German Muscle vs. Japanese Hustle The Lexus comes in with a cheaper base price, but the BMW is more affordable when option prices are included. By Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor Date posted: 05-27-2007 BMW has it and Lexus wants it. That's all you need to know about the confrontation between the 2007 BMW 335i and 2007 Lexus IS 350. As the first compact sport sedan with more than 300 horsepower, the IS 350 has been the quickest car in this class since its redesign in 2006. But the 2007 BMW 335i has been through a redesign of its own, and its new twin-turbo 300-hp inline-6 now measures up against the Lexus V6. Putting together the 2007 BMW 335i and the 2007 Lexus IS 350 will tell us which car gets it done in the speed sweepstakes. More important, these two cars are redefining a category that the BMW 3 Series has dominated for 20 years, and we'll find out which car will lead us into the future. Choosing the Hardware Two great reasons for finding a ribbon of asphalt in the mountains: 2007 BMW 335i and 2007 Lexus IS 350. When we matched these cars against each other in 2006, the newly redesigned 306-hp Lexus IS 350 ran away from the 255-hp BMW 330i with a quicker acceleration to 60 mph by more than a full second. On the other hand, that BMW outmaneuvered the Lexus in every objective and subjective handling category. For 2007, the deal has changed. The 2007 BMW 335i packs an even 300 hp (perhaps even more), and it also takes the 3 Series further in the direction of sophistication, making it a competitor for the IS 350 in refinement as well as speed. Meanwhile, the 2007 Lexus IS 350 allows you to switch off its vehicle stability control, so you can explore the limits of its dynamic envelope. For this like-to-like comparison, we've chosen a BMW 335i with the optional $1,275 three-mode six-speed automatic, plus the optional $100 shift paddles on the steering wheel. This car matches up with the Lexus IS 350 and its standard six-speed automatic with shift paddles. The New Order A Sport package upgrades the BMW 335i's performance, while the Lexus IS does without. "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order to things." — Niccolò Machiavelli While the BMW inline-6 has always been known for its smooth and linear power delivery, it has rarely been celebrated for its horsepower. But now that BMW has adopted direct injection and sequential turbocharging, the all-new twin-turbo N54 engine feels like something from BMW's M division. A plateau of 300 pound-feet of torque begins at 1,400 rpm and extends all the way to 7,000 rpm. And what a difference a year, 45 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of torque make. Not only does the 300-hp 335i slash nearly 2 seconds from the 0-to-60-mph time recorded by the 2006 330i, it also outaccelerates the Lexus IS 350 in the process. The 2007 335i sprints to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and blitzes the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 103.9 mph — and all this with an automatic transmission. The Quick and the Stead Dual exhausts are the signature of speed, and a first for the BMW 3 Series. With the 2007 Lexus IS 350's traction control shut down, we managed to find nearly a half-second improvement in its acceleration profile on the drag strip right up to the 1,320-foot mark, where it recorded a time slip nearly identical to last year's. The launch to 30 mph is 0.4 second quicker, as is the time to 60 mph. The quarter-mile comes up in 13.8 seconds at 101.2 mph. The IS 350's DOHC 3.5-liter V6 also represents new engine technology for Lexus. It's a model of high-revving, almost electric smoothness, yet this V6 must reach 4,800 rpm before all of its 277 lb-ft of torque is accounted for. By then the award-winning turbocharged BMW six is already riding a huge wave of neck-straining twist, and the 335i shows the IS 350 its trunk badge. Where the Lexus zings through the gears to make haste, the BMW doesn't have to shift to go fast. Grab a Gear The BMW 335i has a different stance than the Lexus IS 350, both wider and lower. "The most dangerous phrase in the language is, 'We've always done it this way.'" — Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper, U.S. Navy The shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel of the Lexus IS 350 are simple to operate, as you pull on the right one for an upshift and then tug on the left one for a downshift. The paddles select gears more or less quickly, but fail to match engine revs during downshifts, which slows the process by a fraction. BMW has engineered its shift-paddle system to afford both up- and downshifts with either paddle, as you pull with your fingers to produce a very, very quick upshift and then push with your thumb to get a speedy downshift with matching engine revs. The ergonomics of shift-paddle arrangement are better in the Lexus, but the logic of the BMW system is more convenient. Meanwhile, we prefer BMW's approach to the shift pattern of the console lever in manual mode, as you pull back to upshift and push forward to downshift, as if you were using 3rd and 4th gears in a manual transmission. Many Japanese cars seem to prefer the pattern of 2nd and 3rd gears in a manual transmission, where you push forward to upshift and pull back for a downshift. Tailhooks for Brakes The 335i's Sport package fills the wheelwells with 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A run-flat tires. Both cars stop from 60 mph like a naval jetfighter snagging the three-wire during a carrier landing, and you can feel the strain on your clavicle from the seatbelt as the Lexus comes to a halt in 114 feet and the BMW stops in 116 feet. We encountered a dilemma when it came to ranking the brakes on these cars. Where the 335i provided superior feel and controllability at speed, its pedal also presented an odd tendency to feel sticky at low speed, as if it were controlled by some digital logic. Stop-and-go traffic proved to be a lurching, jerky affair. On the other hand, the Lexus brakes offered adept control in the slow stuff, delivering textbook limo-style stops, but the light-effort pedal action seemed isolated from the system and didn't match the BMW's ability to provide two-way communication during assertive driving. The Indulgent Electronic Nanny Though the IS doesn't carry the optional Sport package, low-profile 18-inch tires are still standard equipment, and prove coarse across bad pavement surfaces. "It's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission." — Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper, U.S. Navy Lexus has gone to some trouble to make its latest-generation vehicle stability system one of the most sophisticated available, so maybe it's no surprise that when it was introduced, the system didn't include a switch to turn it off. But thanks to a decision made at the highest level at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. (so we understand), the 2007 VSC recognizes that there are some circumstances when it might be disabled. When the VSC system is engaged, the algorithmic threshold of electronic stability intervention is within an eyelash of the car's actual limits. Driven smoothly right up to the VSC's boundaries, the Lexus IS 350 delivers virtually the same level of grip as the car will afford without it. Overdrive the car, however, and you're asking for a slap on the hand — a beep and a yaw correction. What we did find with the VSC disabled was that there's a measure of athleticism in the IS 350 we had never experienced before. Even if the electric-assisted steering feels rather numb, like winding a constant-rate spring, it's delightful to rotate the car around each cone in our test slalom with such a high degree of precision that we can place the front tire within inches while gently sliding the rear tires. We admire this sort of vehicle behavior in a sport sedan, but we have to tell you that it doesn't actually generate any performance improvement that you can measure. Hitting an Invisible Target The twin-turbo 300-hp N54 inline-6 has already earned industry awards, not to mention the affection of driving enthusiasts. "Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see." — Arthur Schopenhauer So along comes the fifth-generation 3 Series, and not surprisingly, it's better. It makes better numbers at the test track, and every driver appreciates its conversational steering, high levels of cornering grip and the peerless way it envelops road irregularities and smothers them. It's remarkable that in this age of super-computer design and virtual testing, BMW continues to hit the ride-handling target that no one else can even see. The Lexus earns our respect for a competitive level of handling accomplishment, although we were surprised that its characteristic placid ride sometimes broke down when the front tires suddenly transmitted a jolt of harshness while confronting sharp surface irregularities. There's also an important difference in the specification of these two cars, as the 335i was equipped with a $1,700 Sport package, including a retuned suspension with low-profile, high-performance tires on 18-inch wheels. We're guessing that if the IS 350 also were fitted with its $3,695 Sport package, all of its capabilities and liabilities would be similarly increased. The Value of Greatness BMW's unpretentious, easily legible gauges reinforce the car's dedication to pure driving, not distracting style. "What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." — Oscar Wilde This is usually the part of a comparison of sport sedans where we apologetically explain that the BMW costs more, and that you get what you pay for. This time, the as-tested price of our well-equipped 2007 BMW 335i is $1,325 less than that of the luxuriously optioned 2007 Lexus IS 350. On the other hand, the base prices of these cars go the other way, with the Lexus undercutting the BMW by $3,255. In an attempt to balance content with price, we weighted both the price and selected features equally at 25 percent of our comparison's total test score. We chose only those features we felt contribute to the sporting character of the car itself, like electronic stability control, sport suspension/tire package, transmission specification, bi-xenon headlamps and a smart-key entry/starting system. Scored in this fashion, the BMW comes out ahead. Had this been a luxury sedan gizmo-fest, it may have gone the other way. Second Place The angular visage of the Lexus IS 350 has grown a bit too familiar as every Lexus and Toyota has adopted a similar face. "We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the 15 which we do possess." — Mark Twain The 2007 Lexus IS 350 is a fantastically rewarding sport sedan on many levels. It's a high-spirited luxury car in a low-impact sort of way. The IS 350 is a driver's car, just not the kind of sport sedan that goads you beyond your talent and into the guardrail. The Lexus demonstrates refinement in every molecule in way that a BMW never will. The IS 350 is defined by an easy, breezy nonchalance that can make you forget about communicative steering, slalom speeds and even more power. First Place The 2007 BMW 335i looks almost too sedate; the body hasn't changed though there's a new twin-turbo engine beneath the hood. "Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." — Henry David Thoreau Once you get a sport sedan right, it shows a depth of engineering and design skill. Get it really right, and it will win widely publicized awards and bring enthusiasts to the showroom. The 2007 BMW 335i does both, and it's without a doubt the best-performing and yet most well-rounded 3 Series ever. The BMW 335i is still the best sport sedan money can buy, and you can quote us on that. Second Opinion Tips of the dual exhaust are virtually the only visual clue that separates the 335i from its lesser siblings in the 3 Series line. Senior Editor, Detroit Daniel Pund says: I badly wanted the Lexus IS 350 to win this comparison test. Well, I'm not so sure if I wanted the Lexus to win so much as see the BMW 335i lose. Whatever, I didn't want it to end the way we all knew it would. It isn't that I have anything against BMW. Nor do I have any vested interest in seeing Lexus succeed. I tell you, it's all for my colleague, Walton. You see, Walton, despite his boyish mien, is actually 76 years old. This means that he has been obliged to write the BMW-3-Series-wins-again story approximately 83 times in his lengthy career. It goes something like this: "Oh, Competitor X is getting pretty close. It's a real sport sedan now. It's quite good. Oh, forget it. BMW wins!" So imagine how bad I felt for Walton when the BMW, with its monster turbo motor, slaughtered the (quite good) Lexus in each and every of the parameters that combine to create driving pleasure. The BMW handles better, goes better, rides better, steers way better, shifts better...possibly, you get the point. In short, BMW wins. Again. BMW 335i 0 - 30 (sec): 1.8 0 - 45 (sec): 3.2 0 - 60 (sec): 4.9 0 - 75 (sec): 7.2 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.4 @ 103.9 30 - 0 (ft): 27 60 - 0 (ft): 116 Braking Rating: (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor) Excellent Slalom (mph): 68.2 Skid Pad (g-force): 0.9 Handling Rating: (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor) Excellent Db @ Idle: 45.5 Db @ Full Throttle: 74.7 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 62 Acceleration Comments: Left in Drive with the traction/stability control on, the car attempts to quell wheelspin and stumbles off the line at full throttle. Even with traction control shut off, the automatic transmission would short-shift to second to quell wheelspin. Finally, with traction control defeated and manual gear selection, I maintained just the right amount of wheelspin and timed the 1-2 upshift at redline. Doing so lowered the 0-60 time by more than 1 second. The car pulls hard throughout the rev range, as if it were a naturally aspirated engine. Upshifts are blazingly quick and strangely shock-free. Braking Comments: Very firm pedal and very, very consistent stopping distances with zero fade. There is some mild ABS pulse. Handling Comments: On the skid pad, the 335i responds well to throttle input, transferring weight on/off the front/rear tires at will. Excellent balance and nearly identical clockwise and counterclockwise performances. In the slalom, the throttle remains a useful tool to help the car rotate and exit each gate with precise control. Steering is also excellent, offering volumes of information regarding available grip and state of load. Lexus IS350 0 - 30 (sec): 2 0 - 45 (sec): 3.4 0 - 60 (sec): 5.2 0 - 75 (sec): 7.7 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.8 @ 101.2 30 - 0 (ft): 28 60 - 0 (ft): 114 Braking Rating: (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor) Excellent Slalom (mph): 66.8 Skid Pad (g-force): 0.87 Handling Rating: (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor) Excellent Db @ Idle: 40.9 Db @ Full Throttle: 77.2 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 63.2 Acceleration Comments: Even with traction control engaged, the IS 350 gets off the line smartly, but I could tell there was a better launch in it. Turning off traction/stability control (new for 2007), I could squeeze on the power all the way to the top of 1st gear where it'd auto-upshift right at redline. Very smooth power delivery and quick/smooth shifts. Here's a question: If the car auto upshifts at redline, why is there a nifty shift light ring 'round the tach? For the manual-trans IS 250? Braking Comments: Each stop elicited the seatbelt safety stranglehold on me. It's pretty unsettling the first time. Be that as it may, the stops were very consistent and the pedal remained firm throughout. Strangely, the front tires were awfully noisy under braking, making knobby-gravelly sounds. I suspect it's a result of the very worn front tires on our tester, however. Handling Comments: On the skid pad, I suspect (again) that the early-onset understeer is the result of the already-worn front tires. Steering is slightly vague with little buildup in effort as the steering loads up. I'm overjoyed to finally experience the IS 350 in an unrestricted (VSC defeated) fashion. Despite the intentionally built-in isolation, the IS 350 proved to be quite athletic and nimble. It's hard to predict what it's going to do on initial turn-in, but then gets with the program once prodded to do so. If you ask it to rotate, it'll do it. If you play with that rotation, you can get really "neat" on each cone, pivoting around it with alternating inside front tires. More fun than I anticipated, but still sort of disengaged and videogamelike.