Face-Off: Lexus IS-F versus BMW M3

BMW Expert Reviews Feature Articles Lexus


BMW has provided an outstanding motor for the E92 M3.  It’s an able partner for a high-revving good time.  Mated with BMW’s slick shifting six-speed manual, this engine provides true driving nirvana.  Although it’s down a bit on torque when compared with the Lexus, the power delivery is smoother and the car feels quicker.  I’m sure that some of this has to do with the slight horsepower increase provided by the Dinan exhaust system and the lower gearing in the rear end, but most of it is because of that flat, usable torque curve and the high-revving nature of the engine.  It’s just too bad that BMW didn’t see fit to put twin turbos on this thing like in the 335i.  Imagine what the aftermarket tuner guys could have done with that!


The IS-F is a car that is easy to drive fast. It has tremendous grip, stays relatively flat during the turns, and transitions well. With that in mind, it could use more steering feel and better turn-in. I could hear the tires clawing for traction before I felt it in the steering. Compared to the M3, turn-in was slow with the IS-F and sometimes it was difficult determining exactly what the car was doing. The 6-piston Brembo brakes scrub off speed faster than you can warn George of the Jungle to “watch out for that tree!”, but aren’t as easy to modulate as the M3. The ride itself is harsh during normal driving conditions. While this is a car that is easy to drive fast, it doesn’t inspire confidence when driven very fast.

The Dinan M3, on the other hand, is a car that inspires you to drive way beyond legal limits. Turn-in was sharp and accurate.  This car goes where you point it and transitions without drama.  I could feel what the car was doing and knew when I was approaching the limits of traction. The Dinan M3 felt solid and composed under all of the driving conditions present during our comparison.  As a bonus, it was also a much better daily driver as there was none of the harshness associated with the IS-F.  You could take this car to the track, drive hard all day long, and have a relaxing ride home.

Lexus IS-F vs. BMW M3


You are getting a lot of performance for your dollar with the IS-F and M3. For around $60k, you see the same performance as that of cars costing more than 2X ten years ago.


Lexus has made a commendable effort with the IS-F — amazing power and acceleration, good handling, and engaging driving dynamics. But I think they missed the mark with their intended target audience. Lexus attempted to match the M3, but forgot that when you shoot at a moving target you have to lead the target. The IS-F comes close to matching the M3, but falls just shy of the mark by a nose hair. We found the E92 M3 to be a tiny bit better than the IS-F in almost every category. The M3 is a better looking car in and out, the motor is more willing, it has better steering feel, transition and turn-in are more precise. In addition, the brakes are easier to modulate and the manual transmission is more fun. While doing all of this, we like how the M3 is also more comfortable as a daily driver. To be fair, the Lexus IS-F was being compared against a Dinan prepped M3 Coupe. But there is no doubt, without the mods, that the BMW M3 is a better car all-around. I think a rematch is in order. However, it will have to be something like a stock M3 sedan with the 7-speed DkG (Dual Clutch Gearbox). You know, an apples to apples thing.

In a nutshell, the IS-F is a car that is easy to drive fast and can make a driver of average skills look good, but the M3 is a car that is built to be driven very fast. It is predictable at the limits and inspires that confidence you need to explore those limits. You can feel the M3′s mission in its bones. Although the IS-F performs at a high level, the spirit of the Lexus IS-F falls below the BMW M3.


Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Overall
Lexus IS-F
5.0 3.5 4.0 4.0 3.0 3.9/B
5.0 4.0
5.0 5.0 4.0 4.6/A-

BMW USA www.bmwusa.com Lexuswww.lexus.com

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  • Gus says:

    I recently went to the Lexus dealer to look for a luxury car; maybe an LS. Not knowing abut this car, I ended up buying a new black 2010 ISF. I have owned several Mercedes (including AMG) and BMWs and the moment I drove this car I was sold!! In one word, Amazing!! I traded in my mercedes and have not missed it at all. This is a very powerful and unique car. The best part is that there not many on the road and I have blown the doors off many fast cars including mercedes and BMWs; most people do not know what this car is. Just yesterday i took my wife to a fancy restaurant and the valet boys where debating which of them was going to park my car. When we return the valet guy said to me; Sir. by far you have the best car here; love those rims. Amazing to hear that when you see all those fancy cars including many mercedes BMWs and Porsches parked there. I would advise to anyone looking to buy a race luxury car that can seat four to get the ISF. Service at Lexus is superb; free car wash any time!!

    Thanks Lexus.

  • mark says:

    this is quite possibly the worst written car review ever, and would be torn apart by anyone who knows cars..

    Manuals have the fastest times? Since when? 1970? DCT, PDK, author of this article go find out what those mean and please stop being an embarassment to car people everywhere, how did you get this job..

    A twin turbo would have been cool? Do you have any idea what you are saying, and about what car? Try seeing what most M owners think of FI..

    this was so horribly bad I actually took time to write it, and those are just the glaring points that stuck out. you are lucky to have a job, because whoever pays you has no idea

  • Travis says:

    The M3 was from 2010… and had Michelin Pilot Sport CUP tires!

    IS-F has EARNED the CROWN from M3!

    Buh Bye…

    2009 article says the cup tires on the M3 only shaved 0.2 off the previous time with stock PS2.

    So yes, stock for stock.. the IS-F is faster on this track by 0.2 seconds.

    What it took BMW 20 years to make.. took Lexus 3 years to match and pass. Not only is the ISF faster then the M3 at the red light.. but handling and track advantage the M3 had over the ISF is no longer existent . . .

    The Ferrari and Lambo beating LFA, the ISF…. I cant wait to see the GSF . .

  • Travis says:

    Not sure if anyone has seen the Feb 2011 C&D yet, but they finally test the 2011 ISF with both the revised suspension and LSD. Long story short, the suspension updates drop an incredible 8.6 seconds from C&D’s previous VIR lap time.

    Here are some of the lap times from this and previous Lightning Laps for reference:

    RS4 – 3:11.2
    S4 – 3:10.6
    Mustang GT 5.0 – 3:08.6
    E63 – 3:06.8
    C63 – 3:06.5
    Cayman S – 3:05.8
    Carrera S – 3:05.8
    M3 – 3:05.4
    2011 ISF – 3:05.4
    CTS-V coupe – 3:04.0
    GTR – 2:55.6

    The ISF now ties the M3 and tops the AMG Benzes and RS4. C&D was overall very complimentary of its performance and called the brakes fantastic and fade-free, something that could not be said for the E63 which faded on the very first lap. They also mentioned that the ISF matched the M3′s lap time with a higher curb weight and no real power advantage.

    I guess this is the end of the “I know it’s a bit slower on the track but it’s a much better daily…” comparisons with the M3.

    Bravo Lexus!

    If you just want to see review of 2011 IS-F here you go.

    Lightning Lap 2011: LL2 Class – Feature

    Three years back, an IS F turned a less-than-impressive 3:14.0. We said then, “A little attention to springs and damping might make this eager contender a real champ,” as the stiffly sprung F zapped confidence in high-speed corners.

    Boy, were we right. Lexus has since tweaked all suspension elements. Spring rates are down in the front and up in the rear, and there are larger anti-roll bars, stiffer subframe bushings, and longer bump stops, which effectively increase spring rates when the car is nearing its maximum roll angle. Lexus also lightened the front hubs and control arms and slapped a Torsen limited-slip differential in the rear axle. The result is BMW M3–matching performance around VIR (3:05.4). That’s heady company for Lexus to be keeping. Especially considering that the IS F weighs 3801 pounds (195 more than the M3) and makes only two additional horsepower, at 416.

    Lexus also redesigned the gauges, enlarging the tachometer and relocating it to the center of the instrument binnacle. But it could have removed the thing altogether because we did not so much as peep at it: The IS F’s audible shift warning is plenty loud, even when you are wearing a helmet. While the alert is slightly obnoxious on public roads, it lets you keep your eyes up when driving on a track.

    The old F rolled around on the track like a keel-less boat in gusting winds. The aforementioned updates quell this tendency and increase confidence. Our backside impressions are supported by numbers: The F exits sector two 13.1 mph quicker than before, at 109.1. Steering is communicative, and the chassis is set up for safe, moderate understeer, but vector adjustment is just a throttle tweak away—the torquey engine (371 pound-feet) can break the rear tires loose easily. The brakes are fantastic, too. The pedal might be a tad wooden (more pliant pine than hard oak), but the system remains fade-free after multiple laps of abuse, something none of the other large sedans could claim this year. The 180-degree character change performed by this Lexus gives us hope that Toyota can still make fun-to-drive cars. Now  where’s our Supra?

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  • Andre says:

    I have been a BMW fan for years (since the I was a little boy when the 325is was around)…

    Now although BMW is my favorite brand, I am not in the business of kidding myself.

    I recently went to test drive both cars and must say that even as a BMW fan it would not a difficult choice. The Lexus felt like a combination of a drive on a motorbike and car with a powerful engine (those gears sift fast!!!!).

    And I don’t know that the engine sound is all that bad, if compared to the C63 and the RS4 the Lexus is slightly quieter (not that I was doing noise comparisons though). And as usual the M3 had the most disappointing sound of the 3 (the RS4 is definitely the noisiest).

    The ISF definitely felt faster. And both cars interior were good in their own way (maybe I am used to the BMW interior), but I must say the Lexus interior and features have no fuss about them, so much is automatic and “seemed” to have more features (not sure if I drove the same “spec” for each)

    If you want a straight-line beater the ISF and if you want a car with great cornering the M3 (handling as always in own class)

  • brian says:

    you guys are crazy. i test drove the two before going with the 08 m3. the is-f’s interior looks like utter garbage, The tranny is way too sluggish while down shifting, and the fake exhausts are hideous.

  • mark says:

    I don’t know how old this reviewer is, but its apparent how little he knows. What do you mean, ‘conventional wisdom’ says a manual is faster? All the fastest shifts and times for the M3 are achieved with their DCT….not a manual. You will never be able to execute manual shifts even near or close to as fast as these newer transmissions. This was clear years ago.
    You think the exhaust note on the ISF sounds like an elephant? did you even drive the ISF? this review is a joke

  • Andrew says:

    The ISF is by far the better daily driver than the M3. Better interior, better ride, better reliability, better service.

    The M3 has marketing and car & driver reviews. BMW tells people they’ve got a magical driving experience when really, it’s a compromise both ways. ISF is better as a DD and the Cayman, GTR, etc. are far better for the track. Hell, GTR is probably better as a DD too.

  • IS F Driver says:

    I just purchased my first “performance” car & after visiting and reading about both cars, I went with the IS F. The epople at the BMW dealer were idiots — they know NOTHING about customer service!

    The ride in the ISF is the biggest problem — it is WAY too hard! The exhaust is also over done with the four pipes, but the front design is very attractive. I liked the fact that the IS F came with most items included, and the equivalent M3 was $15-$20K higher ;-( … I think that if Lexus had that additional money in each car, they would crush the M3. Let’s rememaber thet the IS F is their first model in this class … I would be worried if I were BMW …

    The multi-stage intake makes you know that you are in a performace car — it is very ice to hear & feel. I do not like the IS F controls that limit power to the rear tires — seems like Leus it concerned about Marginal drivers’ skills … kind of a bummer that this is in effect.

    I’d like to know what this car could do with turbocharing …

    I have a friend who has owned BMWs for years; he usually has 2-3 on hand & he was very impressed with my IS F — thought it would blow the M3 off the road.

  • ewall says:

    i own both 2008 isf and 2008 bmw m3 with dinan exhaust. theyre both fast but the lexus is faster. both are very cofortable inside but the m3 feels a little more rigid.( which i like for everyday driving, i drive fast, im 30.) the lexus accelerates faster and smoother than ANY bmw to date.(8 speed automatc). the m3 is a choppy ride because its a 6 speed manual.(a little more fun on the way to the office. both vehicles have tight suspension and are a ton of fun. i would recomend either car to anyone who likes fast imports.

  • Derek says:

    Maybe the Lexus is better suited as a daily driver over the M3, but I have to disagree with the other points.

    The Lexus IS-F is not faster than the M3 — even it was in stock trim. As stated in the review, we found the M3 was much better at the upper limits than the IS-F. In fact we had to back down a little when approaching the limits because the feedback from the car was not confidence inspiring. And the rumblings from the IS-F is good only until the 2nd stage opens up. When hard on the accelerator and revving over 4k, the rawkus from the dual stage intake is horrible.

    And I have to bring up the 8-speed gearbox. The tranny was too busy shifting trying to find a sweet spot in the power band. Whereas the M3 had a much wider power band and smoother power delivery.

    Admittedly, the Lexus interior is nice, but the aluminized trim looks like some aftermarket add-on that can be purchased from Pep Boys. Sheesh!

  • Philip says:

    So, how much did BMW pay the author for this article…?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the styling of the M3 Coupe, its an excellent car, but the majority of the “pros” the author states the M3 has over the IS-F are subjective.
    The Lexus is so much more suited as a daily driver than the M3. not to mention the Lexus is faster, has a waaay better interior, and sounds better than the M3.
    The growl of the dual-stage Intake (not exhaust, does the author even know anything about cars?) is amazing! the Bmw sounds like a supped up V6, much like the previous gen.

  • Derek says:

    I have owned previous generations M3s (E30 and two E36)and never had reliability problems. I haven’t purchased the current generation M3, so I cannot provide any insight with regards to long term reliability.

    Looking at the Lexus, the IS-F is definitely less comfortable than the E90/E92 M3.IMO, the IS-F suspension is too stiff for being a daily driver and doesn’t absorb rough road surfaces very well. On long road trips, the occupants come out shaken, not stirred. The M3 has a much better ride quality and can be driven to its limits with more confidence because it communicates back to the driver much better than the IS-F.

    The IS 350 upgrade with the F Sports parts is a nice compromise for people who are a fan of Lexus. They don’t get the growling 400+ hp V8, but the suspension and exhaust upgrades excellent. An IS 350 setup with F Sports upgrades behaves nicely on the street and on the track.

  • Preetham Mukhatira says:

    For most people who cannot see past an M3, if i want a track car i would rather get a Cayman S or the GT-R(if i had more dough) and if i want a superfast Luxury saloon i would get the IS-F. It’s a simple choice as the Lex is anyday more comfortable and reliable than the M3 as a daily driver. For performance driving on the track or the road they are close, but if i want to take any car to the track it would be none other than the Porsche. I drove the Cayman S once and i would take it anyday over the M3 to the track. Hence i really do not see the point of the M3 apart from appreciating its great engineering and the fact that it inspired Lex to build a great superfast Luxury saloon.

  • Chris (ex CarReview guy) says:

    That’s pretty much what I figured… BMW still beats out Toyota.

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