Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Lexus LS
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- That 'obnoxious face'
- Decadent and intriguing interior
- Comfortable ride
- Engines could do with more shove
- CVT in 500h is not suited for spirited driving
- Headroom could be better
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|
Almost 30 years after Lexus launched its original LS flagship sedan, the fifth generation of the car has arrived in Australia in what appears to be the brand’s never-ending battle to hunt down and beat Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi at their own game.
In some markets it looks as though Lexus is making headway. In the United States last year Mercedes-Benz was the best-selling luxury brand, followed by BMW and then Lexus. To give you even more insight, 50 per cent of all Lexus sales globally are in the US.
The story is different in Australia, with Lexus hardly a threat to the big three Germans, selling about a third less each month.
The Lexus LS is the Japanese prestige brand’s flagship and comes with a price that nudges up against formidable rivals. There’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi’s A8. Only the best cars from a few of the best brands in the world – no pressure, Lexus.
This may even be a reason to buy one – in that it’s not one of the traditional three. You could see Lexus as the popular underdog that in some ways does a better job than the usual suspects. A people’s favourite perhaps?
Just look at how often it’s mentioned in songs. According to lyrics.com.au the word Lexus has been used in 873 songs. Meanwhile Mercedes Benz appears in 500, Audi in 402 and BMW in 307.
With all this in mind we headed to the Australian launch to drive the LS 500 and its hybrid twin the 500h.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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 Lexus LS 500 and 500h are both exceptional cars. The ‘obnoxious’ styling especially to the grille makes the offerings from BMW, Benz and Audi look bland and overly corporate inside and out. It’s really in the dynamics department that the LS falls short of its rivals and only the LS 500 is enjoyable if you like to drive with a degree of conviction.
Both the LS500 and 500h, though, have wonderfully comfortable rides and this together with those sumptuous interiors makes these the perfect place to be if you’re in the back being swiftly and quietly taken to you next meeting.
For me the sweet-spot pick would be the LS 500 F Sport for its value and dynamic ability.
You have $200,000. Would you spend it all on a Lexus LS or would you rather go for a Mercedes-Benz S Class, a BMW 7 Series or the Audi A8? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The 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.
“You’re either going to love them or hate them.” You can bet that whenever you’re told this just before being introduced to somebody then that somebody is going to be downright obnoxious. The same goes for the LS, well it’s face anyway, because those are the kinds of statements made about that grille.
The thing is, the LS needs an obnoxious face because its up against The Establishment - the Mercedes-Benz S -Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, and given there’s no way they’ll ever let Lexus into their little ‘club’ it’s good that the LS has steered clear of imitating them and is boldly different.
This was also the type of thinking which inspired the grille’s creator, Tokuo Fukuichi. The so called ‘spindle grille’ first appeared in 2010 on the CT200h before rolling out to the rest of the Lexus line-up. The look polarised the opinions of fans and even executives inside Lexus. But Fukuichi was adamant the key to the brand’s survival and success was to not to be boring.
That massive gaping mouth is anything but boring, and for this new-generation LS the spindle grille has been overhauled. Yes, some car companies might make a few tweaks to a grille, but not Lexus. Using a CAD computer program, it took designers six months to refine each of the 5032 surfaces on the F-Sport’s grille and the more than 7000 on the Sports Luxury’s. If only you didn’t have to slap a number plate on these exquisitely spun net-like structures.
New LED headlights and the ‘Zorro blade-slash’ LED running lights are equally obnoxious and therefore perfectly suited for the LS’s face. So too are the enormous air inlets below them in the bumper. If only the rest of the car’s exterior was as wild and not mild and milder the further you get from the grille. The rear looks stately, modern and sleek but could have done with something more adventurous (similar to IS’s taillights).
But the LS’s insides make up for that dullness, with a cabin that’s decadent and alien at the same time. A dash which sweeps from door to door features asymmetrical string-like design elements which are a theme carved through wood and glass and stitched into leather throughout the cabin. The quality is superb, while the fit and finish is better than I’ve seen on some of its competitors.
There are four no-cost interior packages on the Sports Luxury ranging from 'Moon White' trim with walnut decorative inlays to black trim with 'Crafted Latte' inserts. But it’s the $9800 optional 'Black with hand-pleating' and 'Kiriko' glass which is a stand out. It’s an intriguing look, the pleated fabric which cascades around the hand-cut Japanese glass.
The F Sport’s cabin is less decorative with seats that hold you tighter in three no-cost option leathers from 'Moon White' to 'Flare Red' with aluminium door and dash decorative elements.
Both cabins are sumptuous, although they fall a little short in gob-smacking tech like those amazing, expansive, floating dash screens and the virtual instrument cluster in the S-Class. Yes, there’s the large screen up front and the seat-back screens in the rear but the styling of the graphics and typeface reveal the Toyota DNA.
The LS has the presence a prestige brand’s flagship car should - imposing, long and wide. Look at the LS’s dimensions. At 5235mm end-to-end and 1900mm across, the LS is longer and wider than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but swoops in lower at 1450mm. The LS’s wheelbase is longer than a regular S-Class’s at 3125mm, too.
Apart from the grille you can tell an F Sport from a Sports Luxury by its black brake calipers and black elements in the front bumper, boot lid and sill.
To tell a 500 from a 500h, the difference is subtle. There are the badges, of course, but the 500's rear bumper also has a different design with chrome exhaust surrounds.
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.
Anything with a 3.1m wheelbase has to be practical right? Well, legroom in the back is excellent, but I can’t properly stretch out in that reclining rear seat with the ottoman without my feet hitting the seatback.
Headroom is also a bit a restricted in that rear row for me, too. That’s something to keep in mind for taller passengers (I'm 191cm tall).
A cargo capacity of 480 litres is 30 litres shy of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, while the cooler box in the rear (that comes with the Sports Luxury trim) eats into the boot space and drops the total to 440 litres.
The LS is a five-seat sedan, but that centre rear seatback folds forward to become the armrest and houses the controls to the massage and reclining functions, plus two cupholders.
There’s another two cupholders up front and pockets in all the doors. While the storage area under the centre console armrest in the front and back is good – that’s about it for storage.
An access mode will raise the car by 30mm when getting in and lower it by 10mm when getting out. Those wide opening doors also make entry and exit easier.
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 line-up is simple. There are two powertrains: the turbo-petrol V6 LS 500, and the petrol-electric LS500h hybrid, and there's no price difference between them. Then, there are two trim levels: the F Sport for $190,500 and Sports Luxury for $195,500.
Coming standard on the F Sport are 'F Sport' seats with leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, dual-zone climate control, 28-way power adjustable front seats and head-up display. The multimedia system comes with a 12.3-inch screen, sat nav, DVD player, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
There’s also LED headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels and a kick-open tailgate. While the F-Sport misses out on some of the plush features of the Sports Luxury it does get hardware for better on-road dynamics which you can read about in the driving section below.
The Sports Luxury has that large screen, those power adjustable front seats and the multimedia system with that Mark Levinson stereo, too, but adds much more. The front passenger seat slides and folds itself forward to allow the seat behind it to recline and extend its ottoman-style leg rest.
Both rear seats are 22-way power adjustable and heated. If you’re lucky enough to be lounging back there, you’ll also two 11.6-inch seat-back screens with a DVD player. Plus, there’s four-zone climate control, a rear cooler box and power sun shades.
The F-Sport and Sports Luxury have their own choice of no-cost interior options. The Sports Luxury also gives you the option to buy (for $9800) one of four special interior packs – you can read about the standout one with the hand-cut glass below.
There are 11 body colours to choose from: Sonic Quartz, Sonic Silver, Titanium, Liquid Metal, Onyx, Graphite Black, Vermillion, Scarlet Crimson (a dark red), Metallic Silk, Deep Metallic Bronze and Deep Blue.
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.
Let's talk engine specifications .The LS 500 has a 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 making 310kW/600Nm, with drive being sent to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission. That's impressive horsepower, but this car is heavy is a weight of about 2.3 tonnes.
The LS 500h has a 220kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 (a different engine to the 500’s) plus two electric motors driving the rear wheels. The total power output is 264kW. Shifting gears in the 500h is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Just a reminder, too, the LS 500h is not a plug-in hybrid. Regenerative braking re-charges the lithium-ion batteries.
If you're looking for a diesel, you won't find one here. Same goes for a manual gearbox. And, while buyers can choose an all-wheel drive (awd) Lexus LS in other markets around the world, ours are all front-wheel drive.
The 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.
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.
My first experience of the new LS was from the back seat of a 500 Sports Luxury being driven from the airport to the venue where Lexus Australia would deliver the presentation on its fifth generation of the car.
Seat reclined, I was whisked quietly and comfortably through the traffic, barely any road or wind noise, the ride was superb on that air suspension, a little floaty but still damped well enough for it not to become bouncy, with minimal head sway (the movement that makes you car sick).
Cocooned in leather with seat-back screens for audio and DVD the ride and environment was just right for a limousine chauffeuring important business types who need swift and tranquil transportation. Not for weirdos like me who were only interested in the way the front and back multi-link suspension kept a 2.3-tonne car with a 3.1m wheelbase so civilised, even through roundabouts. I wondered if this was actually the best way to experience the LS – from the back seats, being driven?
When I did drive the 500 and 500h in the two trims later it more or less confirmed that first impression. The 500 in F Sport trim was the best to drive, while the 500 in Sports Luxury was the best to be driven in. Why? I’ll explain.
The LS 500’s 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 makes more power than the hybrid for starters, which is always a good thing when you need to move a car this heavy. Even then the LS 500’s acceleration isn’t super quick, and the engine needs to work hard when asked to get a wriggle on. That 10-speed automatic transmission is excellent though.
The same can’t be said for the CVT in the 500h which under harder acceleration does what CVTs do in that situation, make more noise without seeming to get the drive effectively to the wheels.
The 500h’s naturally aspirated V6 is a good thing, but it seems the weight of the car and the CVT work against it being exciting to drive. After a couple of hundred kilometres in a 500h blasting through the countryside steering it became tiresome rather than rewarding with the engine constantly kicking in and whining incessantly when asked for more beans, please.
This car is far better suited to slipping silently through city streets than it is galloping through the bush – that’s where the 500 is a lot more at home.
The 500 and 500h are rear-wheel drive cars, and this, along with an almost 50-50 balance, sets the ground work for good cars to pilot. The F-Sport trim adds an active rear stabiliser bar as standard equipment and brings a more sophisticated version of Lexus’s 'Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management' (VDIM) – a stability system using data from suspension, ABS, traction control, electric power steering, the stabiliser bar and rear steering. The result is the control of longitudinal, vertical, yaw, roll and pitch movements for better ride and handling.
The F Sport trims adds bigger brakes, too with 400mm x 36mm discs on the front and 359mm x 30mm at the back, plus staggered tyres with 245mm rubber at the front and 275mm at the rear.
The electric steering is light, which makes it easy to manoeuvre in carparks, and an 11.2m turning circle is great for the class.
On the open road at speed the steering is pinky-finger light even in Sport+ mode, and while it’s smooth and accurate, I want to feel more connected to the wheels and where they’re pointed.
While the LS 500 is more the driver’s car than the 500h neither perform as well dynamically as Benz’s S-Class, but from the back seat the LS feels just as comfortable and even plusher.
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 Lexus LS has not been crash tested, but all the signs are there that this is an exceptionally safe vehicle, from the structure of the car to the advanced safety technology such as AEB (forward and reverse) with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
For child seats there are three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the rear seats.
Both the 500 and 500h are fitted with run-flat tyres.
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 Lexus LS is covered by a four-year/100,0000km warranty. Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or 12 months. There is no capped price servicing program. Being a Toyota family product the Lexus LS also comes backed by the same reputation for reliability and you may experience lower maintenance costs than perhaps its German rivals.