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Bimmer325

Lexus goes after BMW's 3-series (IS350 Review)

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Bimmer325    18

Lexus goes after BMW's 3-series

It's a nimble little rear-wheel-drive four-door car with sophisticated engineering to protect you from yourself when you realize how easy it is to drive fast.

Photos and Video at Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...MTGEHJ1JBT1.DTL

Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, May 26, 2006

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The real question about the Lexus IS350 could be: Would the Toyota/Lexus design team that came up with this swoopy little, un-Lexus-like car take umbrage if we said this car resembles a BMW three-series sedan? Has Lexus been around long enough to have carved out a reputation as prestigious as the one BMW has garnered (or thought it's garnered)? Or is it simply a laggard that has to be incessantly compared to BMW?

I ask this only because it's clear that Toyota (the parent of the Lexus brand) was going after BMW (and, to a lesser extent, the Infiniti G35) when they revamped the sales-lagging IS300, made it bigger and more sumptuous, made it more upscale, more prosperous feeling. But enough of BMW -- it gets plenty of ink and the point here is the IS350. We haven't driven the BMW 330i (the closest thing to an IS350), and this review is not going to be a comparison.

The IS300, introduced nearly six years ago, was a nervous, almost twitchy little four-door, a somewhat uncomfortable or cramped-feeling car, a far cry from the roominess of, say, a Lexus 400 series sedan. Which brings us full circle to the image of luxury Lexus has created in the United States ever since it introduced the LS400 sedan back in 1989 (as a 1990 model). That was the car whose signature ad showed a full glass of water sitting on the hood while that smooth V8 was running and nary a drop was spilled.

Enter the IS350 and Lexus is showing that it can cater to a variety of tastes. The IS350 is a nimble little rear-wheel-drive four-door that starts life at $35,440 and in tested form, with its three hefty performance and luxury packages, bottom-lines out at $46,593. (Lexus also makes two other, less expensive iterations of the IS350: the IS250 two-wheel drive, with a base price of $29,990, and the all-wheel-drive IS250, whose sticker starts at $34,285.)

On first glance of the IS350, it's evident that somebody at Toyota was thinking about how you put five people in a car that is only 180 inches long (the BMW 330i is nearly the same size and weight at the IS350. (Editor's note: Enough already about the BMW!) and make it spacious enough to hold them for long journeys.

To that end, the passengers are cosseted in leather and treated to the ministrations of the upscale Mark Levinson 300-watt audio system with 14 speakers dotted about the cabin. And there are so many other electronic gadgets and design innovations to play with that you could easily take a family of four from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and not tire of all of them.

A word here about the complexity of what you must deal with in buying a car these days.

After spending nearly an hour and a half with the 415-page Owner's Manual and the 281-page Navigation System Owner's Manual, I figured out how to work most of the car's gizmos.

So ... does the world really need, for example, a keyless car? You start the Lexus with a proximity fob, the current fashion in upscale cars -- the fob senses it's in or near the car, giving permission to fire it up.

First things to be noticed on entering the car, particularly at night: they've illuminated the scuff plates with the word "Lexus," spelled out in an azure blue that looks like it's at the bottom of a swimming pool; then there are the muted under-the-dashboard footwell lights that make you think you're stepping down the ramp of a darkened movie theater.

In the front doors, the small cargo bins flap inward toward the seats and have a convenient shaped cutout, at one end, for our ubiquitous water bottles. When you put the car in reverse, the outside mirrors dip down (the better to see small children or animals) and the navigation screen suddenly displays what's in back of you, courtesy of a rear-viewing camera. The car has rain-sensing wipers, memory settings for both front seats, an electrically operated sunshade over the rear window and, on the steering wheel, the usual remote controls for sound and cruise control as well as a few buttons for using the Bluetooth phone system hands-free.

Which, of course, brings up the issue of safety, something Lexus likes to talk about.

In addition to "vehicle stability control" and "traction control," almost de rigueur on today's luxo cars, the IS350 has a VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) system, which sounds like something buried deep in the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The system effectively talks to all the other sub systems on the car -- the anti-lock brakes, electronic brake and throttle controls and the suspension to "maximize driving pleasure while these systems help to provide control in marginal driving conditions to assist drivers on even the most difficult roads."

Translation: Lexus is trying to keep its giddy new car owners from driving waaaayyyy over their heads on the nearest back roads they can find -- think of the young stockbroker, flush with his year-end bonus, zooming out of the Lexus showroom, his eyes spinning faster than his new car's 17-inch, 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels. He's filled with the kind of hubris that only a 306-horsepower, zero-to-60 in under six seconds kind of car will give him and within 15 minutes, he is slinging his new $47,000 Lexus off a cliff. Perhaps VDIM will save him from himself.

Another life-saving measure is the $2,850 Pre-Collision System's Dynamic Radar Cruise, using radar waves to "detect obstacles in front of the car." I can testify, after a morning journey in sparse traffic over the Bay Bridge, that it works quite well, in its eerie way, slowing down to the speed of a slow-moving bus in front of me.

On the road, the IS350 mixes all these attributes with a confidence that, yes, inspires you to drive fast. To that end, there's a clever little device to remind you of how fast you're going: at a pre-set speed, an orange ring of light appears in the white-on-black electroluminescent speedometer -- it catches your eye subliminally. There's a similar warning for the tachometer so that, in a fit of exuberance -- our stockbroker above -- you don't scatter bits and pieces of highly expensive 3.5-liter V6 engine all over Interstate 5.

The car drives the way it was designed -- it's a sports sedan and it gives no quarter to mountain passes and other twisties. At the same time, it will take you to the opera opening without a bit of shame. After all, it really doesn't have to talk to those down-market guys from Germany.

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Bimmer325    18

Unless the car was specially-ordered w/ the 17" wheels, it's odd that a fully-loaded 350 would have them. They 18" wheels are standard fare on the 350.

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The O.C.    2

Those mirrors really, really look like $h! on a car that small.

LOL....different strokes for different folks.

:huh:

The mirrors are one of my favorite styling cues on the new IS....I LOVE mirrors that are on the doors....(versus attached to the A-pillar.)

I think they look f@#kin' sexy on this car....

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Flybrian    0

LOL....different strokes for different folks.

:huh:

The mirrors are one of my favorite styling cues on the new IS....I LOVE mirrors that are on the doors....(versus attached to the A-pillar.)

I think they look f@#kin' sexy on this car....

Its not how they're mounted (I like door mirrors, too), but how frickin' large they are. Hello, RX300, I stole your leftover rearviews.

And just for fun...

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Camino LS6    866

This thing almost makes the Bangled BMWs seem appealing.

Everything about it is just so unappealing to me, from its over-gadgetized features to its underwhelming horsepower numbers, to its slab-sided ugliness. This is everything I wouldn't want in a car. Especially at this price point.

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Bimmer325    18

its underwhelming horsepower numbers

306 horsepower is underwhelming?

I agree that the 250 could use more ponies (something that may soon be remedied), but the 350 is downright fast.

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Its not how they're mounted (I like door mirrors, too), but how frickin' large they are. Hello, RX300, I stole your leftover rearviews.

And just for fun...

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Yes Mr. Lexus dealer i'd like to test drive the new grand pri, err I mean IS350 :lol:

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regfootball    234

Its not how they're mounted (I like door mirrors, too), but how frickin' large they are. Hello, RX300, I stole your leftover rearviews.

And just for fun...

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larger mirrors are nice for their intended purpose, seeing traffic in them. I am ok with larger mirrors.

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regfootball    234

I like the IS. But honestly, they don't seem to have dethroned the new 3 series, so for performance I'd stick with a 3 series. The IS looks nice. If I bought one, it'd be for that reason over a 3. And since its a Toyota, then I guess I am not interested.

Since Toyota tries so hard to pass itself off as American, does Lexus try to do the same thing? Or do they go the other way, 'we are not American"..its like a double standard. they will say they are whatever they need to say to sell cars.

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bobo    91

The IS350 is a fine drive, but the looks almost would make me to get a BMW 3-Series over it. I consider both the IS and the Grand Prix to have some of the ungainliest looks around. The author of the article seems to imply that the IS has a roomy rear seat, which is not the case.

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Camino LS6    866

306 horsepower is underwhelming? 

I agree that the 250 could use more ponies (something that may soon be remedied), but the 350 is downright fast.

For the money, I would expect at least 50 more hp.

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Bimmer325    18

The IS' interior is class-leading in my eyes. This is a basically bone-stock sample:

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Cadillacfan    0

I'll still take the 3-series. It had decades of German fine-tuning behind it while the IS still has a little bit more to go and it looks like a Grand Prix... ouch. Now, the G35 is a surprisingly good first try from the folks at Nissan and is on par with the last gen 3-series in terms of driving dynamics.

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Bimmer325    18

Okay...I acknowledge that the IS isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the Grand Prix comparisons can't go on any longer.

Aside from the rear-window area, I fail to see any resemblance between the two. I think we can agree that the notion that Lexus (or any carmaker, for that matter) would benchmark a vehicle as homely as the Grand Prix is ridiculous.

GP (rear)

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IS (rear)

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GP (side)

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IS (side)

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GP (front angle)

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IS (front angle)

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GP (front)

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IS (front)

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Okay...I acknowledge that the IS isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the Grand Prix comparisons can't go on any longer. 

Aside from the rear-window area, I fail to see any resemblance between the two.  I think we can agree that the notion that Lexus (or any carmaker, for that matter) would benchmark a vehicle as homely as the Grand Prix is ridiculous. 

GP (rear)

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IS (rear)

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GP (side)

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IS (side)

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GP (front angle)

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IS (front angle)

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GP (front)

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IS (front)

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Agreed for side profile, not so much for the rear though.

The rear is as bland as a Toyota Carina.

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Bimmer325    18

Agreed for side profile, not so much for the rear though.

The rear is as bland as a Toyota Carina.

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LOL. :lol:

At least now I know your joking...

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regfootball    234

major screw up, the 2.5 gets a stick and the larger motor does not. Proof that Toyota doesn't want to play hardcore. Pansies.

I do like the IS interior. Too bad my 3 year old won't fit in the back seat.

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Yes, I know, ancient thread. Interesting how the latest ISF takes it to BMW. Lexus is finally becoming a more serious player from a style and content viewpoint 8 years later.

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