2013 BMW 328i M Sport vs. Lexus IS350 F Sport

By Zack Klapman and edited by Christina Selter.

Comparably priced just below $50,000, these cars are normal mid-size luxury sedans, from reputable companies, fitted with fancy little performance bits. The BMW rocks the “M Sport” moniker; the Lexus carries that of “F Sport”. On the BMW it’s mostly aesthetic; wheels, bumpers, seats and steering wheel. For the Lexus the badge carries more weight, with upgrades to the suspension and diffs as well as body parts. Neither is claiming to be an all-out super sedan, but rather offer a cheaper option for the person that lust for an M3 or ISF.

2013 BMW 328i

BMW has been running on the campaign “The Ultimate Driving Machine” for decades, a fair claim. So it should stand to reason that the newest 3-series, fitted with a 240HP turbo-charged 4-cylinder and the optional M Sport package would grab that baton of driving prowess and run with it, leaving it high on a shelf for other car makers to unsuccessfully leap for.

2013 BMW 328i M Sport

With a striking red interior, large media screen, and a longer wheelbase than ever, this is one nice place to be. The 2014 Lexus IS will have a new interior but I still give the nod to BMW. The M sport seats and steering wheel -both made of thick leather- feel perfect. The new design looks like shark swimming through traffic. It feels and looks expensive, which it should, because it is.

“Purists” will roll their eyes at the lack of an inline 6, but that’s just stupid, because this engine is very good, quite powerful, and thanks to an 8-speed auto, very frugal at the pump (34MPG highway). I would have liked paddle shifters though.

2013 BMW 328i M Sport

But…I wouldn’t call it the Ultimate Driving Machine. Handling and grip are good, but it floats more than past generations, like BMW by Lincoln. Few cars can glide over L.A. roads this smoothly without rolling over in corners or wearing a “Town Car” badge, but the electric steering and compliant springs remove that tautness and BMW road feel. For a quick and smooth daily driver, this is hard to match, but I think Ultimate Gliding Machine is more apt.

2013 Lexus IS350 F Sport

That idea was solidified when I got into the IS350 F-sport the very next week. This is how BMWs used to feel; Solid and tight, the steering wheel a messenger between you and the road. There was a composed aggression felt in past BMWs, and that feeling is strong in the 2013 Lexus IS350. With paddle shifters, LSD, new suspension and sporty driving modes, canyon roads are an addicting joy in this car. Firm? A little, but that’s what the “F Sport” badge should do. For softer, see the regular 350.

2013 Lexus IS350 F Sport

The engine is a silky smooth 3.5-liter V6 producing 306HP and 277 ft-lbs of torque, and because it’s a Toyota, it’s as reliable as a chalkboard. Unfortunately, highway MPG tops out at 27, quite a gap from the BMW’s 34. Still, long-term owners shouldn’t ignore the stability of a Japanese V6.

The interior doesn’t hold a candle to the BMW, because it’s more than 3 years old. Some buttons look like Toyota carry-overs, and the “mouse” feels loose compared to BMWs iDrive wheel. The seats are good, but here again, the BMW wins. The 2014 prototype I drove is a big improvement, but the BMW 328i is still better.

2013 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Buyers of these cars are either people who love driving and aim to buy an M3/ISF, or want people to think they love driving. If you’re someone who likes having an extra trim badge to pick up extra trim, buy the BMW. It’s more comfortable, you’ll like it better, and you can tell people it says “M Sport”, while the real sport lurks inside the Lexus.

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by BMW and Lexus.)