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2014 Lexus IS 350 beats BMW 335i in comparison test - again

First the BMW 335i lost to the new 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport in a Car and Driver comparison. Now Road and Track also picked the Lexus IS 350 F Sport as the best sports sedan. Is a consensus building?

When Car and Driver voted the Lexus IS 350 F Sport into first place in its comparison to the second place BMW335i we took note. This was a first for Lexus, and in fact, it has been extremely rare for the BMW 3 Series to lose any comparison in any car magazine for many, many years. The Cadillac ATS, which GM designed from the ground up to take on the BMW 3 Series, was third. One comparison does not alone mean a new top sports sedan is now among us. However, in this month’s Road and Track, in a comparison of four sports sedans, the 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport won again, beating the BMW 335i, Cadillac ATS 3.6 and the Infiniti Q50S. Perhaps a consensus is emerging?

In our match ups the Lexus has also won. We drove the Lexus IS 350 line and the BMW 335i back to back on an autocross route and found the Lexus not only faster, but much more entertaining. Our editor Patrick Rall, a die-hard muscle car guy, Detroit resident and fan of domestic brands, also liked the IS 350 in his comparison of the old to the new IS line. That shows the car’s breadth of possible fans.

Not everyone is ready to give up the annual anointment of the BMW 3. In its comparison of all-wheel drive sports sedans, Motor Trend compared an AWD $62,000 BMW 335i to a $49,000 AWD Lexus IS 350 and it picked the BMW. The reviewer also thought the Lexus IS was ugly. This was a huge step forward for Lexus whose styling and road manners have been called boring for so long it is happy to be anything but dull. At least the reviewer noticed the design had changed. In the Road and Track test the BMW cost $49,225 and the Lexus that beat it was priced at $47,955. The Car and Driver comparison pitted a $51,545 335i against the winning Lexus the reviewers thought might cost about $49K. The 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport had yet to be officially priced at press time. We now know it would have been less, at $47,955.

Each review of the BMW makes sure to mention that the 3 liter turbocharged engine is excellent. They also go on to mention the BMW does many things right. The problem for BMW is complicated, but price is a big issue. Comparably equipped, the BMW 3 Series is much more expensive than the Lexus IS. The base 3 Series in the US is now a low power 4 cylinder with just 180 horsepower. That car starts out at a low, low price of just $32,550. However, that is a car that has “Sensatec” seat materials (some people used to call that vinyl). That car also has no navigation system. Add leather, power and heated seats, navigation, and moonroof and the car is suddenly $42,125. Again, let us say this is a car with 180 HP. A Honda Accord with all those things and 278 horsepower costs ten grand less.

The Lexus base model car starts with a six cylinder engine producing 206 horsepower. With the same goodies above and more the Lexus is about $1000 less. From there up, the comparisons all favor Lexus with the 240 HP four cylinder 328i costing about the same as a similarly packaged IS 350 with 306 horsepower. When Motortrend tested a $63,000 BMW 335i against a Lexus IS costing $13K less it revealed the root of the problem. A Lexus IS F with a V8 engine and a host of amazing go-fast parts costs just $65,550.

Let’s not overthink this. Car magazines take price into account to some degree, but the car itself is always first and foremost the focus, not price. Somebody may have just moved BMW’s cheese.