Lexus GS VS BMW M3
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Dynamic performance
- Standard features
- Polarising grille design
- Patchy wireless CarPlay
- Three-year warranty
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
You could argue the BMW M1, a stunning wedge of late ‘70s Giorgetto Giugiaro design, first inserted the Bavarian maker’s 'M' performance brand into the public consciousness.
But there’s a second, more enduring alpha-numeric BMW nameplate, that’s more likely to pass the person-in-the-street word-association test.
‘M3’ is synonymous with BMW performance, from touring car competition around the globe, to more than three decades’ worth of superbly engineered and entertainingly dynamic road cars.
Read more about the BMW 3 Series
The subject of this review is the current (G80) M3, launched globally last year. But more than that, it’s the even spicier M3 Competition, which adds six per cent more power, and 18 percent more torque, as well as $10K to the price tag.
Does the Competition’s extra bang justify those additional bucks? Time to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
Is the M3 Competition worth $10K more than the ‘base’ M3? In percentage terms it’s a relatively small jump, and if you’re already in the $150K ballpark, why not take it? Extra performance in a technically sophisticated package more than capable of handling it. Add top-shelf safety, a laundry list of standard features, with the practicality of a four-door sedan and it’s hard to resist. The way it looks? Well, that’s up to you?
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
It feels like once in a generation, BMW feels the need to polarise automotive opinion with a controversial design direction.
Twenty years ago, then head of design for the brand, Chris Bangle, took a fearful hammering for his determined push towards more ‘adventurous’ shapes. Passionate BMW fans picketed the company’s famous ‘four-cylinder building’ HQ in Munich demanding his departure.
And who else but Bangle’s second-in-command from those days, Adrian van Hooydonk, has been leading the design department since his boss eventually left the building in 2009.
Van Hooydonk has created another firestorm of opinion in recent years by gradually increasing the size of BMW’s signature ‘kidney grille’ to what some see as comical proportions.
The latest variation on the oversize grille theme has been applied to various concept and production models, including the M3, and its M4 sibling.
As always, a purely subjective call, but the M3’s large, descending grille puts me in mind of a well known carrot-munching, cartoon rabbit’s upper incisors.
Time will tell whether such a bold treatment ages well or lives in infamy, but there’s no denying it dominates first visual impressions of the car.
Almost as much as our test example’s ‘Isle of Man Green metallic’ paint, a deep, lustrous shade that highlights the cars’s curves and angles, and regularly stopped passers by in their tracks.
The bulging bonnet carries angular strakes back from the grille, and features a pair of faux vents, which along with darkened headlight interiors (BMW M Lights Shadow Line), accentuate the car’s tough expression.
A modern M3 wouldn’t be an M3 without pumped up guards, in this case filled by fat 19-inch forged alloy rims at the front, and 20s at the rear.
The framing around the windows is ‘M high-gloss Shadow Line’ black, balancing the dark front splitter and side skirts.
The tail is a multi-layered stack of horizontal lines and sections, including a thin ‘Gurney Flap’ style bootlid spoiler, and a protruding lower third housing a deep diffuser with quad, dark chrome tailpipes either side.
Sidle up closer to the car and the crowning glory is a gloss carbon-fibre roof. It’s flawless, and looks stunning.
Just as stunning is the first viewing of our test car’s full ‘Merino’ leather interior in ‘Kyalami Orange’ and black. In combination with the bold exterior colour it’s a bit rich for my blood, but the technical, athletic feel is strong.
The dash design is little changed from other 3 Series models, although the digital instrument cluster strengthens the high-performance flavour. Look up and the ‘M headliner’ is in ‘Anthracite.’
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
At just under 4.8m long, a fraction over 1.9m wide, and a little over 1.4m tall, the current M3 is right in the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class size bracket.
There's plenty of room up front, and lots of storage, including a big box/armrest between the front seats, as well as two large cupholders and a wireless charging pad in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are sizable bins in the doors with separate sections for full-size bottles.
At 183cm (6’0”), sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my position, there’s lots of rear head, leg, and toe room. Which is surprising, because in other current 3 Series models, headroom’s been tighter for me.
One of three climate control zones is reserved for the rear, with adjustable vents and digital temperature control at the back of the front centre console.
Unlike other 3 Series models there’s no fold-down centre armrest (with cupholders) in the back, but there are pockets with big bottle holders in the doors.
Power and connectivity options run to a USB-A slot and 12V socket in the front console, a USB-C port in the centre console box, and two USB-C outlets in the rear.
Boot space is 480 litres (VDA), which is slightly above average for the class, with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility.
There are small, netted bays on both sides of the load space, tie down anchors to secure loose loads, and the boot lid has an auto function.
The M3 is a no-tow zone and don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
With an entry-price of $154,900, before on-road costs, the M3 Competition lines up directly with Audi’s RS 5 Sportback ($150,900), while an outlier at the edge of the M3’s orbit is the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport ($175K).
But its most obvious, long-time sparring partner, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S has temporarily stepped out of the ring.
Expect huge performance, with a price tag exceeding the outgoing model’s circa $170K ask.
And that AMG hot rod better be loaded because as well as a bunch of performance and safety tech (covered later in the review), this M3 boasts an impressively long standard equipment list.
Included are, ‘BMW Live Cockpit Professional’ with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch high-res multimedia display (managed via touch, voice, or the ‘iDrive’ controller), sat nav, three-zone climate control, customisable ambient lighting, ‘Laserlight’ headlights (including ‘Selective Beam’), ‘Comfort Access’ keyless entry and start, and 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound audio (with 464-watt, seven-channel digital amp and digital radio).
Then you can add, a full leather interior (including the steering wheel and gearshift), electrically-adjustable heated ‘M Sport’ front seats (with memory for the driver), ‘Parking Assistant Plus’ (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an auto tailgate, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, wireless smartphone integration (and charging) including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, anti-dazzle (interior and exterior) mirrors, and dual-spoke forged alloy wheels (19-inch fr / 20-inch rr).
As visual icing on the cake, carbon-fibre is sprinkled over and inside the car like shiny, lightweight confetti. The entire roof is made of the stuff, with more on the front centre console, dash, steering wheel and manual shift paddles.
That’s a solid features list (and we haven’t bored you with all the details), substantiating a strong value equation in this small, but mega-competitive market niche.
Engine & trans
The M3 Competition is powered by BMW’s (S58B) 3.0-litre in-line, six-cylinder engine, an all-alloy, closed deck unit featuring direct-injection, ‘Valvetronic’ variable valve timing (on the intake side), ‘Double-VANOS’ variable camshaft timing (intake and exhaust side) and twin mono-scroll turbos to produce 375kW (503hp) at 6250rpm and 650Nm from 2750rpm, all the way to 5500rpm. A solid jump from the ‘standard’ M3’s already substantial 353kW/550Nm.
Not known for sitting on their hands, BMW M’s engine techs in Munich have used 3D printing to manufacture the core of the cylinder head, incorporating internal forms not possible with conventional casting.
This tech has not only reduced the head’s weight, but allowed its coolant ducts to be re-routed for optimal temp management.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ‘M Steptronic’ (torque converter) paddle-shift automatic transmission, with ‘Drivelogic’ (adjustable shift modes) and a standard ‘Active M’ variable locking differential.
An all-wheel drive ‘M xDrive’ version is scheduled for Australian launch before the end of 2021.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
BMW’s official fuel economy figure for the M3 Competition, on the ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban cycle, is 9.6L/100km, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six emitting 221g/km of C02 in the process.
To help get to that impressive number, BMW has deployed numerous cunning devices including, an ‘Optimum Shift Indicator’ (in manual shift mode), on-demand operation of ancillary units, and ‘Brake Energy Regeneration’ which tops up a relatively small lithium-Ion battery to power an auto stop-start system,
Despite this tricky tech, we averaged 12.0L/100km (at the bowser), over a range of driving conditions, which is still pretty good for such a powerful and focused performance sedan.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded although, amazingly, 91 RON standard fuel is acceptable at a pinch.
Either way, you’ll need 59 litres of it to fill the tank, which is enough for a range of over 600km using the factory economy figure, and close to 500km based on our real-world number.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
Any production-based performance sedan claimed to accelerate from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds is straight-up fast.
BMW says the M3 Competition will hit triple figures in just 3.5sec, which is properly rapid, and a full-bore, launch-control assisted start in this car is... impressive.
Aural accompaniment is suitably raucous, but beware, at its loudest it’s mostly fake news, with synthetic engine/exhaust noise able to be dialled down or turned off altogether.
That said, with maximum torque (650Nm!) available from 2750rpm all the way to 5500rpm, mid-range pulling power is prodigious, and despite the twin turbos this engine loves to rev (thanks in no small part to a forged, lightweight crankshaft).
Power delivery is beautifully linear, and a surge from 80-120km/h takes 2.6sec in fourth, and 3.4sec in fifth. With peak power (375kW/503hp) arriving at 6250rpm, you can thunder on to a maximum velocity of 290km/h.
That’s if the electronically-controlled limit of 250km/h isn’t enough for you, and you’ve ticked the optional ‘M Driver’s Package’ box. Enjoy the big house!
Suspension is basically strut front, five-link rear, all in aluminium, and working in concert with ‘Adaptive M’ dampers. They are brilliant, and the transition from ‘Comfort’ to ‘Sport’ and back is amazing.
The ride quality this car delivers in Comfort mode is nuts given it’s riding on huge rims shod with licorice thin tyres.
The sports front seats also offer an amazing blend of comfort and extra lateral support (with the touch of a button).
In fact, fine-tuning the car’s set-up across suspension, brakes, steering, engine, and transmission calibrations through the ‘M Setup’ menu is easy and adds extra involvement. Blaringly red M1 and M2 pre-set buttons on the steering wheel allow storage of preferred settings.
The electrically-assisted steering points nicely, and road feel is excellent.
The car remains flat and stable in enthusiastic B-road corners, the active ‘M Differential’ and ‘M Traction Control’ putting all that power down from a steady state mid-corner, through to a scorchingly fast and balanced exit.
No surprise, front to rear weight distribution for this 1.7-tonne machine is 50:50.
Rubber is ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S (275/35x19 fr / 285/30x20 rr) which deliver confidence-inspiring grip in the dry, as well as a couple of torrentially wet days during the latter part of our week with the car.
And washing off speed is a fuss-free experience thanks to standard ‘M Compound’ brakes’ consisting of big ventilated and cross-drilled rotors (380mm fr / 370mm rr) clamped by six-piston fixed calipers at the front and single-piston floating units at the rear.
On top of that the integrated braking system offers Comfort and Sport pedal feel settings, altering the amount of pedal pressure required to slow the car. Stopping power is immense, and even in Sport mode brake feel is progressive.
One technical niggle is the wireless CarPlay connectivity, which I found frustratingly patchy. Didn’t test the Android equivalent this time around, though.
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
The M3 Competition hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP, but 2.0-litre 3 Series models received a maximum five-star rating in 2019.
Standard active crash-avoidance tech includes ‘Emergency Brake Assist’ (BMW-speak for AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, ‘Dynamic Brake Control’ (helps apply maximum braking power in an emergency), ‘Cornering Brake Control’, a ‘Dry Braking’ function that periodically skims the rotors (with the pads) in wet conditions, ‘integrated wheel slip limitation’, lane change warning, lane departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.
There’s also ‘Park Distance Control’ (with sensors front and rear), Parking Assistant Plus (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an ‘Attentiveness Assistant’ function, and tyre pressure monitoring.
But if an impact is unavoidable there are front, side, and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as side curtain bags covering both rows of seats.
On sensing a crash the car will make an ‘Automatic Emergency Call’, and there’s even a warning triangle and first aid kit on board.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is off the pace given the majority of mainstream brands have stepped up to five-year cover, with some at seven, or even 10.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The ‘Concierge Service’ is another three year, complimentary deal, providing 24/7/365 access to a personalised service through a dedicated ‘BMW Customer Information Centre.’
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of ‘Service Inclusive’ capped price servicing plans, starting from three years/40,000km.