout the car. The divisive ‘Spindle' grille theme remains.
Out back – arguably the most Toyota-esque part of the LS – are piano black tail-light inserts to differentiate new from old.
If Lexus is about presenting nuanced styling evolution as to not spook the demographic, then the MY21 flagship sedan succeeds brilliantly.
Interesting is the right word for it, because while it might be questionable that Alpina's changes to the exterior are aesthetic pleasing, they are definitely intriguing to those who aren't familiar with the brand.
First, there are those 20-spoke wheels. Alpinas have worn this style of wheel forever and they've become the most famous outward sign that this is not just another BMW. So don't under any circumstances take them off and replace them with anything else. You'd be run out of town by the Alpina mafia.
Yes, they're more painful to clean than a cheese grater (trust me, I know. And if you look closely at these images you can see the dirty bits I've missed), but if you really don't like them then perhaps it's a sign this car isn't for you.
Then there's the boot-lid spoiler. It's square and 1980s'-looking, it also appears a bit like it's been bought online and installed by a teenager, but again, this is another Alpina tradition and it suits the car's character perfectly.
All right, those pinstripes; they're known as the Deco-Set and are a hat-tip to the Alpina racecars of the 1970s and '80s. Again, don't take these off, your Alpina will drop through the centre of the Earth in value. These are also part-and-parcel of owning one of these cars. I'm not a massive fan of them.
But I'm all about that front spoiler, with the floating Alpina lettering that you can option in silver, high-gloss black or gold.
Inside, there are fewer Alpina additions, but they're nonetheless unmissable. There's the Alpina-badged steering wheel, and a new virtual instrument cluster, embossed headrests and illuminated door sills.
There's also the little numbered plaque on the centre console which proves its authenticity, ours was number 49. Out of how many? I don't know. But I do know Alpina produces only about 1700 cars globally a year. Rolls Royce does about 4000. So, you can rest assured your B5 is exclusive.
At almost 5m long, 1.9m wide and 1.5m tall, the B5 is a large saloon, but having recently reviewed the Alpina B7 it feels small in comparison. How does it drive? We're getting there.
This is more like it.
While nowhere near the apex of striking interior design, with a dashboard that – again – is quite clearly from the contemporary Toyota way of thinking, the LS is massive inside, heaving with standard luxury and obsessively crafted in a few key touchpoint areas.
The brand makes a big noise about the floating door-sited armrests and their very obviously expensive craftspersonship, but it is eye-catching and satisfying to drink in the detailing, extending in and around into the dash seamlessly, carrying on the flowing, salubrious themes of sculptured multi-dimensional shapes. In 1989 journos were handing out similar platitudes in the original LS.
If the techno-overload of a Mercedes MBUX or Tesla's OTT tablet leave you cold, this enhances the luxury experience by adding a rich, cosy, warm ambience – though the instrumentation binnacle is familiar; all we can see is the first IS 250 of 1999, complete with its single, watch-face inspired analogue dial.
Here, of course, it's digitised and multi-configurable to accommodate sat-nav, multimedia and other vehicle-related needs, but it is a oddly nostalgic, given the brand's first BMW 3 Series rival is now almost forgotten. Still, it's interesting and isn't that what eccentric rich people who don't want to drive the cliché luxury behemoths desire?
With endless adjustability, the seats are sumptuous to the point of subsuming, in the way you'd imagine a limousine to be, but because of their bolstered support, they also can be manipulated into gently cupping you enough to stop you sliding about when throwing the Lexus about with gay abandon – more on that later on.
It doesn't need mentioning that the fit and finish is fabulous, with the enveloping luxury continuing out in the back seat. The Sport Luxury's airline-style recliners are enough to turn doubters into doe-eyed believers, with their restful, relaxing, relieving, refreshing and revitalising ways – well, to an extent that an airport massage-chair minus the coin box and dodgy stains can, in any case. But the fact remains: ensconced deep into that leather-lined luxury, slumber beckons. Namaste!
And that's the point of LS. It creates a sanctuary from the outside elements at least as effectively as Audi A8s, BMW 7s and Merc S' have costing upwards of 50 per cent more. The cabin is spacious, soothing and secure. On our extended drive of both 500 models, this was made abundantly clear with two stints behind the wheel of the visually similar ES 300h.
Quiet and refined, that car felt loud and coarse compared to the smooth silence of its supersized sibling. Mission accomplished, Lexus.
Practicality is not really a BMW strong point no matter which model you pick. See, BMW mostly makes the car equivalent of uber-stylish and skin-tight active wear which looks good and performs brilliantly, but sometimes you just want pockets and a bit of room for your… um… bits and pieces.
So while there are two cup holders up front and two in the back, the bottle holders in the doors aren't huge, the centre console bin is on the small side, there's a hidy-hole in front of the shifter, the glove box is just a box for little more than gloves and there's no other great cabin storage options.
Legroom in the rear is good but not great, too - I'm 191cm tall and have about 30mm between my knees and the seat back in my driving position. Middle-seat passengers will also have to straddle the drive shaft hump in the floor. Headroom is restricted in the back, too (you could blame the sunroof) with my hair just skimming the headlining (I do have big hair).
Under that power tailgate, the B5's boot capacity is 530 litres which is 15L more than its big sister, the B7. There are two plastic storage areas either side of the luggage space for wet things. While there is one USB outlet in the front there aren't any in the rear.
Price and features
Value, refinement and customer care are Lexus' traditional brand pillars.
Lexus broke through with recession-ravaged consumers at the dawn of the 1990s by firstly presenting an attractively conservative S-Class sized sedan at smaller E-Class prices, and then adding an uncannily hushed cabin of exquisite build quality, silky V8 performance, the entire kitchen sink of gadgetry and unheard-of ownership privileges, like tickets to events, free parking at selected venues and home/work vehicle pick-up at service time.
If such a strategy worked then, why not an expanded version now? After all, while sales started off slowly in Australia three decades ago, in the vital US market its impact was immense. Lexus eventually gained traction locally, but nowadays the LS lags significantly behind the leading S-Class; in 2020, it managed a three per cent share compared to Mercedes' 25.5 per cent – or just 18 registrations versus 163.
Sadly, the V8s haven't returned, but the facelift does bring a richer interior with high-quality materials to elevate comfort levels, backed up by redesigned seating and overhauled adaptive suspension dampers that also promote a cushier ride while not compromising steering/handling performance.
Meanwhile, new ambient lighting and (at last) touch-display capability for the 12.3-inch central screen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity do at least play catch up with the rest of the industry, let alone its direct rivals.
The same applies with the fresh safety gains for the series that include a digital rear-view mirror, Lexus Connected Services (with automated collision notification, SOS call and vehicle tracking), Intersection Turning Assist (that helps keep the driver from turning into on-coming traffic or brakes the car if, whilst turning, a pedestrian crosses the road), far-broader functionality of the autonomous emergency braking systems (including greater rear-cross-traffic warning and intervention), full-speed stop/go adaptive cruise control with traffic flow capability, improved road-sign recognition, better lane-keep and assist tech and a next-gen adaptive high beam tech dubbed BladeScan with stronger lighting and anti-glare performance parameters.
These come on top of the standard adaptive dampers, height-adjustable rear air suspension, front/rear cross-traffic alert, sunroof, gesture-activated powered boot lid, soft-close doors, puddle lights, 23-speaker premium audio, digital radio, DVD player, head-up display, satellite navigation, climate control with infrared body temperature sensitivity, heated/vented front and rear outboard seating, powered seats with memory, heated steering wheel, electric rear blind and a four-camera surround-view monitor.
The F Sport from $195,953 differs from the Sport Luxury from $201,078 (both before on-road costs) with its 10 airbags, dark 20-inch alloys and exterior trim hues, brake-package boost, rear-wheel steering, variable gear ratio, unique instrumentation and dark-metallic interior themes and bolstered front seats, while the LS 500 adds active anti-roll bars front and rear.
Going Sports Luxury changes things up somewhat, with two extra airbags (rear-seat cushion items), special noise-reduced alloys, rear-zone climate control, Semi Aniline leather, a front-seat relaxation system, rear-seat tablet-style screens, powered reclinable heated/vented rear seats with ottoman and massage, rear centre armrest with touchscreen climate/multimedia control, side sunshades and – in LS 500 only – a rear cooler box.
On the owner-benefit front, ‘Encore Platinum' introduced last year builds on the regular Encore's valet servicing with benefits like free use of a Lexus for business or leisure travel within select Australian and now-New Zealand destinations (one-way only – sorry, Kiwis) for up to four times annually and lasting the first three years of ownership. There's also eight yearly free valet parking at certain shopping malls and other venues, several celebrity-laden social events/activities and discounted Caltex fuel.
With all these features as standard, the LS costs several tens of thousands of dollars less than most full-sized luxury sedan rivals with broadly similar performance outputs and optioned up with equivalent luxuries, before the Encore Premium privileges. However, while the Lexus' four-year/100,000km warranty also betters most competitors by one year, it is mileage capped while others' regimes aren't, and none beat Mercedes' five-year/unlimited program.
Though prices are up by nearly $2000, it's fair to conclude the extra kit and improvements help offset them, but it's also worth remembering that earlier last year, Lexus hiked LS prices by up to nearly $4000, and not too long before Encore Platinum was announced...
The BMW Alpina B5 lists for $210,000, making it only $10K more the BMW M5 which comes with almost identical features apart from the Alpina engineering to the engine and chassis.
Arriving standard is leather upholstery, four-zone climate control, nav, the Alpina embossed-headrests, a 10.25-inch display, digital radio, Alpina door sills, sunroof, proximity key, power front seats, 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, head-up display, Alpina virtual instrument cluster, heated front and rear seats, and the 20-inch Alpina wheels.
The test car I drove had been optioned with a limited-slip differential ($5923), steering-wheel heating ($449); soft-close function for doors ($1150); sunblinds ($1059); TV function ($2065) ambient air package ($575), and front-seat ventilation ($1454).
Engine & trans
The LS is powered by two versions of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine.
Around 75 per cent of buyers choose the 500, which employs Lexus' V35A-FTS 3445cc double overhead cam 24-valve twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, delivering 310kW of power at 6000rpm and 600Nm of torque from 1600-4800rpm. Powering the rear wheels via an updated AGA0 10-speed torque-converter automatic transmission with driver-adaptive tech, it can reach 100km/h in 5.0 seconds flat, on the way to a 250km/h top speed.
For the facelift, it receives a revised twin-turbo set-up with reduced lag, new pistons and a lighter, one-piece aluminium intake manifold to save weight and cut noise paths while retaining existing outputs.
The 500h, meanwhile, gains software updates for more electrical assistance at lower revs for stronger acceleration times and feel. It employs the 8GR-FXS engine – a 3456cc naturally-aspirated variation with a higher compression ratio (13.0:1 versus the 500's 10.478:1), developing 220kW at 6600rpm and 350Nm at 5100rpm.
Being a series-parallel hybrid, there is a 132kW/300Nm permanent magnet motor and 650-system volt lithium-ion battery, making for a combined power output to 264kW. It now can run longer on pure electric – up to 129km/h compared with 70km/h before. Sending drive to the rear wheels via the L310 continuously variable transmission with a four-speed shift device and a 10-speed simulated shift control operation to mimic more natural auto responses, it requires 5.4s to hit 100km/h, and manages the same top speed as its 500 counterpart.
Both autos, by the way, have more aggressive Sport and Sport+ shift ratio software, while the M manual mode has paddle shifters.
Kerb weight varies from 2215kg (500 Sports Luxury) to 2340kg (500h Sports Luxury).
The Alpina B5 uses the same 4.4-litre V8 engine found in the BMW M5 (and also the B7). But, and it's a big but, the M5 makes 441kW and 750Nm, while the B5 outdoes it with 447kW and 800Nm. Admittedly, the B5's torque arrives at the 3000rpm mark, while the M5's is all there from 1800rpm.
How does the B5 beat it? Alpina installed its specially developed twin turbochargers and intercoolers, a high-performance cooling system, a reconfigured air intake set up and a different exhaust system.
The B5, though, is a tenth of a second slower to 100km/h compared to the M5 with a time of 3.5 seconds, but it will blast on to a top speed of 330km/h while the M5 is limited to 250km/h in regular form and 305km/h with the optional M Driver's package.
Both uses the same ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with identical gear ratios, and both are all-wheel drive.
The LS 500 returns a combined 10.0 litres per 100km, or 14.2L/100km urban and 7.6L/100km extra urban. Thus, the combined carbon dioxide emissions rating is 227 grams per kilometre, but can range from 172-321g/km. A theoretical average range of 820km is possible.
Moving on to the hybrid, the LS 500h manages a combined 6.6L/100km, or 7.8L/100km urban and an impressive 6.2L/100km extra urban. Its combined CO2, therefore, is 150g/km, and can drop as low as 142g/km and rise as high as 180g/km.
The Hybrid's average range should be about 1240km.
Both models require premium unleaded petrol as a minimum - 95 RON in the LS 500 and 98 RON in the Hybrid.
A key goal has been on reducing the stop/start frequency of the 500h's petrol engine during high-speed driving to increase both refinement and response.
The Alpina B5 needs petrol. By that, I mean it needs quite a lot of it if you want to enjoy it properly. What type of mileage does it get? Officially, it should use 11.1L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads, where as the M5 is set to 10.5L/100km.
That makes sense, the B5 produces more power and torque, and it's 85kg heavier than the M5 at 2015kg.
Our test car's trip computer was reporting 13.2L/100km after flying low over country roads and slow city piloting. The more time spent in the urban warfare that is the daily peak hour commute, the more that figure crept and hovered around the 15L/100km mark.
No matter what it says on the badge, the LS is first and foremost a large, heavy and imposing luxury sedan. Its sporting capabilities are relative.
Keeping that in mind, the updates for the MY21 version are a success, since the largest Lexus passenger car is uncannily quiet and refined, as you might hope and expect. The ride quality is largely cushioned and free of bump intrusion inside, with a sense of gliding over most road surfaces as if they were blemish-free.
We much prefer the Sport Luxury version, and the 500h in particular, because it can run silently in electric mode for periods, and somehow feels more lavish and plusher to ride in.
Whether that's psychosomatic or actual is debatable, for essentially both the 500 and Hybrid share the same multi-link front and rear platform, adaptive dampers and rear air suspension set-up, but the impression is that this grade is the choice for those wanting to feel ultimate luxury and peace.
On paper, the 500 F Sport should be the driver's choice, since it has the racier look and set-up, as well as 600Nm of tree-trunk-pulling torque.
The thing is, it doesn't necessarily feel all that athletic, and maybe that's because the whole existence of this model is based around isolating its occupants as comfortably as possible. This is no criticism, and the LS certainly envelopes everybody as a great limo ought to, but don't expect Audi S8 levels of steering crispness or handling agility.
Anyway, if you need to feel as if you are a princess in exile escaping villains with bazookas out the back of a Kombi, then the LS does an exceptional job in keeping the 2.3-tonne-plus mass in motion, cornering safely and precisely where it is pointed to, without losing too much composure or traction in tight, fast bends. This is quite a feat, really, for the big Lexus can be hurried along a mountain pass through narrow passages like a much smaller sedan, and without being bumped out of line or off course.
Again, for all-out performance, the 500h feels stronger, especially when called on to pull ahead instantly at speed, because the electric assistance is palpable compared to the regular 500's twin-turbo V6. Both are obviously very, very fast and sufficiently responsive to throttle inputs – and it's a sign of the brand's engineering prowess that their internal serenity means the speed isn't obvious until you're looking at the speedo – but there isn't even a whiff of lag in the Hybrid. That said, once on the go, that twin-turbo V6 in the 500 soars.
Considered in this context, you have to say that the MY21 LS is an exceptionally sumptuous and sophisticated limousine with the speed, safety, security and capability of taking you from point A to B without drama or noise.
Or, for that matter, excitement.
Ok, stay with me here. For this next bit you'll need a fresh egg, a lounge chair, and it might be a good idea to have some plastic bags and carpet cleaner on hand.
First, in front of the lounge chair flatten out the plastic bag and place the egg on it. Next, sit down on the chair and very carefully rest the ball of your foot on the egg with as little pressure as humanly possible.
This is exactly how little force you need to apply to the go-pedal of the B5 to accelerate from a standstill to 60km/h in about five seconds.
If anything sums up the driving experience of the B5, it's that sense of effortlessness.
Stomp on that accelerator, and you'll be shot to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, without a hint of broken traction thanks to the all-wheel-drive system.
The ride should have been terrible on 20-inch wheels shod in low-profile rubber (Pirelli P Zero 255/35 front, and 295/30 rear), but the Alpina-tuned air suspension is close to miraculous in the way it cushioned and censored the potholes out of Sydney's worst roads. Yes, it can be a touch floaty, particularly in the Comfort Plus setting, but this is benchmark-setting stuff for a comfortable ride.
Don't expect this beast to roar. Unlike the M5, the B5 gets its work done without deafening everybody around it. Sure, the B5's V8 sounds amazing when you push it, but it's not brash, not loud and not lairy. Buy an M5 or Mercedes-AMG E63s if you want to be heard half a block before you get home, but you won't get that with the B5 and its exhaust system.
The B5 also handles well, but I have to say the engagement factor is low. I piloted it effortlessly through the twists and turns of my country test circuit and roads which normally have me grinning like a maniac behind the wheel had me feeling a bit disconnected in the B5. That air suspension, the numb steering and pedal actions make it difficult to ‘feel' the road.
It's highways where the B5 is a king, but even at 110km/h there's the sense that this car is still fast asleep and won't get out of bed for anything less than 150km/h - making it perfect for Germany's autobahns, but maybe not for here in Australia.
Neither the ANCAP organisation nor Euro NCAP has crash-tested an LS for this or previous generations. And, for that matter, nor has the American NHTSA or IIHS, due to low sales.
Standard safety items include 10 to 12 airbags (depending on model, with dual front, front-side and curtain items), AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, driver attention alert, Lane Keep Assist, a Front Lateral Side Pre-Collision System, Active Steering Assist, radar-based adaptive cruise control, Parking Support Brake, Road Sign Assist (detects certain speed signs), a four-camera Panoramic View Monitor, Blind Spot Monitor, Lexus Connected Services, Electronic Stability Control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, and parking sensors all-round. The BladeScan adaptive LED headlights with anti-dazzle tech is also fitted.
The LS' AEB functions between 5km/h and 180km/h.
Additionally, two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are supplied.
The Alpina B5 is based on the BMW 5 Series which had a five-star ANCAP rating awarded to it in 2017.
Along with the comprehensive suite of airbags, traction and stability control, there's an impressive array of advanced safety equipment. Coming standard is AEB (front and rear), evasive steering, front and rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot alert and lane-keep assist. The Alpina B5 also comes with BMW's emergency call function.
For child seats you'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the rear row.
If you're unfortunate enough to get a flat tyre, there's a puncture repair kit in the boot which works provided the hole isn't giant, as I've experience in the past with these systems.
Lexus offers a four-year 100,000km warranty, which is considered one of the worst in the industry for mileage distance, due to the low number. Most rivals offer unlimited kilometre warranties, as well as more years in some cases.
However, it does come with a three-year program covering standard logbook services completed at an authorised service centre, with the first three annual/15,000km services for the LS costing $595 apiece.
A complimentary pickup and return service from home or workplace is available, as are a loan car, exterior wash and an interior vacuum during servicing. It's all part of the Lexus Encore Owners Benefit program, offered for three years and includes 24/7 roadside assistance.
Finally, the Encore Platinum brings the aforementioned travel destination free Lexus vehicle program (four times a year over three years) in Australia and NZ, as well as numerous valet parking and events privileges, limited to a several annually, and discounted fuel at participating outlets.