|Lexus IS-F / BMW M3
|Lexus IS-F and
BMW M3 Specs
Dinan BMW M3
I was recently able to lay my hands on a 2009 Lexus IS-F in eye-popping Ultrasonic Blue. Since the IS-F is touted as an M3 killer, I decided to bring along an M3 during our evaluation in order to determine how the Lexus compared to the benchmark BMW. Unfortunately, I didn’t give the nice folks at BMW enough notice to provide me with a stock M3 in time for the comparison. However, Dinan offered me one of their cars. Actually, they offered me Steve Dinan’s personal car. I became a little worried when the guys at the shop said something about rolling back the odometer before I returned it, but I’m sure Steve was well aware of what was going on.
A little about the Dinan M3 Coupe: it was equipped with their Stage 3 suspension, Dinan brake kit, their new E92 M3 exhaust, a modified rear differential with a lower ratio over stock (was 3.85, now 4.10), and 19 inch Dinan forged wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires. You might say that comparing a Dinan-prepped M3 against a stock Lexus IS-F is unfair…and you would be right. The sum total of the Dinan upgrades added up to a car that performs a step above a stock M3. An accurate title of this article would be “Lexus IS-F vs. Dinan BMW M3 Coupe”. Click the link to read our separate article describing modifications applied to the Dinan M3.
Testing was conducted on a variety of road surfaces, including city surface streets, highways, and some very spirited driving on the CarReview.com secret test track. Temperatures were in the low 60’s with partial cloud cover. In other words, perfect conditions for a little fun!
I’ve never been partial to the styling of the Lexus IS series…too much uninterrupted sheet metal falling down the sides of the car and a rear end that is a bit too portly. However, the stock IS is a better looking car than the IS-F. A bulging hood, front fender ducts, and quad exhausts end up resulting in a hodge-podge of external styling cues that represents a wannabe street racer that was cut from “Fast and Furious”. As far as the dual-stage exhaust note itself, give me a break. It sounds decent under normal acceleration, but stomp on the go-pedal, push the engine over 4,000 RPMs and the noise emanating from the quad-exhaust pipes is worse than an elephant who had too many beans for lunch. Aftermarket tuners are going to make a lot of money selling better exhaust systems to IS-F owners.
The BMW styling is more purposeful with a distinctive character line following the sides of the car and appropriately bulging fenders covering wider tires. The black, carbon fiber roof contrasted nicely with the white paint, but I doubt it provides much of a performance advantage. My thoughts are that the BMW’s styling will age better than the Lexus, but the power bulge in the hood has to go. I know the bulge is a matter of function over form to accommodate the V-8, but it upsets that balance of the design.
The IS-F interior is comfortable and quiet. The seats are supportive and comfortable for the long-haul, but I would have liked more side bolstering for spirited driving. The high contrast Alpine and black leather seats is a personal preference call. And personal preference leans towards the conservative side with solid colors for the seating.
Controls within the Lexus are easy to access and understandable. However, the styling is a bit bland. The gauges are exciting, but the rest of the dashboard is composed of great unbroken expanses of high quality soft-touch plastics. There was some silver, pseudo-carbon trim. But it looked more like an afterthought. All-in-all, they could have made it much more interesting.
The M3 provides a little more excitement in the interior department. While still fairly conservative, it is more visually stimulating that the Lexus. The seats are very comfortable for the long haul, while still providing adequate side-bolstering for spirited driving up to and including track use. All of the controls are well placed and easy to read. I was way too busy testing the performance capabilities of this car to fool around with the I-drive, so that will have to wait until a later review.
This is where Lexus got things right – well, almost! The 5.0 liter V-8 pumps out 416 horsepower and 371 pound-feet of torque for a tire-shredding good time. These numbers compare very favorably to the M3’s 414 horsepower and 295 feet-pounds of torque. You can expect 0-60 times in the mid four second range. However, the IS-F doesn’t deliver power in the same manner as the M3. While the BMW M3 has a torque curve as flat as a Kansas corn field, the power in the IS-F comes on later in its RPM range and drops off sharply after 5,200 RPM. This means that the M3 provides more usable torque throughout most of its rev range. The power delivery produced from the M3′s V-8 makes it easier to drive, especially out of corners.
No doubt, the Lexus IS-F delivers 0-60 times in the mid four second range. This is seriously fast indeed, but somewhat tempered by the fact that the only transmission option is an 8-speed automatic. While this is a very good automatic transmission, it is still an automatic. Conventional wisdom has long held that a good manual transmission is always faster and more fun than an automatic transmission. The IS-F turns this idea on its head by employing lockup in all gears except first when in manual mode. This eliminates any power loss from the torque converter from 2nd through 8th gear while preserving desirable torque multiplication in first gear for stunning launch acceleration. The result is a direct feel unlike any other automatic, and “right now” response to the throttle. Shift times are fast! A typical F1 transmission shift time is approx. 0.05 seconds, with virtually imperceptible lag. The IS-F shifts occur in approximately 1/10th of a second. We discovered in very spirited driving, the transmission in the IS-F was indeed very fast and smooth up-shifting, but it behaved harshly during down-shifts and the car seemed happier when left in the fully automatic “sport” mode when driven hard. Even with a technologically advanced 8-speed gearbox and ultra-fast shifting, this car would be much better with one or two fewer gears and a manual transmission.
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