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Old 01-26-2006, 05:18 PM   #1
NYCshopper
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Default 2006 BMW 330i vs. 2006 Lexus IS 350 Comparison Test (edmunds.com)

2006 BMW 330i vs. 2006 Lexus IS 350 Comparison Test (edmunds.com)

Video Available @ Link:
http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do...ticleId=109021



Quote:
Like Don King with his hair afire promoting an upcoming title bout (then again, his hair's always afire…), our chief editor could barely contain his excitement. "We need to get the new Lexus IS 350 and put it up against the BMW 330i!"

Fresh from its defense as sport sedan champion against the Audi A4, the 2006 BMW 330i now finds itself in the ring against the 2006 Lexus IS 350. A formidable athlete, the Lexus came in rippling with muscle and packing 306 horsepower. The Lexus has also been crowing that it's "the fastest vehicle in its class." Pretty brazen, considering the Muhammad Ali of sport sedans, the BMW 330i is the perennial holder of the belt in this class.

Sizing up the fighters
To keep the fight fair, the 330i in this test was an automatic, as the IS 350 isn't available with a manual gearbox. Looking at the window stickers of these compact luxury sport sedans had a few staffers needing smelling salts. Basing in the mid-$30Ks, both cars were fitted with around $10 grand in options, bringing the bottom lines to $45,508 for the Lexus and $47,390 for the Bimmer.

A few folks commented on how that's midsize sport/luxury sedan money. Yes, you can get a base Lexus GS 300 or BMW 525i for that kind of dough, but remember that our testers had just about everything you could get — navigation systems, "premium" packages with their fancier interior trim and even things like active steering (BMW) and a backup camera (Lexus).

In this corner…
…wearing Matador Red and weighing in at 3,527 pounds, the challenger, the Lexus IS 350. And in the opposite corner, in Titanium Silver and weighing 3,450, the defending compact sport sedan, the BMW 330i.

Instead of a boxing ring, these rear-wheel-drive pugilists slugged it out on the mean streets of Southern California. They tackled everything including bobbing and weaving with crazy L.A. drivers, transporting clothes to Goodwill, taking the kiddies to school and embarking on day trips up the coast. They also strutted their stuff at the test track and through the winding canyon roads in Malibu.

The judges' "score cards" took into account everything from raw performance to seat comfort to how easy (or tough) it was to work the climate controls. Other factors came into play as well, such as how the car responded and felt when driven the way a sport sedan was meant to be driven.

A 15-rounder
When the final bell rang, it was a tough one for the judges. The power, luxury and better value proposition put the Lexus ahead at times, while the 330i had a couple of "daily driver" advantages, such as more rear-seat legroom and greater cargo capacity by virtue of its split-folding rear seat.

It was close, but the 3 Series always managed to sway decisions back into its favor whenever a wavering "judge" got behind the wheel. And when we reminded ourselves that the true mission of a sport sedan is to provide enjoyment derived from driving, not quoting performance numbers to your buddies or convincing whomever which is the better deal, it always came back to the BMW.




Quote:
First Place: 2006 BMW 330i
Once again, BMW's 3 Series proves that a winning personality counts for a lot. On paper, it looks like the clear winner here should've been the Lexus. It's faster (in a straight line, which is what most American drivers hold dearest). It's more luxurious. And it's less money. And yet….

Beauty is in the eye…
With its quirky headlights, heavy side sculpting and curvaceous trunk lid, the 2006 BMW 330i struck us as distinct, if not as handsome as the outgoing model. You've got eyes of your own, so we'll let you make your own judgments. Still, those pinched taillights reminded one staffer of an old Daewoo Lanos sedan. Ouch!

Our 330's rather austere cabin (due chiefly to the black color) was brightened by flashes of aluminum trim on the dash, console and doors. It didn't look as upscale as the IS's, but in fairness, a different color scheme with wood trim (like our long-term 330i) would've given this Bimmer's interior a more luxurious feel.

As with previous 3s, we bemoaned the lack of storage cubbies. But what was really odd was the lack of gauges. No temperature, voltmeter or oil pressure dials to be found. This is a BMW right? Really, guys, more instrumentation than an '87 Subaru Justy would be appreciated.

But once you settle into the cockpit, this criticism will fade. With the sport package comes well, sport seats, meaning racing-style buckets with adjustable under-thigh and side bolster supports. Set them up right, and you feel like the seats are hugging you — a reassuring feeling when you're bending it through the curves.

Bragging rights for the Bimmer also include 4 more inches of rear-seat legroom than the Lexus and greater cargo capacity afforded by the 60/40-split-folding rear seat that also features a pass-through.

Bavarian cream
Down on engine specification compared to the IS, the 330 makes no apologies. The 3.0-liter, 24-valve inline six makes plenty of power — 255 hp at 6,600 rpm and 220 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm. This baby's smooth right to redline, which is good because you'll find yourself taking the tach needle there whenever conditions allow just to revel in its lusty wail while it pushes you back into the seat. It's not quite the track star the speedy IS 350 is, but a 6.7-second 0-60 and a 14.7-second quarter-mile are still plenty quick for a sedan with an automatic.

Making the most of the six-shooter is the six-speed automatic, which, like the Lexus', has three modes: normal, Sport and do it yourself. To engage Sport, you flick the lever to the left of "Drive" and then leave it alone. Set thusly, upshifts are snapped off at higher rpm, downshifts come in an eyeblink and gears are chosen and held wisely, such as when running up tempo through curvy roads. You can shift for yourself by bumping the lever fore and aft, but like most automanuals, there's a lag between when you do and when the change occurs. Leave it in Sport for the best performance.

Passing power is prodigious as the 330i just leaps from 50 to 80. And yes, you'll even be able to pass gas stations — our 330 returned nearly 22 mpg under the demands of our redline-hungry staffers.

Deceleration is right there, too. Coming to rest from 60 mph took only 112 feet, a performance more akin to a sports car than a sedan. Only some brake shudder as the ABS did its thing prevented the highest rating (excellent) from our test-driver.

Still the one
During this test, we recruited our news editor, Mike Hudson, to be a second driver for the video shoot. First he drove the Lexus and was agog over its blazing performance. But when we swapped cars he could barely contain his excitement as he discovered that there is life beyond acceleration. After just 10 minutes in the car spent rounding curves for the video team, he jumped out and exclaimed: "This is your winner right here. This car feels great — it's more fun than the Lexus."

Our 330i was equipped with the Sport package, which not only gives you those friendly seats mentioned already, but also firmer suspension calibrations, 18-inch alloys shod with Bridgestone Potenza REO50A run-flats (225/40 front and 255/35 rear) and a sport steering wheel. For $1,600, this is the best deal on the options sheet.

Our car also had the optional Active Steering, which we were afraid would lend an artificial feel to the experience. Not to worry, with its variable effort and widely variable ratio, it made for less wheel turning in parking lots and yet felt perfectly weighted, linear and responsive but not darty when running the canyons. There was no "getting used to it" and had we not seen it on the window sticker, we would've thought it was just BMW's typically precise and very communicative steering.

Our only gripe here was that we noticed the 330i's turning circle was larger than the IS's (36.1 feet versus 33.5 feet) during video shooting, when we had to turn around the cars countless times while filming "drive-bys."

Though its speed through the slalom was just 1 mph more than the Lexus', the BMW felt more confident, providing plenty of feedback to the driver and keeping the stability control on a long enough leash to allow an experienced pilot to push the car. The same is true on the road, where the 330i simply felt more connected when pushed hard. By contrast the IS 350, though capable and composed, felt like its steering was a remote control, and its stability control system was overly eager to take matters out of the driver's hands and into its own.

uDrive
Driven in isolation, you'll be impressed by the Lexus — it's fast, comfortable and handles just fine for most people. But the 330i is still the performance sedan for people who enjoy driving as much as Homer Simpson enjoys beer.




Quote:
Second Place: 2006 Lexus IS 350
Previously known for building beautifully crafted luxury sedans, Lexus tried its hand at the sport sedan market with the 2001 IS 300. Aimed squarely at BMW's 3 Series, that first IS sedan was small, had rear-wheel drive and had an edge to it that made it fun to drive. It was a no-nonsense driver's car with an agile chassis and communicative steering, just like the benchmark Bimmer. Unfortunately, the IS 300 also had about the same cabin ambience and rear-seat room as a Toyota Corolla. With the 2006 Lexus IS 350, the company seems bent on making up for those previous shortcomings.

Strong and stout
A beefy, wedge-shaped body characterizes the IS. Although not as daring as the 330i's design, some of us preferred the more cohesive look, such as the way the front lower air intake and foglights echo the shape of the grille and headlights above. Then again, a few thought it bland compared to the Bimmer.

There was no dissension on the interior treatment, however. Fitted with the $1,290 Premium package, our IS 350 coddled its occupants with heated and ventilated front seats as well as elegant metallic and wood accents throughout the cabin. The Lexus one-ups the 330i on several accounts here — the steering wheel has power, not manual adjustments and the parking assist feature includes a backup camera in addition to sonic warning.

Plop down into the IS's seats and you sink into them more than you do in the firmer, form-fitting 330i's. You'll note that the side bolsters are softer than the BMW's and hence don't provide the same lateral support as the rival German. And therein lies a clue to the personality of the IS 350….

Lightning-quick Lexus
Behind the big "L" in the grille sits a 306-horsepower monster. Without needing the forced induction of a turbocharger or supercharger, the free-breathing 3.5-liter V6 in the IS 350 is a model of linear power and smoothness. A 5.6-second sprint to 60 mph and a 13.9-second quarter-mile — digest that for a moment. That's as quick as a Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG and just dusts the 330i.

Like the BMW, this Lexus comes with a six-speed automatic transmission with three modes — normal, Sport and manual-shift. Unlike the BMW, no manual is available. And as with the 330i, this tranny is at its best when set in Sport, where one driver noted, "It's very adept and quick, allowing a lag-free burst of acceleration from nearly any speed." With this car, you might as well call on-ramps "runways," as the rush of acceleration feels more Lear Jet than Lexus sedan. A bigger appetite comes with the bigger performance — we averaged 18 mpg with the IS 350 (against EPA estimates of 21/28), testament to how much we enjoyed the car's performance.

Exhibiting the same unruffled nature as the powertrain, the brakes swiftly and quietly haul the car down. Anything under 125 feet from 60 mph is respectable, so the IS 350's 120-foot stopping distance is pretty good, though it still falls short of the stellar 112-foot effort put forth by the BMW.

Identity crisis
Although the IS 350 can put considerable distance between itself and the 330i at the drag strip, it's another story when the path deviates from the straight and narrow. Although only a second separated the car's slalom times, it was the feel of the wheel both through the cones and out in the real world that separated the two.

All the hardware to be a competent apex clipper is present in the IS 350: rear-drive, independent suspension all 'round, firm spring and shock specs, 18-inch wheels wearing performance tires (Dunlop SP Sport Maxx's) sized the same as the 330i's. But sadly, the precise but numb steering and an overly eager stability control system push the "mute" button whenever skilled drivers want to have a little fun.

If the electronic nanny was adjustable (just two settings, "Normal" and a less intrusive "Sport," would work), the IS may have tied or even beaten the 330 in the slalom. And it would've put smiles, rather than frowns, on our car jockeys' mugs while attacking our favorite stretches of desolate, serpentine two-lane blacktop. As one driver commented, "It's a smooth performer, but it doesn't invite you to really drive it the way the 330 does."

It all depends on your priorities
And there's the catch. In this world of grueling commutes, day care drop-offs and errand running, the more affordable 2006 Lexus IS 350 is a fine choice. But the BMW, while just as friendly on a daily basis, is simply more fun to drive. And that is why the Lexus comes in second.




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Old 01-26-2006, 05:18 PM   #2
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Second Opinions

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News Editor Mike Hudson says:
For as long as I can remember, the BMW 3 Series has been accepted as the gold standard in its segment. And in almost every city I've ever gone, the streets have been filled with them thanks to lawyers' paychecks, doctors' promotions and investment bankers' bonuses. Beyond its prevalence in society, however, was the knowledge that this car was more than just a piece of eye candy — it could deliver the goods when it came down to the brass tacks of performance, whether the owners understood that or even cared. And I was eager to find out if this latest version of the 3 would hold up this standard, or fall prey to the temptation to simply bilk the eager buyer out of some more cash with electronic add-ons or meaningless "improvements."

After jumping in the Lexus first, I was impressed with its zippy acceleration. The transmission seemed a bit sticky in certain scenarios, but it drove more playfully than I expected given the somewhat boring design of the vehicle — and Toyota's somewhat boring reputation for performance. All in all, it seemed to be an affordable luxury performance car with a healthy dose of the finer trappings you expect in a Lexus.

But upon belting into the BMW 330i, it was clear within 5 minutes — or maybe even 30 seconds — that nothing had been lost in the translation between the previous generation and this one. Handling, acceleration and good old-fashioned drive feel were extraordinary. To say it's an improvement over the previous 3 is too primitive — it's a refinement, a focusing of the previous 3. No major surprises, no disappointments. Need a complaint? Um…the side mirrors are kind of small. Beyond that, the Lexus experience was left in the dust and respect for the mighty 3 extended for another several years. Lexus and all other comers will need every development second until then to catch up.

Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
Finding a winner in this test wasn't easy and this ringside judge has reached a draw. If this were a contest of control feel, intuitive feedback and handling performance then the BMW is the hands-down winner. The Lexus can't touch its chassis performance and raw mechanical grip. Unfortunately, there's so much more that goes into evaluating a modern performance sedan.

Like acceleration.

Lexus isn't kidding when it claims the IS 350 is the quickest car in its class. Our test car hit 60 in 5.6 seconds — more than a second quicker than the BMW. That's an undeniably significant difference which played out every time we mashed the Lexus' throttle. The IS 350's 306 horsepower and six-speed transmission sing a song performance geeks will find undeniably appealing.

Comfort, luxury and style are also hugely important in this increasingly popular, incredibly competitive segment. The Lexus scored high marks here, too — matching or exceeding the BMW's interior with plush accoutrements and easier-to-use navigation and radio interfaces. I even prefer the Lexus' smooth lines and aggressive proportions to the Bimmer's Bangle-inspired curves.

In reality it's hard to go wrong with either of the great machines. It boils down to what's most important in your driving experience. Is it power? Or handling? You make the call.
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Old 01-27-2006, 01:56 PM   #3
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Summary: Power & luxury & Comfort & reliability & excellent dealer service = IS350
Handling @ premium price: BMW

BMW 335 will close the power gap, @ a big $$ premium probably..
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Old 01-28-2006, 12:21 AM   #4
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Interesting this is the second comparison where the BMW came out on top. Don't get me wrong, I'm a die hard Bimmer fan but this new 3 series just kinda hit the bottom of the tank for me.
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Old 01-28-2006, 12:34 AM   #5
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Drove both cars are the "Taste of Lexus" Event in CA and I can say that the IS350 is fast but I enjoyed driving the more nimble and exciting BMW330. The IS350 needs some anti roll bars and some weight reduction to be comprable.
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Old 01-28-2006, 01:14 AM   #6
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I can't blame Lexus for making the IS not as involving as the 3-series. It's nice, comfortable, and "fast". That to me seems like what most Americans want anyway.

As one of the editors pointed out, whenever I go to a major city I'm surprised at how many 3-series are on the road. I see them EVERYWHERE. I find it hard to believe that such a big portion of the public are the type of car enthusiasts that appreciate the last 5% of the driver involvement. In fact, I bet a good chunk of the Bimmer owners would be happier in an IS350 if it weren't for the badge.

I wish the new IS was lighter, more space efficient, and more sporting, but Toyota is hardly ever stupid. They usually know what they're doing, and I'm guessing this time is no exception.
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Old 01-28-2006, 08:50 AM   #7
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The shoulder of the Lexus is far too tall for my liking. I'm 5'8" and was really pumped about poking around the IS at the autoshow a couple weekends back. The interior is great, but it feels like the dashboard is almost touching the ceiling. No available manual transmission is something that Lexus should really step away from. I LOVE the past generation IS300 SportCros, but no MT = me not even considering it. The only thing I dislike about the new 330i is the framed windows. I prefer unframed of the past generations. Assuming I had $40k laying around, I'd opt for the 330i. I'd actually get the 325i w/ the handling package and call it a day.

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Old 01-31-2006, 04:44 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darksands
Drove both cars are the "Taste of Lexus" Event in CA and I can say that the IS350 is fast but I enjoyed driving the more nimble and exciting BMW330. The IS350 needs some anti roll bars and some weight reduction to be comprable.
How'd you find out about the Taste of Lexus event? I went to one in 2004, and I had a tremendous time, and I'd definately like to sign up again if they hold one near me.
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Old 02-01-2006, 07:59 PM   #9
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I'd get the Lexus..
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