Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Lexus LC500
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Superb driving dynamics
- Stunning concept-like styling
- Good value
- Cramped back seats
- Poor storage space
- Touch pad controller
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It was in the car park of a well-known hardware chain (that also happens to be famous for sausage sizzles) that it happened. I was closing the boot lid of the Lexus LC500 when a grinning, middle-aged bloke - arms almost breaking under bags of cow manure - waddled past me and said: “I’d so have this over a Porsche 911. Any day.”
That was the kind of reaction the LC500 provoked wherever I took it, and by the end of my week with it I had became convinced that this was one of the best sports cars I'd driven in my eight years of reviewing cars.
Not quite... because while that sounds like the final verdict rather than an introduction to a review, there's more to it. See, while there's so much that I love about the LC500, there are other parts that would make me think twice about getting one.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The LC500 is good value and superb to drive – from its comfortable ride to its great handling - offering an outstanding and engaging experience. There are a few reminders of its lower-brow connections, such as the media unit and that touch pad controller which is really frustrating to use.
The LC500 is also less practical than some of its rivals. Yes, it’s a sports car, but it’s a luxurious one and should offer better cabin storage as a modern grand tourer.
That said, the LC500 proves that you don’t need to spend any more than $200K to have an exceptional driving experience.
Is the LC500 the smartest luxury sports car buy on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
Just look at it. Even in the extremely ordinary photos I took in a hurry before the sky fell in, you can see that the LC500 is absolutely drool-inducing. It's gothic-meets-the-21st-century-meets-1980s-Miami-Vice styling, and it all works superbly.
Even better, it still retains the almost impossible looks we saw when the LC500 Concept debuted at the Detroit motor show in 2016. And yes, there's more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus LFA supercar from 2011.
Low at just 1.3m tall, wide at 2m across, and long at 4.8m, the LC500 is all bonnet and hips and giant 21-inch rims that tuck into those enormous arches.
I was also taken by the tear-drop styling to the head- and taillights, and that now familiar spindle grille looks more at home on this Lexus than on any other. The door handles which sit flush against the body of the car and pop out when you poke them are also a nice touch.
The LC500 we tested was fitted with the $15,000 Enhancement Pack, which includes the carbon roof, active rear wing, carbon interior scuff plates, leather-and-Alcantara seats and a rear-wheel steering system.
The cabin can't quite match the exterior for its stunning looks, but it’s still special, from those elegant door handles and the stitched upholstery to the thickly bolstered seats that you drop down deeply into.
There is some Toyota/Lexus ordinariness in the cabin, though, such as the screen, which while wide and majestic, is more Microsoft than Apple if you get what I mean. And that also goes for the media unit, too, and that controller pad with its silly PC-style curser.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
It's not. The boot is small at 197L, while cabin storage is almost non-existent with a tiny centre console bin, no cupholders, narrow door pockets and a small glovebox.
As for people space, the LC500 is a 2+2 seater and those back seats are impossible for me to sit in thanks to the low roof and the zero legroom behind my driving position. With a bit of wrestling I did manage to fit a booster sit in there for my four year old.
For charging you'll find a USB port and a 12V outlet up front.
Yes, it's a sportscar but the Lexus LC500 needs a re-think when it comes to storage and space. Other sports cars (a 911 for example) are more practical. As a parent, this impracticality would see it off my shopping list.
Price and features
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
The LC500 lists for $190,000. That's peanuts considering you can pay a lot more than this for a sportscar from another brand that doesn't feel as good to drive.
The extensive standard features list includes a 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, a 10.3-inch display, head-up display, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, leather upholstery with heated front seats, stainless steel pedals, LED headlights.
Our test car was also fitted with the $15,000 Enhancement Pack - worth it I think, and you can read what it adds above in the section on design.
The LC500 is a lot less expensive than the cars it takes aim at - we're talking the Porsche 911 (the most affordable is about $240K to get on the road), the Jaguar F-Type V8 R (which lists for about $250K) and the BMW 850i (with a list price of about $273K).
It's safe to say that buyers looking at a 911 are not going to be looking at a LC500. But somebody checking out a BMW 640i Gran Coupe, which lists for $185,900, should know they can get more firepower and luxury in the LC500 for just five grand extra. Same goes for anybody considering the F-Type V6 R-Dynamic or Mercedes-AMG E53.
Remember at the start how I said there were some aspects that would make me think twice about getting an LC500. Well the media unit’s ‘Remote Touchpad’ and the joystick is up there as the most frustrating interface I’ve ever used. Not only is the infotainment menu confusing and non-intuitive, the uncoordinated controller makes the entire user experience dreadful. And I’m being nice.
Engine & trans
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
Fear not, the LC500 has the firepower to match those battle-cruiser looks. Under that enormous bonnet is a 5.0-litre petrol V8 and it makes 351kW and 540Nm. No turbos here, and that is absolutely fine by me. Actually, I prefer it; I'm not a fan of the lag or 'boosty' acceleration associated with turbocharging.
This naturally aspirated V8 has linear, controlled acceleration as the 10-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly though the gears, with the dash from 0-100km/h over in just 4.7 seconds. That’s not supercar fast, but this isn’t a supercar. The LC500 is a grand tourer.
On start-up, the LC500's V8 is breathy and high-pitched. When I pressed the ignition button for the first time its banshee-like scream echoed through our underground car park and I'm fairly sure my CarsGuide colleague Tom White (who was standing next to it at the time) soiled his trousers.
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
After 279km of testing on a combination of motor ways, country roads and city peak hour traffic I measured a mileage of 16.4L/100km at the pump. The official combined fuel consumption is 11.6L/100km.
While it’s thirsty, that fuel usage would not make me think twice about getting an LC500 – it’s a petrol V8 powered monster and you need to feed it to have fun. If fuel is an issue for you either financially or ethically then there’s always the LC500h hybrid version.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
Outstanding. Brilliant. Superb. But I didn't expect it to be. Many of the breeds of Lexus I've driven look edgy and dynamic, but then feel like paper weights to drive. The LC500 is different. It's comfortable. Easy to pilot. Dynamic. And so much fun.
The big grunt and the measured way it's ladled out suits the character of the LC500 perfectly. This isn't a track weapon like the Lexus RC F, this is a monster that eats motorway miles - and that's what I did with it.
Don't ask why, but I needed to travel from Sydney to Newcastle for a 20-minute appointment and then come straight back again. I'm not a fan of that corner-less M1 Motorway, but the LC500 cruised up effortlessly without breaking a sweat - and with instant acceleration under my right foot whenever I needed to overtake. In the LC500, 110km/h felt too slow, like it wanted to keep running all the way up to its 270km/h top speed.
I took the old Pacific Highway back. The road surface is shoddy, but the sweeping corners and twists made the long way home so much more enjoyable. The LC500 performed beautifully, with superb handling while staying comfortable and composed. The big nose felt light, the steering perfectly weighted, and the throttle just needed a gentle prod to push it wherever I wanted.
Our LC500 wore Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, and despite them being runflats and 35 profile at the front and 40 at the rear on 21-inch rims, the ride - even over Sydney's shocking roads - was comfortable thanks to the air suspension.
That made daily commutes into the city fairly painless, too. And piloting the LC in traffic and car parks was also made easy thanks to good all-round visibility.
The S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
The LC500 has not been given an ANCAP score but there’s nothing to suggest it’s not incredibly safe.
Along with eight airbags it comes standard with a stack of advanced safety technology such as AEB, lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. There’s also adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam lights.
Run flat tyres means no spare wheel.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor mounts across the back seats.
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.
The LC500 is covered by Lexus’ four-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km.
There is no capped price servicing, but the first service is complimentary, and Lexus says you can expect to pay $866.95 for the second visit (30,000km), $870.14 for the third (45,000km) and $866.95 for the fourth (60,000km).