Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Lexus LC500
- S-Class' return to splendour
- Stunning high-tech cabin presentation
- Outstanding ride and handling capabilities
- Price of entry prohibitive for most
- 3D instrumentation can make you woozy
- A tad conservative in design
- Punchy engine
- Throaty exhaust
- Climate-controlled cabin
- Disconnect from the drive experience
- Lexus trackpad tech persists
It's only in the running for the title of world's best luxury car. No biggie here, then.
Like Rolex and Concorde, S-Class has become a byword for ultimate, and deserved or not, the Mercedes-Benz defines its segment despite the best efforts of the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Lexus LS and (sadly now-defunct) Jaguar XJ, as well as pointing the way forward with new technologies that eventually trickle down to more proletarian models.
Replacing the half-million selling W222 unveiled in 2013, the W223 is the latest in a long line since the first W187 Ponton debuted in 1951, and includes the famous ‘Finnies' and Stroke-8 models that followed immediately afterwards, but it is the 1972 W116 that really set the template.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Being a true Jack of all trades in the car world is rare.
Generally speaking, a vehicle is either capable or comfortable. Attractive or aerodynamic. Practical or performance orientated. And problems arise when cars try to do all those things well, all at the same time.
Which make the Lexus LC 500 Convertible such an interesting proposition. Because it is, without doubt, stylish, and lavishly equipped. It’s also rather large and rather heavy. All of which is perfect for cruising the Bondi foreshore.
But it’s also equipped with a thumping V8 engine and a throaty exhaust that sounds like bricks in a blender on the overrun. It’s stiffer than the LFA supercar, and plenty powerful, which should deliver one of Lexus’ sportiest-ever drives.
So can the LC 500 really do it all? Let’s find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz set out to restore the S-Class' place amongst the greatest sedans in the world.
In the heavily-optioned, near-$250K-plus S450 as well as the extended S450L at $300K as tested (the sweet spot of the range for now), we reckon the Germans have succeeded, pushing safety, comfort and technology boundaries, in a package that is true to the heritage of the series.
Tax-fuelled sky-high prices will certainly keep the S-Class niche in Australia, but the car is more than good enough to dominate its tiny corner of the upper-large luxury car sphere.
The best new car in the world? We reckon it's highly likely. Mission accomplished, Mercedes.
Most Mercedes models have followed the Russian Doll-style cookie-cutter styling theme, and the heavy family look continues with the W223.
Still, the flush door handles do add a touch of Tesla-esque modernity, while the elegant silhouette and clean lines are in keeping with the luxury aspirations. Larger in every dimension compared to the old W222, the S450 is some 71mm-longer in wheelbase (3106mm) than before while the LWB's has stretched out by 51mm (3216mm), benefiting proportions as well as interior packaging.
AMG-branded wheels look sporty but – in the S450 at least – they're perhaps a tad too gangster. A set of flush alloys would give it a more-modern and techier appearance, in our opinion.
Overall, however, the S-Class ‘7' possesses the prerequisite richness of design. It isn't as bold and mould-breaking as models like the W116 were back in their day, but the styling is still a success.
By the way, the latest S-Class is the first Mercedes to employ the MRA2 longitudinal platform, which is rich in lightweight steels (50 per cent aluminium), is correspondingly stronger than before but also 60kg lighter.
With a drag co-efficiency rating as low as 0.22Cd on some overseas grades, the W223 is one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles in history.
It’s eye-catching, the LC 500, if big, bolshy convertibles are your thing, and especially viewed front-on, where the aggressive nose design ends in a sharp crease in the mesh grille. I love the headlight design, too, which bleeds back into the body work, but also merges with the vertical light cluster that bookends the grille.
The side view is all shining alloys and sharp body creases, too, leading to an oversized boot that stores the fabric, aluminium and magnesium roof structure, which drops or raises in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h. The design fits into what Lexus calls an “impossibly small space behind the seats”.
Inside, it’s a snug but luxurious space, wrapped largely in leather and equipped with a wealth of technology. It’s a point we’ve made before, but why Lexus perseveres with its trackpad infotainment control technology is beyond us, but there’s no denying the cabin of the LC 500 is a wondrous place to spend time.
We particularly like the integration of the centre screen, which is recessed beneath the leather-wrapped edge of the dash. While some look like an afterthought, this appears to have been included in the broader design philosophy.
For the beginning of our day with the S-Class, we were chauffeured from home to a mansion in Kew, a blue-chip Melbourne suburb. Our heavily-optioned S450L featured most of the aforementioned extras – including the Business Class Package and Rear Entertainment Package – and the experience was predictably, sumptuously memorable.
Reclining individual rear seats with easy-reach tablets, armrests offering access to all multimedia and available climatised and massaging cushions and backrests... we're no longer in our normal ride, Toto.
Yet, all these trinkets and gizmos are mere add-ons, that can turn a stretched Caprice into a flash hen's night carriage if enough money and glitz is thrown at it.
No, the new S-Class must impress in an altogether less tangible and more philosophical manner, involving all the senses, and not just what we see, hear and touch. It must appeal beyond the superficial. Otherwise, it is not a large Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan in the classic manner.
This is a Herculean task for the Stuttgart designers and engineers. By and large, though, the Three-Pointed Star has succeeded in achieving something special.
In its perception of peerless quality and engineering, the W223 is striving to move forward and look back simultaneously to the glory days of the seminal W126 (1980-1991). This is through meshing traditional virtues like solidity and quality materials while dazzling its passengers with technology that is still friendly enough to want to enhance your experience.
You can sink into the soft lounge seats, watch the world pass by silently outside and never be aware of the road underneath or the engine ahead. Double glazing, exquisite and aromatic fabrics and materials and lush tactile surfaces work their magic inside the car, while an airtight and aero body, solid platform, air suspension and a muted yet muscular powertrain all do their thing underneath. The atmosphere is special and rarefied. That's what an S-Class needs to be and that's what is happening in our $299,000 (as tested) S450L.
The same more-or-less applies up front, as the same trim, leather, wood and technology surrounds the driver and passenger. The spectre of the car that is surely The Car of the Last Decade – Tesla's Model S – is evident in the portrait touchscreen and sparse, almost wallflower dashboard design and layout. No big imposing architectures here.
Yet, while the American upstart actually takes stuff away, the S-Class packs the cabin with subtle features that – like when the planes stopped flying last year and the birdsong subsequently returned – only become obvious once the cabin's design simplicity clears all the white noise for you to be in a better frame of mind to enjoy them.
Take the haptic interface, for example, as it is perhaps the best we've experienced; the sense of well-being garnered from the cumulative effects of profound seat comfort (the massaging function was never switched off), cocooning micro climate environmental control, orchestral levels of audio entertainment and the theatre of light and vision performed by the two available screens; it is an automotive experience like no other. And the eye-tracking 3D-effect navigation set within the electronic instrumentation. No need for cinematic glasses to get the effect. The driving position itself, by the way, is also first class.
Room to stretch and grow for sure, and in every direction. But room for improvement? You betcha.
Your tester had a headache after a little while staring at that woozy 3D map. The central vents – four at the front, two in the rear – look and feel cheap, leaving us mentally redesigning them; they are frightfully out of place here; the carryover column-stalk auto lever should have been binned in 2005. And, even though the digital instruments have a number of options, none are elegant enough for the S-Class. That's an especially subjective criticism, clearly, but one that – in the context of classic Mercedes luxury sedan contenders – is justified given how timeless the Bruno Sacco era of Daimler design was. Look him up, kids.
Still, after a couple of hours behind the wheel, with our senses reset to calm, it is obvious that the S-Class cabin is a unique and wonderful place – as it should be at a cool quarter-of-a-million dollars.
PS At 550 litres (20L more than before), the boot is massive and luxurious enough to sleep in.
It’s not, really. But then, what were you expecting?
As mentioned above, the interior feels snug for upfront riders, but not in a bad way. More that elements of the interior feel like they’re reaching out to greet you, leaving you with the impression of being tucked into the cabin.
Backseat riders are out of luck, though, with the seats really only reserved for emergencies. Legroom is tight, and while Lexus promises the roofline is about on-par with the Coupe, it’s not going to be a comfortable journey.
The LC 500 Convertible stretches 4770mm in length, 1920mm in width and 1350mm in height, and it rides on a 2870mm wheelbase. It will sit four at a pinch, and provide 149 litres of luggage space.
There are two ISOFIX attachment points in each of the rear seats, as well as top-tether points.
Price and features
Right now, only two S-Class models are available – the S450 from $240,700 plus on-road costs and the 110mm extended-wheelbase S450L (LWB) for another $24,900 on top. Most buyers overwhelmingly opt for the latter.
Despite what the numbers may suggest, both are powered by a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo petrol engine, delivering 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic. Greater choices are coming later, including an all-electric version known as the EQS.
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
On the equipment front there is the latest iteration of Mercedes' MBUX multimedia system with (another) world-first 3D display, complementing an OLED central display, powered closing doors, leather upholstery, air suspension, leather upholstery, velour floor mats, a multi-beam LED headlight system with adaptive high beams, heated and folding exterior mirrors, heat and noise-insulating acoustic glass for front side windows, dark privacy glass for rear windows, sunroof, roller sunblinds for rear windows, metallic paint and 20-inch AMG alloy wheels on runflat tyres.
Want cutting-edge multimedia? There's MBUX II's augmented reality for navigation and fingerprint scanner, as well as a more natural-speech Mercedes-Me Connect voice activation with global search.
Plus, predictive navigation with live traffic, parked vehicle locator, vehicle tracking, emergency call, maintenance management and tele-diagnostics, digital radio, Burmester 3D surround-sound system with 15 speakers and 710W amplifier, remote door locking/unlocking, geofencing, speed-fencing, valet parking, head-up display, Smart Phone integration with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless charging, ambient lighting, two-zone climate control, poplar wood trim, electric adjustment for front seats, steering column with memory function, climatised front seats, keyless entry/go with flush-fitting door handles offering hands-free access (including for the electric boot),
Besides the ‘forward facing' airbag for the rear-seat occupants, the S450L also scores electrically adjustable rear seats with memory and automatic rear climate control.
Key options – and the list is massive – include an $8700 Rear Entertainment Package, that brings rear-multimedia access, rear tablets with wireless headsets and rear-seat wireless smart phone charging, an AMG Line pack with a body kit, different alloys and larger front brakes ($6500), Business Class Package that includes aircraft-style reclining rear seating and tray tables ($14,500), Nappa leather ($5000), augmented-reality HUD ($2900), 21-inch wheels ($2000) and four-wheel steering ($2700). There's also a $14,500 Energising Package with contoured seating, heated-everything and massaging seats.
Please keep in mind our test cars featured many such extras. Tick all the boxes and you can add nearly $100,000 to the price of your S-Class.
So, is the S450 good value? Given some of the breakthrough safety and luxury features it offers, it is unique. Too bad the Federal Government's Luxury Car Tax makes them so much more expensive than they need to be.
It costs $214,000 - and that’s rather a lot of money - but unlike some premium and luxury cars, with Lexus, once you’ve handed over the cash, that’s it. There’s no tempting option list to lure you into parting with even more of your hard earned.
And I mean that literally - Lexus proudly proclaims that “there is no option list” for the LC 500 Convertible, so suffice it to say it arrives with plenty of gear.
Take a deep breath…
You get 21-inch two tone alloys, triple-stack LED headlights, keyless entry, retractable door handles and rain-sensing wipers outside, while inside, you’ll find dual-zone climate, leather-accented seats which are heated and ventilated, neck-level heating for when the roof is down, a heated steering wheel and sports pedals.
The tech stuff is handled by a 10.3-inch centre screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and on-board navigation, both of which are controlled via Lexus’ impossible-to-kill touchpad. There’s a second, 8.0-inch screen for the driver, and the lot pairs with an impressive 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo.
There’s also a heap of safety stuff, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
If that’s not enough for you, you can spring for the Limited Edition, which is $234,000 for each of its 10 available examples. It arrives in a unique Structural Blue hue, with a white leather interior with blue highlights. It is designed to be the most blue of blues, too, with Lexus saying the paint colour was the result of a 15-year research project. Which sounds like a thrilling way to spend a decade and a half.
Engine & trans
Where are the V8s?
Right now, the only W223 you can buy is powered by an all-new 2999cc 3.0-litre in-line direct-injection six-cylinder turbo petrol engine dubbed the M256, complete with double overhead cams, an electric compressor intercooler and assistance from a 48-volt mild hybrid system and integrated starter-generator, adding 16kW and 250Nm to the 270kW of power at 6100rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1600-4500rpm.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, while the 0-100km/h sprint-time takes just 5.1 seconds in both models. Impressive for a two-tonne-plus luxury limo.
It’s a lusty power plant, this one, and not something you immediately expect to find in a luxurious Lexus convertible.
The 5.0-litre V8 produces 351kW and 540Nm - 260kW of which arrives from 2000rpm - and it sounds like a God of Thunder as it’s doing it.
It pairs with a 10-speed automatic and sends all that grunt to the rear tyres, with Lexus’ Active Cornering Assist and a mechanical limited-slip differential helping you to not make a mess of things when tackling corners.
With the aid of the mild-hybrid system, the S450 returned a combined average of an impressive 8.2 litres per 100km, which translates to 187 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre. 95 RON premium unleaded (or higher) is recommended. In the urban run it consumes 11.3L/100km (11.5 for S450L), and just 6.4L/100km (6.5 for S450L) in the extra-urban result.
At 76 litres, the fuel tank will allow a combined average range of about 927km between refills.
Remember when I said it was lusty V8? When has that ever been good news for fuel use?
Lexus reckons you’ll get 12.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but the temptation of all that grunt will pretty much ensure that never happens. Emissions are pegged at 290g/km of C02.
The LC 500 Convertible’s 82-litre fuel tank only accepts 98RON fuel.
In former times, as the Germans say, a ‘450' on the boot indicated V8 power. In the W116 S-Class era it was one of the world's most evocative badges when ‘SEL' was also attached.
As mentioned earlier, though, it's the M256 3.0-litre turbo-petrol with a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid' electrical system that's doing the driving, to all four wheels. The real V8 W223 will probably surface later this year or in early 2022 with the S580L flagship. Bring it on.
This is not to say that S450 isn't good enough. With that electrified assistance, the blown straight six is smooth and swift off the line and rapid as the auto seamlessly steps up through all nine gears. Because it's so hushed and refined, it doesn't feel 5.1s to 100 clicks quick, but watching the speedo says otherwise – acceleration is assertive and strong right up way past the legal speed limit.
All that's missing is the burbling soundtrack of a classic Benz bent-eight. Oh well. Outstanding economy is a price we're literally willing to pay in lieu.
Even more impressive is the S450's ability to hustle along mountain roads like an overgrown sports sedan.
Now, for Australia, all S-Classes are fitted standard with an adaptive ‘Airmatic' air-suspension set-up, including air springs and self-levelling tech. In Comfort up to 60km/h, the ride height can be raised by 30mm, or lowered by 10mm under the standard 130mm baseline in Sport at any velocity, while in Sport+ it falls another 17mm.
With that in mind, yes, the standard air suspension performs a magnificent job smothering out most surface imperfections around town. Yet its real other party trick is to tighten up the chassis when corners get interesting and Sport mode is selected. Aided by progressively weighted and reassuringly responsive steering, the Mercedes tips into turns with precision and poise, slicing through with virtually no discernible body lean or understeer.
Now, we're not talking a leisurely drive on rural highways here, but Healesville's famous Chum Creek Road, where even a Porsche Cayman would feel like it's had a strenuous dynamic workout. The S-Class can be hurried along with confidence and finesse, displaying outstanding handling and roadholding for a 5.2-metre long limo. And the fact that the ride quality only suffers marginally when the red horns are out is all the more remarkable.
Back in the cut-and-thrust of inner-city peak-hour traffic, the Benz in Comfort mode continued to reveal its driver-orientated yet passenger-focused twin-personalities, zipping in and out of gaps while remaining comfy and composed inside.
Only when parking in tight spots are you truly aware that the W223 is longer than a Mazda CX-9. The optional four-wheel-steering system is claimed to slash the turning circle to A-Class hatchback levels. 10.9 metres is the claim.
The 2021 S-Class never ceases to amaze and delight.
It’s a tough nut to immediately crack, the LC 500 Convertible.
It feels like it really wants to be a super-accomplished performance car, and on longer, more sweeping bends it is, with that thick flow of power ensuring you simply surf through corners before rocketing out the other side, the air filled with that growling exhaust note as your right foot finds its way to the carpet.
But on the tighter stuff, there are some factors that play against it. The suspension feels sorted and that engine is always willing to deliver, but for mine, the steering and brakes felt a little disconnected from the experience, not inspiring much in the way of late-braking confidence. And then there’s the sheer two-tonne-plus weight of the thing, which can’t be totally hidden, even by Lexus’ best wizardry.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very capable, even on surprisingly tight stuff. It’s just that there’s something of a disconnect between car and driver.
That’s not a bad thing, really. Are you really buying a premium convertible to attack a mountain pass? Probably not. And keep it flowing through corners and the LC 500 Convertible will keep a smile painted on your face, owing mostly to wave of torque you can ride to your destination.
Hovering your foot over the accelerator must surely be what the President feels like whenever he stands near the nuclear football, with that big V8 always ready to turn on the fireworks.
Away from the red mist, you’ll find the LC 500 Convertible positively flows from destination to destination, the 10-speed gearbox - which can feel flustered at pace - seamlessly flicking through its options, and the ride in its most comfortable settings disposing of most road imperfections before they enter the cabin.
The cabin is also very cleverly insulated, not just when the four-part roof is up, but also when it’s down, with the climate and ambience of the interior largely unaffected by what’s going on in the outside world.
The W223 S-Class has not been crash-tested yet by ANCAP or European affiliate EuroNCAP, so does not have a star rating. However, Mercedes-Benz claims it has striven to create one of the safety vehicles on the planet. Who are we to argue?
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians, at speeds from 7km/h to over 200km/h), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
The Active Lane Keeping Assist works in a speed range of between 60km/h and 250km/h while Active Steer Assist helps the driver follow the lane at speeds of up to 210km/h.
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible arrives with six airbags, a reversing camera with guide lines, parking sensors, and the usual suite of traction and braking aids, but there’s much more to the safety story, too.
The more high-tech stuff includes parking sensors, pre-collision assist with AEB, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and active cruise, as well as bespoke convertible safety gear, like active roll bars that deploy when the car is in danger of rolling over, protecting the occupants beneath that soft roof.
Unlike many luxury brands that persist with a sub-par three-year warranty, Mercedes-Benz offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Intervals are every year or 25,000km, with a capped price service plan starting at $800 for the first year, $1200 for the second year and $1400 for the third year, totalling $3400. Alternatively, there is a Service Plan starting at $2700 for the first three years (saving $700 from the normal capped-price service plan), $3600 for four years and $5400 for five years.
Lexus vehicles are covered by a four-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty, and the LC 500 Convertible requires servicing every 15,000kms.
Lexus's Encore ownership program includes pick-up and drop-off servicing, but the new Encore Platinum level for owners of its more exclusive models unlocks even more stuff.
One is a new On Demand service, which allows owners to book a different style of car when heading off on a holiday or business trip. The loans are available in your state or somewhere else in Australia if you're travelling, with your car waiting for you at Qantas Valet for you when you arrive.
The On Demand service is available on four occasions over your first three years of ownership (which is also the length of the Encore Platinum membership).