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BMW M3 Sedan VS. Lexus IS-F - One-Horse Race

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Having read magazines, watched TV shows and spoken to people who'd driven it, everybody had good things to say about the Lexus IS-F. Several people suggested they preferred it to the venerable BMW M3, which is fighting talk where I come from, sonny. So when we discovered our sister mag, Super Street, was borrowing an IS-F, we insisted on "borrowing" it ourselves.

Up front, I should confess I love the E90 M3. In a perfect world, where fuel was cheap, it's all I'd need. However, the IS-F ticks all the boxes. It has a willing 416hp 5.0 V8 that sounds more muscular than the M3's high-strung 420hp 4.0 V8. The larger capacity allows it to make more torque, with 371 lb-ft against the M3's 295. Yet the IS-F is only available with a paddle gearshift, so we went for BMW's dual-clutch transmission, which is a giant leap over the older SMG tranny.

Having finally driven the IS-F and been able to compare it directly to the M3, all I can say is "it's good for a Lexus." Is it a competitor for the M3, as people would have us believe? Absolutely not!

The best thing about the IS-F is its exhaust note at WOT, while the M3 sounds more mechanical. The Lexus also has a good touchscreen nav system, but the improved iDrive is no longer the embarrassment it once was, proving easy to use.

Where the IS-F comes undone is steering, throttle and shift response, with the BMW feeling razor sharp in comparison. The Lexus has a Sport button that alters shift points, but it can't compare to the adjustable dampers, throttles, shift speed and traction control on our optioned M3. And after a relatively short canyon run, we had the 14.2" IS-F front brakes smoking, where days of greater abuse in the M3 never created such problems (same size brakes).Certainly the M3's 3648 lb curb weight compares favorably to the IS-F's lardy3780 lb. But you also have to factor in theBMW's legendary 50/50 weight split to fully explain the advantage it carries.

To drive the knife a little deeper, we also found the IS-F interior rather nasty, with cheap graphics on the dash, tacky silver carbon trim and cheap-looking plastics. We didn't like its white leather seats either, preferring the more supportive and classic black leather sports seats in the M3, which also spanked the Lexus with its carbon-embossed leather dash trim.

The exterior styling takes a similar path, with the IS-F appearing to try a little too hard in a slightly juvenile way. While the M3 whispers its potency from behind an admittedly large power bulge in the hood.

We guess you could mistake the IS-F for a good car if you only drive traffic light GPs. Aim it at something more demanding and the Lexus falls short of the M3's brilliance.

It's like comparing a 9mm Glock to a baseball bat, a scalpel to a sledgehammer. And at the end of the day, even the Super Street editors recognized the superiority of German engineering, which allowed us the classic retort: "I told you so!"

If you're considering either car, realize they'll both hit you in the pocket. The $56,760 IS-F is more expensive than the $54,500 M3, which was optioned up to $65k with the paddle shift trans, nav, 19s, etc.

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