Lexus IS VS BMW M3
- Smooth powertrain
- Bulletproof quality
- Individual looks
- Feels heavy
- Odd-bod interior
- Some ergonomic failures
- Super-sweet engine
- Steering and suspension fantastic
- Looks mean in the metal
- Key safety stuff missing
- Expensive, and worse when you start ticking options
- Desert-levels sparse in the backseat
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Lexus IS350 Sport Luxury with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The Lexus IS has carved out a niche in the executive sedan market - some owners would require dynamite to shift them to another brand. With an unparalleled commitment to post-sales service and a reputation for absolutely bulletproof reliability, Lexus hasn't exactly beaten the Germans into submission here in Australia, but it has given them a good fright. If you want to take on Audi, BMW and Mercedes, you've got to bring what Americans call 'your A-game.'
Explore the 2016-2017 Lexus IS Range
Lexus IS 2016 review | first drive video
Lexus IS300h 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS350 2016 review | snapshot
Lexus IS200t Luxury 2017 review | road test
Lexus IS200t F Sport 2017 review | road test
The IS350 is a niche within a niche, though. At this level, the Germans have convinced their customers that forced induction fours or sixes are the go, while Lexus soldiers on with a naturally aspirated V6 and a specification list as long as your arm.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
If you’ve got a thirst for power that would make Vladimir Putin seem benign, you’ll likely find the BMW M3 a little underwhelming, what with its measly 331kW/550Nm and a propensity to spin the rear tyres into rubber-flinging oblivion with each traction control-free prod of the accelerator.
Happily, there's now a solution. Enter the M3 CS (Competition Sport); a track-ready special edition that ups the performance ante right across the board, with more power, stiffer suspension, better aero and the kind of angry exhaust note that sets tectonic plates a-rumbling.
So, is more M3 never enough? Or is the new CS too angry for its own good?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The IS350 is a fine car and is edging ever closer to the truly European feel the marque seems to crave. It's also different enough for those who don't want to be a part of the German triad and want to do something different while getting an after-sales experience that's hard to beat.
The thing about the IS is that it feels a little old - the interior tech and naturally-aspirated V6 are a bit 2009. That's not to criticise the car itself because it's beautifully made and if past IS generations are anything to go by, will outlast humanity. The 350 feels, and is heavy. It's a bit thirsty and doesn't quite tick all the boxes many in the sector are looking for. But wow, is it getting closer.
Is the Lexus IS in the running for you? Or does your wallet only speak German?
The biggest, baddest M3 is also the very best of the current breed. It's a specialist tool, sure, but if you're in the market for a track-attack sedan that will paint a smile on your face, even while striking fear into your heart, then look no further.
Jump into a BMW M3 CS or wait until next month for the new Merc-AMG C 63 S? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
This third-generation IS is, at last, a distinctive looker. The first car was a clean design that aged reasonably well (as did the car - there's still a ton of them kicking around) but the second one seemed a bit timid, a sort of slimmed version of the first car's styling ideas in a bigger body. Things weren't quite right and that car's look has not aged well at all.
The third generation, though, is much more aggressive, more individualistic. The mid-life refresh made the front end look a bit frowny, but the Lexus spindle grille really looks the business even if the headlights appear awkwardly finished. In profile it fits in well with the pack and then it all gets a bit aggro again at the back, with that extravagant downward sweep of the taillights. Pretty, no, memorable, yep.
Inside is less adventurous and, annoyingly, not ageing as well as Lexus might have hoped. The two-storey dash feels a little heavy-handed with its double chin rolls. I can see what the designers were going for, but they missed.
And that chintzy analogue clock in the centre stack. Please. Stop.
There are also too many Toyota-style buttons littering the dash. Having said all of that, the obvious Lexus bits are terrific to touch and use, apart from the entertainment system's click mouse thing. That's a bit of a mess and the screen's software actively works against precise operation.
All is mostly well on the instrument pack except when the sun is coming over your shoulder. The reflections obliterate both of the traditional dials and if you'd already driven, say, an IS200t with the digital dash, you would be asking tough questions about why that instrument set isn't in the top-of-the-range machine.
Interesting, you say? Well, just look at it. The massively domed bonnet, the flared wheel guards, the blacked-out roof, the quad exhaust tips - this thing looks wild from every angle. BMW tells us you can actually swap the lightweight roof for a traditional version with a sunroof, but why on earth would you?
The dome bonnet is fitted with a massive rear-facing vent that sucks hot air off the engine, while the carbon front splitter emerges from the bottom of the grille as if the CS is forever jutting out its jaw. At the rear, the carbon wing is peaked at each end, again aiding aero efficiency, while four fat and centred exhaust tips complete a pretty angry-looking package.
The design across the board is not what you'd call understated, and it likely won't appeal to everyone, but I think it looks the absolute business.
This is probably the weakest part of the Lexus equation. While front and rear seat passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders per row, there's little in the way of storage for our ubiquitous phones. A centre console bin is provided (from which your USB cable must sprout), but the dash and console are bereft of a good place to stow your phone. Each front door will carry a small bottle but rear seat passengers miss out. The glovebox is a good size and cooled for your convenience.
Every bit as practical as any other M3, really, which is impressive given the outrageous performance.
There are some sacrifices made in pursuit of weight loss, of course. There's no centre-console storage (replaced by a strip of Alcantara and a single, lonely USB charge point), and backseat riders lose air vents, power and just about everything else. The good news, then, is that there's space a-plenty back there, with enough head and legroom behind my own 176cm driving position.
But up front, the M3 CS is a comfortable and spacious place to spend time. There are twin cupholders, too, as well as room in each of the doors for bottles. The navigation and multimedia systems are straight-forward and easy to use, as are the performance-focused functions.
Price and features
The IS range kicks off at $59,340 for the base IS200t but it's not until you're spending $65,390 that you'll find yourself in a V6-powered IS350. Another twenty large will see you in the Sports Luxury we had for the week, at a not inconsiderable $84,160 (although that's $4000 less than a BMW 340i). What do you get for that? Quite a bit, as it happens.
A 15-speaker stereo (with Mark Levinson branding, whoever that is), 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a hefty safety package, active cruise control, LED headlights and daytime running lights, auto headlights and wipers, heated, cooled and electrically-adjustable front seats with three memory settings on the driver's side, sat nav, lots of leather, park assist and power everything including sunroof.
Metallic paint is a breathtaking $1500.
The stereo, sat nav and various functions are controlled from a rectangular click-mouse arrangement reminiscent of a '90s laptop. It isn't great and my impression of the software is that the designers need to go out and buy some Apple and Android devices and learn how modern things work. Or at least have a look at iDrive and MMI. Having said that, the sound is epic, although the radio's insistence on switching to KIIS FM on start-up, no matter which device or station was last used, was irritating.
The sat nav also has some annoying functions that are, mercifully, switchable. The speed camera warnings are helpful and insistent while the incessant school zone warnings were hugely annoying. That's hardly Lexus' fault given there are so many of the things, but the constant 'ding-dong' in urban areas is infuriating and sounds like you're trapped in an airport.
At $179,900, the CS sets a new top-price for the M3 family, well above the $146,529 of the Competition version and miles clear of the entry-level Pure ($129,529). And so you might think you get much more for your money, but you would be wrong. In fact, you get much less.
This is a car designed with the relentless pursuit of performance in mind, so expect few extra luxuries - all of which would add weight. Instead, you get more power (of course), as well as a quad-tipped exhaust tuned to sound like the world is ending around you.
Semi-slick Michelin Cup tyres, lighter alloys, a race-focused bonnet (which, along with the roof, is made from a carbon-fibre/plastic composite, helping shave 10kg off the curb weight), some clever aero tech at the rear and lighter cabin materials also join the the standard features list.
Outside, expect staggered alloys (19-inch front, 20-inch rear), adaptive LED headlights and keyless entry. Inside, you'll find air-conditioning, navigation and a 12-speaker harman/kardon stereo controlled through an 8.8-inch screen.
Engine & trans
The IS350's power comes from a 3.5-litre 60-degree V6 producing 233kW and 378Nm. Zero to 100km/h for the 1685kg sedan is dispatched in 5.9 seconds with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
Towing capacity is rated at 750kg unbraked and 1500kg braked.
The M3’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six engine has been tweaked to produce 338kW and a stonking 600Nm of tyre-frying torque. It’s channeled through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and sent to the rear wheels.
That’s enough, BMW says, for a blistering 3.9sec sprint from 0-100km/h, with the CS pushing on to a flying top speed of 280km/h.
BMW reckons you'll return 8.5L/100km on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions pegged at 198g/km. But we politely disagree. We drove the CS in the fashion we imagine everyone will - or at least should, and our numbers were a little higher than that. Like three times higher.
For some reason, the IS always feels heavy. There's something about the way the car moves that makes it feel chunky. That's not all bad, of course, because it imparts a feeling of solidity and strength, but when you line it up next to a BMW 340i, it tips the scales a further 145kg the wrong way. When you look at it that way, you're always carrying two medium sized people around with you.
It doesn't seem to blunt the performance too much, reaching 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, about eight tenths slower than Beemer with the same number of gears and a torque deficit of almost 70Nm.
Another reason it feels heavy is that the sprint itself is one of the most drama-free acceleration events you'll ever experience. The 3.5 V6 is as silky as they come, as smooth as any in-line six, which have the advantage of not having pistons punching away from each other throwing the engine about.
It's not as sharp on the throttle as the 340i or A4, even when in Sport+ mode, so the Sports bit of the Sports Luxury tag is about thirty percent of the equation.
It does steer and brake with great accomplishment, but there's no life in the chassis, really, so it's best regarded as a luxury car rather than a sporting sedan. The IS has always been thus but with the sad demise of the IS F, there's nothing to really go after the quicker Audis, BMWs or Mercs. You have to lose two doors and move on to the RC F for that.
Ride quality is superb and the cabin is seriously quiet. Rough roads with huge expansion joints and zingy concrete surfaces fade into the background, conversation remains easy with just the stereo to push what little wind noise penetrates the cabin into the background. The adaptive damping must take a lot of the credit for the ride and handling refinement - it's unobtrusive and doesn't suddenly pour concrete into the dampers when you switch things up.
The best performance cars straddle a razor-thin line between exhilarating and terrifying, and the M3 CS definitely parks an axle on either side of the divide.
It's not for the faint-hearted, the CS; it can be an angry, twitchy, rear-grip-relinquishing handful. And not just when you're overly aggressive on the exit of a corner (though also definitely then), but even when you plant your foot on a dead-straight, perfectly smooth and bone-dry patch of tarmac.
As a result, your heart is almost always beating just a little bit faster being the wheel, almost from the moment you slip into the driver’s seat and prod the start button, the exhaust barking into life like a whip cracking in your eardrum.
So intimidating at times, sure. But also huge handfuls of fun. The M3 (and the M3 Competition) experience has been fine tuned to near-enough perfection in the CS formula, from the super direct steering to the thunderous flow of power to the booming exhaust.
This is not a car built for suburban exploring, but BMW deserves credit for making its CS feel pretty liveable when it’s not being driven in anger. The suspension tuning especially, while you’d never accuse it of being overly comfortable, does a surprisingly good job of soaking up corrugations and bumps while still feeling ever-connected to the road below.
Eight airbags (including knee bags for front seat occupants), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, auto emergency braking, forward collision detection, brake assist and driver attention detection.
The IS scored five ANCAP stars, the highest available.
The only complaint here is that both lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert are too polite - a little more information as to what's going on would be helpful.
Another victim of the performance goals here, I'm afraid, with everything that can be removed, removed - hell, even the reversing camera has been punted.
Instead, the safety package consists of front, and front-side airbags and a performance-focused traction and braking package. Parking sensors front and rear, active cruise and speed-limit recognition round out a fairly basic package.
The rest of the BMW range received the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in 2012.
The Lexus range comes with a four year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist for the duration. Servicing is every 15,000km or twelve months, whichever comes first.
The ownership experience only loses marks because of the lack of capped or fixed price servicing. Service intervals are well-spaced at 12 months/15,000km but Lexus will only commit to "indicative" pricing after the first service (which is, to be fair, a freebie).
The Lexus experience is legendary - owners with cars well over a decade old still have them collected from their homes come service time. Technically, you may never have to visit a dealer again, just pay the nice person when they comes back with your freshly washed, and serviced car. Or they'll give you a loan car to drive yourself around in for the day.
BMW's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty applies here, with a "condition-based servicing" schedule that means you're car will tell you when work is required. You can prepay your servicing costs for the first five years of ownership, spanning $3350 to $8450 depending on your level of coverage.