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.
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.
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