Lexus LS VS BMW Alpina B7
- 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
BMW Alpina B7
- Supremely comfortable ride
- Luxurious cabin
- Supercar-scaring 330km/h top speed
- Exhaust note could be tougher sounding
- Extra care needed to pilot through car parks and alley ways
- Australia's speed limits
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|
BMW Alpina B7
You know when you're walking along the footpath and you come to a soft spongey bit that the council have put in around a tree and your mind goes: "Whoah, the ground is bouncy but it looks just like bitumen?!"
Well that's the kind of response you'll get from people when they think they're looking at a regular BMW 7 Series, only to have their world go a bit bouncy when they see the Alpina B7 badge on the back of this car as you're overtaking them at Warp Factor 9000.
And you will be overtaking them like a blur because, thanks to the elves at German tuning house Alpina, the B7 is hugely fast for a five-seat, 5.3m-long, 2.2 tonne limo. But then the B7 is fast for any type of car of any dimensions, because with its 330km/h top speed this beast will outrun a McLaren 570GT. Yes, seriously.
Based on the BMW 750Li long wheelbase, the B7 begins life rolling down the same production line as a regular 7 Series. Alpina then goes on to make so many changes to the engine and chassis that the German government requires the BMW VIN to be replaced with a new one.
Ready to find out more? Well there's so much to see here that things may go a bit weird and bouncy again. Be prepared.
|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.
BMW Alpina B77.9/10
The BMW Alpina B7 is a special car destined (like all Alpinas) to be a collector's item, due to its rarity and exclusivity. I asked Alpina just how many current model B7s there are in Australia and the answer was "less than five", which is just as mysterious as most people find the car in general.
The B7 is fast – too fast to enjoy legally on Australian roads – but it is also supremely comfortable and well appointed. For Alpina fans lucky enough to be driven in on,e this would make for a truly rare and niche way to be chauffeured.
Is the BMW Alpina B7 the ultimate fast limousine? Tells us what you think in the comments section 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.
BMW Alpina B77/10
This is a good place to start because the B7 looks just like the 750Li it's based on, until you see the first tell-tale signs that it's not one.
There's the front wing with Alpina lettering and the boot-top spoiler, the graphics, which run the length of the car, and the 20-spoke wheels with Alpina badging.
This is late '70s, early '80s styling at its best (and possibly worst), but these special cars can pull off the irony-free look because this is how Alpina BMWs have rolled since 1975, when the E21 320-based Alpina A1/3 was launched.
BMW badges have been left on the bonnet and boot, but there's Alpina B7 BiTurbo lettering in place of the 7 Series identifier.
Most people walked by it in the street thinking it was just a big BMW, others scratched their heads wondering what I'd done to my big German limo and a handful almost dropped to their knees in praise and wonderment at spotting a rare beast like this in the wild.
These people all had their own Alpina stories – one was the third generation of an Alpina-owning family. You become a member a small and passionate club when you buy into this rarefied brand.
The standard B7's cabin is close to identical to the luxurious interior of the 750Li, save for Alpina-embossed stitching in the headrests of the soft, leather seats, the virtual instrument cluster and the Alpina plaque on the centre console denoting the build number.
The B7 is long, low and wide at just under 5.3m end to end, 1.5m tall and 1.9m across. A 3.2m wheelbase means cabin room is more than just spacious.
The B7 rolls off the Dingolfing production line in Germany and is then handed over to Alpina's facility in Buckle, where significant changes take place. Read on to find out how the B7 is different from a regular 750Li.
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.
BMW Alpina B78/10
The B7 is a five-seater limousine although with the fold-down rear centre armrest which houses the media control panel the back is really set up to carry two.
That 3.2m wheelbase means cabin space is enormous. At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with about 30cm between my knees and the seatback. Those rear doors open wide and the entrance is huge, making entry and exit almost as easy as just walking through a doorway. The air suspension also rises and lowers the B7's ride height for better access.
Storage is excellent, with two cupholders and door pockets for rear passengers, along with the area inside the centre armrest.
Up front, the driver and co-pilot have a deep centre console storage bin with split-opening lid, two cupholders and door pockets.
Luggage space is good, with a 515-litre boot.
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...
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 lists for $389,955, while a 750li is about $319,000. At this level, $70K seems like a downright reasonable premium to pay for a faster, more powerful, better handling and comfier version of the 750Li.
In this case you're paying more but getting more, although standard features are close to identical. There's adaptive LED headlights, head-up display, night vision with pedestrian detection, a 10.25-inch touch screen up front and two screens in the second row for TV and other media functions.
There's a reversing camera, sat nav, harman/kardon surround stereo and Apple CarPlay. There's leather upholstery, seat massagers in the front and rear, four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, auto tailgate, sunblinds for the rear and rear-side windows and proximity key.
The safety features are listed in the section below, and that list is also impressive.
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).
BMW Alpina B79/10
Alpina takes the 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 from the BMW 750Li and rebuilds the engine by hand. Alpina fits its own turbochargers, air-intake set -up, high-capacity cooling system and Akrapovic quad exhaust. Output is 447kW and 800Nm – an increase of a whopping 117kW and 150Nm over the 750Li's grunt.
It's interesting to note that the V12-powered 760Li has a smidge more power, at 448kW, and the same torque output as the B7.
How fast is the B7? Supercar fast – the B7 has a top speed of 330km/h, which will see it outrun a McLaren 570 and almost keep up with a Ferrari F12. That's quite incredible for a 2.3-tonne limousine with three TVs on board. A 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds is also hugely impressive.
In comparison, a 750Li has a 0-100km/h time of a not-too-shabby 4.7 seconds, but the car is electronically limited to 250km/h.
An eight-speed automatic transmission shifts gears smoothly, although a little slowly in Normal mode, while Sport and Sport+ add urgency and harder shifts.
Finally, the B7 is all-wheel drive, and those rear wheels are designed to steer slightly for better cornering performance.
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.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is probably not the car to own if you're concerned about either fuel prices or emissions, but then the twin-turbo V8 may not be as thirsty as you'd think, with Alpina stating that, after a combination of urban and open-road driving, you should only use 9.6L/100km.
My time in the B7 saw me double that usage but this could have had something to do with me turning off the stop-start system and driving in Sport mode constantly.
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.
BMW Alpina B79/10
Who on Earth thinks a BMW 750Li isn't fast enough or comfortable enough, even with all its horsepower, luxurious cabin and technology? Alpina, that's who.
Redevelopment of the 4.4-litre V8 with new turbochargers, a high-capacity cooling system, different air suspension set-up and an exhaust system made by Akrapovic have made this already exceptional car better. Better to drive and better to be driven in.
The ride, even on those 21-inch wheels and low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 ZR21 on the front and 295/30 ZR 21 on the rear) is incredibly comfortable. I drove it and also had a chance to recline in the back and be chauffeured (by our photographer) and the ride was so composed and refined it was hard to believe I was travelling along some truly awful urban roads with their cracked and pot-holed surfaces.
And it's quiet, too. Which will suit those in the back being transported swiftly from the airport to their next meeting, but if you're after a loud and angry exhaust note then you won't find it in the B7. Sure, from the outside at full throttle the B7 has a menacing growl, but this isn't a BMW M car that will bark and snarl.
See, while BMW's M division makes brutal, loud, high-performance versions of their regular cars, Alpina makes comfortable, stealthy, high-performance ones.
All-wheel drive provides fantastic traction and ensures that grunt doesn't just tear the tyres off those rims when you sneeze on the throttle.
And while the air-suspension is soft and comfortable, adaptive dampers adjust for when the road goes twisty, providing impressive handling for a heavy and long car.
Really, though, the B7 is built for long, endless stretches of roads, and the acceleration beyond 100km/h is almost as startling as that from 0-100km/h, as it wants to push straight past 200km/h towards that 330km/h top speed.
Which, unless you know a good lawyer or happen to be one, will send you straight to jail. Yes, the B7 is probably too much car for Australian roads. Only on a German autobahn would a B7 be fully at home.
I felt like I was given a Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse for a week but could only ride it in my suburban backyard.
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.
BMW Alpina B79/10
The Alpina B7 comes with all of the BMW 750Li's safety equipment – this includes AEB, lane-keeping assistance and lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, active cruise control, night vision with object recognition, auto parking and surround view camera.
Along with the suite of airbags, there's traction and stability control and ABS, as you'd expect.
The 750Li and B7 have not been given an ANCAP score.
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.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is covered by BMW's three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. The B7 is covered by BMW special vehicles servicing plan, which means services are cost-free for the first three years of the car's life.