Lexus LS VS Alpina B5
- 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
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
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|
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.