Lexus LS VS BMW M5
- 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
- Effortless power
- Dimensions seem to shrink in sports mode
- RWD setting means much fun
- Hefty price hike
- Design, inside and out, could be more adventurous
- Still no phone mirroring
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|
Remember back when people were saying the BMW M5 would lose a little something by shifting from its traditional rear-wheel drive set-up to all-wheel drive?
It would drain a little sparkle, maybe. Or some excitement. It would become more predictable, more placid - hell, even boring.
But hindsight is always 20/20, and we know now that switching to AWD has done nothing but allow BMW to funnel even more power into the tarmac, with the German brand upping power outputs and dropping lap times in one fell swoop.
Consider the M5 Competition, then, BMW’s way of delivering the ultimate 'I told you so'. Because it’s not just the most fun, most potent AWD M5 ever - it’s the best M5 period.
|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 term bigger is better doesn't often apply to performance cars, but it fits the M5 Competition perfectly. Big inside, but small outside when it matters, BMW's new performance flagship might be expensive, but there's no shortage of bang for those bucks.
Is the bruising BMW M5 your high-performance sedan from heaven or hell? Tell 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.
Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? The BMW M5 Competition gets a new colour ('Frozen Dark Silver'), as well as new 20-inch (and lightweight) alloy wheel designs, and the grille, aero-designed wing mirrors and boot lip are finished in high-gloss black. The quad exhaust pipes are a black, too, as is the rear diffuser. Elsewhere outside, though, it’s the more muscular 5 Series of old.
Parked next to the much smaller M2, you quickly realise just how much bulk the M5 is carrying. It stretches 4966mm in length and 1903mm in width, and it looks every centimetre of those dimensions in the metal.
Climb inside, and you’re greeted with the familiar BMW interior design, with a huge centre screen, digital driver’s binnacle and a spaceship-level number of buttons surrounding the shift lever. The M5 Competition also arrives with full leather (seats and dash) trim, with carbon-effect dash inserts and aluminium pedal and foot rest trims.
Is it the most adventurous design treatment, inside or out, that we’ve ever seen? Well, no. But it looks polished and premium outside, and feels plenty comfortable inside.
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.
As far as performance cars go, the M5 Competition is a rolling Swiss Army Knife. For one, it’s bloody massive, which pays considerable dividends for passengers.
Up-front, the seats are far enough apart to ensure you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly nobody. The centre console Is super wide (all the better for fitting all those buttons), allowing for a sizeable centre storage bin, joined by two cupholders and a second storage bin in front of the shifter which is also home to your USB, power and 'aux-in' connections.
In the back, there’s business-class levels of leg and headroom, and you can even fit another whole adult in the centre seat if you’re so inclined. The pull-down seat divider is home to two extra cupholders, sitting in front of a thick armrest, and the rear air vents get their own temperature controls. There’s an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat, too. Pop the capacious boot and you’ll find 530 litres of storage space.
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...
Parking the M5 Competition on your driveway will require a $229,000 investment. That's not chump change, and a considerable jump over the regular M5, which arrived (in launch-edition guise) wearing a $199,529 price tag.
Outside, that money buys you new and lightweight 20-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto-dipping and active cornering, keyless entry and a four-tipped sports exhaust. Inside, expect a 'full leather' interior (seats, dash and door inserts),a nav-equipped screen which pairs with a 16-speaker stereo (but Apple CarPlay is a cost option) and dual-zone climate control.
Performance wise, M-designed variable dampers, a lightweight carbon-composite roof and a M sports exhaust all join the standard features list. Still, $30,000 is fair jump over the standard (and well equipped) M5. But if money is no object, you'll be buying plenty of fun.
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).
Yes, our all-electric future feels inevitable. And yes, there’s much fun and performance to be had from battery-powered EVs. But you can’t help but hope that future is a Star Wars style far, far away when you get acquainted with the BMW M5 Competition’s monstrous twin-turbo V8.
It’s good for a wondrous 460kW (up 19kW on the regular M5) and 750Nm. Both of which are big numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'M Steptronic' automatic. Happily, you can, at the push of some buttons, make the M5 a rear-driver again. It’s slower, but damn if it ain’t much more fun.
As a result, the performance numbers need to be seen (or better yet; felt) to be believed. The near-two-tonne M5 Competition will blaze from 0-100km/h in 3.3secs, 0-200km/h in 10.8secs, and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h (or 305km/h, provided you do some BMW driver training).
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.
Well, BMW tells us you’ll return 10.7-10.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. But we would suggest that’s unlikely, unless you have Miss Daisy lounging in the back seat. Drive it like you definitely will drive it, and you can expect to pay for that privilege at the pump.
Emissions are a claimed 243-246g/km of CO2, and the M5 Competition’s 68-litre tank will demand a premium unleaded petrol.
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.
Things this large simply shouldn’t be this potent. Like John Goodman suddenly toppling Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the BMW M5 Competition is bulk-defyingly good at the fast stuff.
The secret is its ability to hide those sprawling dimensions on a race circuit or twisting road. BMW’s engineers have poured plenty of work into stiffening the chassis of the M5 Competition, from new anti-roll mounts to additional under-bonnet bracing, to make the brand’s biggest performance sedan feel more lithe and responsive when pushed.
And while its size never vanishes completely - and you find yourself praying you don’t encounter oncoming traffic on skinnier roads - engaging the Competition’s sportiest settings unlocks a Copperfield-level vanishing act.
The engine helps too, of course, pushing the M5 along with staggering ease, even when you’re pottering at suburban speeds. But really flatten your foot and the big V8 will force you to reassess your knowledge of physics. It’s really very fast, the Competition, the power flowing uninterrupted to the tyres, the engine still very willing to deliver more oomph long after your courage has jumped ship.
The steering, direct though it is, lacks some natural feel, but you are always left with the impression that the Competition is going to go where you point it.
More fun stuff? Well, you can switch the traction control to a half-off setting, allowing for some smoking, drifting heroics before it drags you back into line. BMW calls it M mode, and it’s designed to make a hero of even the most ham-fisted of pilots, myself included. The braver still can deactivate traction control all together which, combined with rear-wheel-drive mode, turns the M5 Competition into the biggest and possibly most expensive drift car of all time .
Away from the track, though, the Competition version of the M5 is almost as good as transforming into a comfortable everyday commuter as its less hairy siblings. The adaptive suspension can be softened, and the steering lightened, to make toppling traffic a doddle.
The keen-eyed among you might well have noticed we’re yet to touch on any major downsides of the drive experience. And you'd be correct.
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 is yet to confirm full specifications for the M5 Competition, but you can expect the safety offering to largely mirror that of the regular M5. And while the performance variant has not been crash tested, the regular 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating.
Expect dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver, and a parking camera. You'll also find AEB, active cruise (which allows for brief spells of autonomy), thanks to its lane-keep assist.
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.