• BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F

The new 2010 Lexus IS-F is the brand’s first attempt at creating a performance machine to rival the German juggernaut. The car started life as an IS350, so we didn’t have high hopes for it right off the bat. The normal IS is a reliable and capable sports sedan; boring and plain in mostly every way. Then, it found the steroid cabinet.

The IS-F is very interesting to say the least. It’s got bulging front fenders, a 416 horsepower mountain of power, an eight-speed transmission, and a hard ride that would scare away most Lexus owners.

A useful car to Lexus? No, not even close. As pointless things go, the IS-F is on top of the pile. But, it makes a little sense when you remember that the one major flaw with the company was that it could never rival the Germans and their high-performance sedans. The sort of cars that sell in small numbers, but help automakers land big spots on automotive magazines and websites, like this one for example.

Hit the jump to read on.

Lexus hopes to sell around 3,000 models a year, making this a very rare machine. In fact, we haven’t seen one on the road yet, besides of course, our red example.

The most important part of the IS-F has to be the motor that lives under the bulging hood. An interesting fact you can use on your next date - which will probably be the last date - is that the massive V8 actually started life in the boat-like LS460h. Don’t let that hybrid touch fool you though, the motor has been worked on extensively by Lexus’s engineering boys, with help from Yamaha’s Formula One team. The 5.0-liter motor now has an all-aluminum crankshaft, new cylinder heads, and titanium intake valves. Additionally, the engine features a forged crankshaft, connecting rods, and cam lobes. Are you bored of reading yet?

BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F High Resolution Exterior
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That monster V8 is connected to an eight-speed transmission, in which the gear ratios are very evenly spaced. The reason for all these gears is down to fuel economy that is good enough to avoid the U.S gas guzzle tax. Yet, as good as is, there are downsides.

There seems to be a bit too many gears. Some will say otherwise, but driving the car takes a whole new approach. Usually, in order to do an aggressive highway pass, it’s a simple sixth to third. Three downshifts and the car takes off, but not in the IS-F. One must go from eighth to third, quite a task if you’re not familiar with the car. It takes a few days to get used to it.

BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F High Resolution Exterior
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That being said, the transmission is a brilliant piece of automotive engineering. For those of you who find this sort of thing boring, skip to the next paragraph. The transmission has two very different modes about it. In drive, it’s a normal automatic, but push the level to the left and all hell breaks loose. The car becomes what feels like a clutch-less manual. At full throttle, the gear changes require less than a 10th of a second and are heard from miles away as IS250 owners cry about buying the wrong car. The changes aren’t smooth either; push the needle past 5000 rpm and the gear changes are ferocious.

This unique transmission helps the IS-F be tame and lame in normal mode. The engine is quite, the cabin built to the highest standards, and the 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is incredible. Then, place your fingers on the left paddle and tap it four times, while smashing the throttle into the ground. Every living thing in the car is thrown back into the leather seats, as the car takes off into the horizon.

BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F High Resolution Interior
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The redline is around 6800, which is shockingly low when compared to the BMW M3. In fact, a very annoying warning tone sounds when the revs go over about 6,300 rpm. We don’t know about you, but we don’t need to be told when to change up. On top of that, the traction control system can’t be shut off at speeds of 30 miles per hour. Why not? That just doesn’t make any sense to us.

The ride in the IS-F is one of the car’s biggest downsides and the reason why many will choose the M3 for the horsepower needs. It’s as if Lexus sculpted the suspension out of rock. The front and rear spring and shock packages are super-stiff, meaning that traveling over bumpy roads - or brick roads as we found out- can be quite painful. Add on a low ride height and it can be tough to even talk to the person next to you, let alone change the station. So, if Britney Spears comes on the radio and you’re traveling over a bumpy highway, consider yourself screwed.

BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F High Resolution Exterior
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Smooth roads are a whole different ball game. The car offers up spectacular amounts of lateral grip on its 19-inch, low-profile Michelin tires. The steering is heavy - very heavy in fact - but tight and precise. Switch the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management to sport mode and you can do power sliders around cul-de-sacs like a champ, though we wouldn’t advise you to.

The real issue with this car is the badge. Lexus making a performance sedan is like Mr. Rogers machine gunning the world of make believe. Normally, Toyota’s high-end brand has been sedate and dull, but this new model is hard and fast. However, no matter how good it is, the Lexus badge doesn’t carry the same weight as the BMW M badge.

Is it better than the M3? That’s a question that will be answered later on.

BMW M3, Meet The Lexus IS-F High Resolution Exterior
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  (10) posted on 09.10.2010

M3 ten times better

  (80) posted on 09.8.2010

Speaking of topgear. Last nigth i watched the footage where Jeremy Clarkson compared the IS-F to the M3. Now, he actually liked the IS-F. except for the gearbox, which i also find overengineered and the hard ride. Now Clarkson is no Toyota/Lexus entuciast, so that tells a lot. In the dragrace, the IS-F pulled away from the M3 in the beginning, then the M3 gained back on it and then the IS-F gained back again. In the slalom, Clarkson who is a motorjournalist/entertainer drove the IS-F while the M3 was driven by a racingdriver. The M3 started of and the IS-F should try and keep up with it. It was a close race, except for one corner, where the IS-F drifted too far. Mind you again, the M3 was driven by a professional racing driver.

Clarkson´s conclusion: The IS-F does a lot of things well, the M3 does them all well. His complain about the IS-F was mainly it’s transmission and the fact that the ride was too hard, where the ligther M3 came to a good compremise between grip and comfort. Agree with the transmission issue. The other thing is a question of taste.

  (868) posted on 09.8.2010

@timdog595, you’re not comparing the updated 2010 models. The IS-F does 0-60 in 4.1, the M3 in 4.3. The IS-F pulls 0.96g on a 300-ft diameter skidpad, the M3 0.90g. The IS-F runs a 700 ft slalom @ 72.1 mph, the M3 @ 70.0. The IS-F stops from 60 mph in 110 ft, the M3 in 112. If you’re going to compare apples to apples here and put the 2010 IS-F against the 2010 M3 sedan, the IS-F will win every time.

  (80) posted on 09.8.2010

In all fairness, TopGear is an entertainment program, which shouldn’t be taken too serious. The only thing i don’t really like about the IS-F is the transmission. It’s also because of that transmission that the M3 beats it from 0-100 by a margin.

That aside, there are a lot of people that see the IS-F as Lexus’s try to compete with the M3. I don’t see it that way. I see the Lexus IS range, including the IS-F as the successor to the Toyota Mark II, i remember from when i was a kid. They stopped exporting it to Europe back in the 70s, but continued in Japan until 2004.

  (68) posted on 09.7.2010

Uncia...i dont know where you get your facts on performance between the M3 and IS-F but you got everything backwards. the M3 is superior in everything, except maybe reliability. watch top gear, they compared the 2 and M3 won. they even did a drag race and M3 still won, even if its just by a bit. but a win is a win.
and read car and driver, motortrend, and road and track, the IS-F always finished dead last. stop kidding yourself boring lexus lover and just face the facts. quit dreaming, its time to wake up. M3 better than IS-F 90% of everything.

  (868) posted on 09.7.2010

Is the IS-F better than the M3 sedan? Yes, it’s better than the M3. From a performance standpoint, the IS-F accelerates faster to 60 mph, brakes shorter from 60 mph, it’s faster through a slalom, it pulls more lateral Gs on a skidpad, and laps the Nurburgring 16 seconds faster. From a practicality standpoint, it also has a higher reliability rating, better gas mileage, more cargo room, and a better warranty. The only advantage that the M3 has is ride quality, but if that matters that much to you, then you shouldn’t be looking at a performance sedan.

  (324) posted on 09.7.2010

I would also select this car rather than the M3, aside from Lexus which is currently rising into well known car brands.

  (80) posted on 09.7.2010

Personally i would choose the IS-F over the M3, not despide of the badge, but because of the badge. Then again, i might choose the M3 because it comes with a good old manual transmission, something Toyota should consider as an option for the IS-F.

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