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Faceoff: Lexus IS350 Vs. BMW 330i Page 2


Inside, things improve for both cars. The BMW’s cabin might be a bombardment of black plastic, but it’s the well-made, high-quality stuff that’s a nice to touch and keeps unwanted reflections, smudges, and scratches to a minimum. The cabin is also the epitome of ergonomic simplicity with buttons that are simple to find and satisfying to use, which only serves to remind us of the tragedy of iDrive (it only rears its ugly head if your 330i is ordered with satellite navigation).

 

The Lexus is much less oppressive thanks to the lighter hues, a greater variety of materials, and a more inviting overall design, though there’s a disappointing number of Toyota bits dotted about the place and the silver-painted plastic on the center console looks cheap in such a car. Our Lexus was equipped with optional touch-screen navigation, so many of the ventilation and audio controls were split between solid dashboard buttons and virtual on-screen buttons, making basic operations unnecessarily complex and awkward. What is the general objection to dashboard buttons in luxury cars these days, I wonder?

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I had expected the Lexus to trounce the snug BMW in terms of interior space but, surprisingly, the IS’ interior dimensions are smaller than the BMW’s in most respects despite it being a longer car overall. It does have a bigger trunk, but that’s little consolation to the cramped rear passengers, now is it?

 

Specification-wise, the two cars pretty much match one another in terms of equipment and basic features, although there are four important areas where the Lexus really punished the BMW: Firstly, it has leather seats, which would cost $1450 extra in the euphemistically trimmed “leatherette” 330i, and secondly it comes with a six-speed paddle-shift automatic as standard, which is another sizeable $1275 option on the BMW.

 

Also bear in mind that the Lexus costs $1200 less than the BMW to begin with and you begin to see just how much showroom appeal Lexus has built into the IS350. The Lexus IS350 isn’t even available with a manual gearbox, which is a bummer for any European worth his speedo-wearing salt but not really an issue for most Americans, and the BMW does fight back by offering expensive swiveling xenon headlamps, even if they do vibrate annoyingly and really don’t work very well. Finally, there’s the issue of performance, which is where the Lexus, quite literally, streaks ahead of the Bimmer.

Power player

With an extra half liter of capacity and a whopping 50 more horsepower and 57 extra pound-feet of torque, the IS is a whole second faster than the BMW to 60 mph from a rest (5.3 seconds versus 6.3) and maintains that second advantage all the way to the quarter mile (very low 14s versus very high 14s). In reality the Lexus feels even faster than the numbers suggest, surging ahead of the BMW in any gear at any speed, while those paddle shifters are programmed to operate responsively and smoothly, further enhancing the sensation of speed and looking rather cool into the bargain.

 

The 330i can’t compete with the IS 350’s eye-widening pace or its flashy paddle shifters, although its automatic transmission is actually more responsive and sporty than the Lexus’, despite making do with a lever-operated manual mode. Both cars have electronically limited top speeds — 142 mph for the IS350 and 130 for the 330i unless it’s fitted with the sport pack, in which case it can run to 149 mph. And it’s not like the Lexus punishes you at the pumps, either. All kinds of valve timing and lean burning is used to give the Lexus almost identical gas mileage to the less powerful BMW.

However, if you delve deeper than the Lexus’ impressive on-paper figures, you’ll find there’s only one true driver’s car in this comparison and that’s the BMW 330i. At low speeds or in a straight line, the Lexus feels like it could be amusing but wind things up a notch and it becomes clear that the focus is on grip and safety whereas the 3-Series is all about fun and unflappability. The BMW’s steering, though not the info-fest I expected, is still sharp and responsive compared to the Lexus’ mute and stodgy helm, while throttle response and brake feel are also more intuitive in the BMW than those of the Lexus. The BMW even rides more comfortably than the Lexus, despite being more firmly sprung, though the Lexus seems to be a quieter cruiser.

Switch off the BMW’s stability control and the BMW will hang its rear end out all day long, a consequence of its carefully honed balance and razor-sharp controls, although the 330i isn’t fitted with a limited-slip rear differential and would possibly be even more fun thus equipped. The Lexus doesn’t even have a stability control switch and if you try to get fresh with the IS’ spandex-clad rear end it will slap you hard and intrusively on the wrist. The VSC system can be overridden if you know the right combination of pedal prods (I kid you not) and when you do manage to switch the system off, the Lexus shows signs of possessing a balanced chassis, hinting that there might be some potential in the IS’ platform after all. To unleash the beast within, though, Lexus would first have to rework the suspension and improve the steering tuning, while also install a “VSC off” button for those of driver that learned how to drive before computers took over 95 percent of the task.

Danke, und guten nacht


 
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