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Rarely does a single car define the segment in which it resides, but that’s exactly the case with the BMW 3 Series. For three decades it has been a synonym for the compact luxury sedan genre; the yardstick rivals have long measured themselves against.

When this generation of Mercedes-Benz C-Class launched in 2007, the manufacturer claimed it was better than a 3 Series (implicitly acknowledging the BMW was the one to beat). It was much the same with this generation of Audi A4 in 2008. Within one year, those two rivals had transformed themselves to properly front the plucky Bavarian.

Now, the Lexus IS is the latest car to be tagged as a 3 Series-beater. The Japanese car’s chief engineer reckons the IS is the better driver’s car.

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BMW has certainly given its rivals their best shot yet. The standard suspension on the F30 generation sedan has been softened to compensate for the hard sidewalls of the run-flat tyres – which allow owners to drive with a puncture but also had owners of the previous generation 3 screaming at BMW because the hard tyres created an uncomfortable ride.

But this shifts the problem; softening the suspension results in severely compromised handling on country roads. The worse the road surface, the poorer the BMW handles.

So just as the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class – and, presumably, the new Lexus IS – have finally caught up with the class benchmark set by the previous 3 Series, BMW fumbled the ball with the new one.

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That’s not the end of the story, however. Option adaptive dampers on the latest 3 Series and it is transformed. Shock absorbers that constantly adjust themselves depending on the conditions deliver the control to match the smooth road handling – and on smooth roads, the current BMW 3 Series retains the status quo.

That adaptive suspension is fitted to our test 3 Series so the BMW is fully armed, at least in our dynamic evaluation. The Lexus IS, the catalyst for this test, better be on its game.

We’ve chosen $60,000 petrol automatic sedans to fill our quartet – including the Audi A4 1.8T Sport Edition and Mercedes-Benz C200 each with a $59,900 pricetag and 1.8-litre turbo, the $61,752 BMW 320i Sport Line with 2.0-litre turbo, and the $64,900 Lexus IS250 F Sport with 2.5-litre V6; it’s the only upper spec grade here, though, and also the best equipped.

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PRICE AND EQUIPMENT

Lexus standard equipment lists have consistently been longer than its options lists, though – in complete contrast to the three rival German brands. The IS is no exception.

Although Lexus could only offer an IS250 F Sport, even the standard $55,900 Luxury comes with satellite navigation, reversing camera, auto keyless entry, heated and ventilated leather, digital radio and bi-xenon HID headlights. The 320i gets none of that lot, the C-Class only gets standard sat-nav, while the Audi scores navigation and xenons.

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To match the kit in the base Lexus, the Beemer and Benz need an extra $5396 and $2951 respectively, yet the 320i still doesn’t get ventilated seats, and the C200 doesn’t get that or a reversing camera.

Adding the abovementioned equipment puts an unoptioned C200 ($59,900) and 320i ($58,600) at worst $10,000 or 20 per cent more expensive than the IS250 Luxury.

Alternatively, the IS250 F Sport we’re testing can be purchased, which for $64,900 further adds 18-inch wheels, sports seats, a bodykit and adaptive dampers, among others.

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Not that the Audi A4 1.8T is exempt from looking undernourished alongside the plump Lexus in standard form, though the 250-unit Sport Edition helps it along. Priced $5500 higher than the standard 1.8T, the limited run model gets 19-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, satellite navigation, xenon headlights, and sports front seats and wheel.

Tellingly, however, adding that kit to the standard A4 1.8T would usually cost $10K, meaning all three Germans look average value for money when viewed alongside the Lexus.

Unlike BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz at least offer packages that bunch a whole lot of kit up for less and help improve the value equation.

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Our test C200 included a $3839 Vision package, which bundles a glass sunroof with Harman Kardon audio and swivelling bi-xenon headlights with auto high beam. The standard A4 1.8T, meanwhile, gets a $5300 Technik package including sat-nav, xenons and front parking sensors.

The 320i partially redeems itself by uniquely offering multi-way electrically adjustable front seats as standard, where the A4 and C200 only get driver’s seat partial-electric adjustment. It still can’t, however, match the limited edition Audi and the nav-equipped Mercedes-Benz, let alone the fullsome Lexus.

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INTERIORS

In addition to being the best equipped, the Lexus IS250 also has the most adventurous interior. And the best seats. And the most rear legroom.

Cool touches abound. In F Sport guise, the speedometer is digital only and along with the tachometer is projected on a TFT colour screen derived from the LFA supercar.

The all-encompassing single circular dial also physically moves to the right of the binnacle to show trip computer and sat-nav functions where required.

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The temperature adjustment for the dual-zone climate control is a touch sensitive ‘slider’ scroll that works beautifully. The steering wheel is great to hold, and the driver’s seat is superbly bolstered.

With our dawn photo shoot starting at 5am in the Sydney CBD, there was also a fight among our testers to snare the only car here with heated seats.

Equally, however, there are a couple of issues. The computer-like mouse Lexus persists with is ergonomically flawed. It’s easy to use when at standstill, but it’s difficult to accurately pin-point functions when the car is thumping over bumps. Lexus blanks out functions when driving, though, which also frustratingly means passengers can’t use the sat-nav when on the move.

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The Lexus IS has gone from having the least amount of rear legroom to offering the most, with 295mm of back seat legroom to the driving position of a 183cm male – 25mm up on 3 Series, 45mm more than C-Class and a full 75mm greater than A4.

Not so good is the intrusive centre transmission tunnel of the IS, severely restricting space for the middle rider.

For the first time the Lexus IS gets a 60:40 split fold rear seat. It also now exactly matches its Audi and BMW rivals with a 480-litre boot capacity, though the IS remains 15L shy of the Mercedes-Benz.

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By comparison to the funky Lexus, the three German interiors are unified in their conservatism.

Redesigned in 2011, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class interior leads with the traits expected from the brand with an impervious solidity that extends from the thunk of a closing door to the tight fitting plastic parts.

And no longer does the C200 feel like a taxi-ranked base model. Our test car’s cream-on-grey trim blends nicely with polished black trim on the dashboard and silver highlights on the four spoke steering wheel.

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Curiously, though, Mercedes-Benz uses fine Nappa leather on the steering wheel and gearshifter – both of which are great to hold – but cheaper ARTICO (or ‘artificial cow’) hide on the seats.

Not only are the front seats of the C-Class the least yielding here but the C200 also gets manual tilt adjustment for the driver’s seat, yet it still doesn’t tilt enough to ensure a perfect driving position.

Ergonomically, the C-Class triumphs against its rivals. The trip computer and audio functions displayed on a colour screen within the circular speedometer are a cinch to navigate via the steering wheel mounted controls; the BMW and Audi require fiddling with buttons on the end of the indicator stalk.

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The Mercedes-Benz Comand entertainment suite in the centre console isn’t quite as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive – once pilloried, now the benchmark – and the inclusion of sat-nav proves to be a double edged sword. Unlike the ‘Comand’ sat-nav in higher spec C-Classes, the base C200 gets a ‘Becker Map’ system that isn’t properly integrated; you can select Nav on the home screen of Comand, but when it switches to the map, you can no longer move back to Audio without hitting Radio or Media on the centre stack. At least sat-nav is standard, though.

The C-Class not only has the largest boot here, at 475 litres, but it’s also the only car with a full-size spare wheel – and an alloy one at that.

For rear legroom the Mercedes-Benz, with 250mm of leg space, splits the difference between the more prodigious 3 Series and less spacious A4. The Mercedes-Benz does, however, have the least intrusive centre tunnel here and the sculptured console bin permits more centre rear leg space than any rival.

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The interior plastics in the BMW 3 Series are the least impressive here, and BMW also dips with coarse-feeling leather on the seats and steering wheel (curiously, smooth high-quality leather is used on the transmission shifter).

Thanks to fully electric seat adjustment standard, the 3 Series offers a more finely tuned driving position than the C-Class.

There is no problem with getting the steering wheel right either – all cars here adjust for tilt and reach – but the top of the BMW’s tiller obscures the odometer and trip display.

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The optional satellite navigation in the 320i is tagged ‘business’ nav, which means it gets a tiny centre screen, not the full-width unit of ‘professional’ nav available in higher grades.

Shockingly, BMW charges $385 for Bluetooth audio connectivity.

Other ergonomic issues exist, too, the worst of which is the lid over the twin cupholders in the centre console which is detachable instead of hinged, so using the cupholders means there’s nowhere to place the lid except in the glovebox.

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There’s also no ‘sync’ button for the dual-zone climate control, so travelling one-up the driver must adjust two temperature dials seperately to keep the same climate.

A mid-fielder for rear space, the 3 Series gets 270mm of legroom but the centre tunnel is more intrusive than the Benz’s.

A standard 40:20:40 split fold rear seat makes the 3 Series the most flexible car here.

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Audi interiors are generally lovely, and the A4, despite turning five this year, is no exception.

Both the plastics and leather quality are the finest here, and in Sport Edition specification the heavily bolstered front seats near-match those in the IS250 F Sport.

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Although inappropriate in a base model badged ‘1.8T’ the flat-bottomed steering wheel is thin rimmed and nice to hold.

The many buttons below the transmission lever for the Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI) system aren’t ideally placed, however, often asking for a lowered driver’s eye to access even simple functions.

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Although the A4 has the least amount of rear legroom here, at 220mm, it counters with the widest bench and the most headroom.

Disappointingly, however, the base 1.8T is the only car here to lack rear-seat air vents.

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ENGINES AND TRANSMISSIONS

There is nothing remotely base model about the engine in the Audi A4 1.8T however.

Its 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol is the second-smallest here, sharing capacity with the Mercedes-Benz, yet it provides the most torque of the quartet with a strong 320Nm available from 1400 to 3700rpm.

Although its 125kW of power is down 10kW on the Benz and (2.0-litre) BMW, the Audi makes that figure between 3800 and 6200rpm, which means from 1400 revs to 6200 revs there is only a 100rpm window where either maximum output isn’t delivered.

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Even more impressive is that the 1.8T is both the quietest and smoothest engine here, and a real joy to wind out. That’s particularly the case in the automatic continuously variable transmission’s manual mode, which packs a wonderfully tight spread of ‘ratio’ presets ideal for hard driving.

Left to its own devices, however, the CVT is the second least impressive transmission here, dozy when the accelerator is suddenly prodded and lurchy off the line.

No doubting the engine and transmission pairing’s efficiency, however. On test it slurped 10.5L/100km to secure second place at the pump by only a few millilitres.

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The 2.0-litre turbocharged BMW steals the economy win, though, recording 10.2L/100km in a mix of urban, freeway and enthusiastic country road driving.

Although compared with the Audi it has a lesser 270Nm, it’s produced even earlier and is maintained later – from 1250 to 4500rpm.

The 135kW at a flat  5000rpm also gives no indication that the 320i loves to swing its tachometer to a 6800rpm cut-out, the highest here.

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The BMW engine is the most obviously sporty with a loud but raunchy and growly engine note flanked by just a fraction of transmission whine.

Speaking of which, the eight-speed ZF automatic is also the best here with fast, clean and crisp shifts and a faithful manual mode with the tipshifter the correct way around (push forward to downshift) and nice steering wheel paddles.

Just to cement its dominance, not only is the BMW the most fuel efficient, but partially thanks to a 1455kg kerb weight (the lightest here) its 0-100km/h claim of 7.3 seconds is about a second quicker than the rest.

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At the other end of the scale, literally, is the Lexus IS250 F Sport, which is the heaviest car here, a staggering 190kg weightier than the 320i.

Lexus claims 0-100km/h in 8.1 seconds, one-tenth quicker than the Audi but three tenths slower than the Mercedes-Benz.

Straight line acceleration is, however, a product of power more than torque, and the old school 2.5-litre non-turbo V6 carried over from the IS250 does make the most grunt here – 153kW at a lofty 6400rpm.

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A closer reflection of the Lexus’s driveability comes from the unboosted torque figure of 252Nm at an equally lofty 4800rpm. Not only does the IS250 need lots of revs to perform, but the weight hampers the eagerness of the engine to spin up to those high revs, while the carry-over six speed auto has one or two less gears than its rivals to try and plug the gaps in the delivery. In manual mode, the Lexus beeps in obstinance at the driver wanting a lower gear during hard driving.

Although it sounds good – lots of meaty, synthesised induction snarl funnels into the cabin – the Lexus engine feels a decade behind the rest. Not coincidentally, it is that old.

In addition to feeling the slowest, the IS250 was also the thirstiest on test, slurping 12.5L/100km, more than a litre behind the Benz and two litres off the BMW and Audi.

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At 11.4L/100km on test, the Mercedes-Benz 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is in the back half of the field for economy. Yet it also makes the same power and torque as the slightly bigger BMW engine.

With a 1490kg kerb weight the C200 is, however, a small child’s worth heavier than the 320i and the seven-speed automatic isn’t quite as sharp and snappy.

Still, foot down, the Benz feels faster than its 7.8 second 0-100km/h claim – it certainly doesn’t feel a half-second slower than the BMW.

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Without paddles, and with only the side-to-side tipshifter the brand has used since, oooh, about the 1983 190E, the C200 isn’t posessed of a sporting drivetrain.

The auto is at least intuitive in Sport mode, which actually needs to be the default setting even around town because Comfort is too lazy.

The engine also sounds the least inspiring of this bunch, with lots of valvetrain noise and high-pitched whine. Block your ears, and it is spirited and brisk – more so than the A4, and in another league compared with the IS250.

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STEERING, RIDE AND HANDLING

It’s the Benz and BMW that are in a different dynamic division to the A4 and IS250, too. More specifically, the 320i triumphs all on twisty roads and the C200 is the champion during day to day driving.

With the aforementioned adaptive dampers included, the BMW 320i has the control to match its truly fantastic handling. The way this current-generation 3 Series is engineered makes it feel supremely light on its feet and incredibly sharp at the front end – more so than its predecessors and much more so than any car here.

Along with the sporting drivetrain, the BMW is the friskiest car here on twisty roads; the most keen to oversteer, the fastest from point to point, with the most subtle stability control. Turn off the stability system and an electronic diff lock turns on, braking a spinning inside wheel and allowing beautifully controlled slides. Fun from a four cylinder 3 Series? You bet.

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The Mercedes-Benz C-Class was taunted during the eight hours of our urban photo shoot, from our photographer who thought it looked like an old man’s car and from another tester who wanted to scrap the undersized alloys. The C200 is the only car on test that doesn’t have ‘sporty’ pretension.

Yet, the next day on our drive loop, it proved the second best handling car here. Look closely and the 17-inch Continental ContiSportContact 3 tyres are 245mm wide on the rear wheels, compared with 225mm for the BMW. This is a stable, beautifully balanced chassis that is completely unflappable regardless of the road surface.

Where even the 320i with adaptive dampers gets a bit unsettled on poor road surfaces, the C200 just steamrolls them. It is fantastically brisk on every road, and feels the most planted. It doesn’t need tricky suspension modes and sports bits to impress.

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Yet on that photo shoot the day before, the Mercedes-Benz proved untouchable with its masterful suspension tune. Its ride comfort is superbly plush, far beyond anything the other three can manage, yet over speed humps and backroad dips alike the control is just as impressive.

The Mercedes-Benz also delivers the only genuinely excellent steering system here. Light, quick and precise, the variable ratio set-up – which gets quicker as you turn – in the C-Class is one of the true greats regardless of price.

By comparison BMW charges $400 to option its variable ratio system that is far superior to the standard electro-mechanical set-up on our test car, which is muddy on centre, not particularly fast and is especially disappointing considering BMW once reigned supreme for steering feel.

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Likewise with the IS250, which is nervous on centre, requiring constant correction and attention around town. Both the Lexus and BMW steering systems get better at speed and when winding on lock, however. The 320i is pleasingly light in Comfort mode, but switching to the Sport setting that provides firmer damping and sharper throttle also forces the driver to accept needlessly heavy steering. The IS250 steering is at least pleasingly mid weighted between those two modes.

The A4 steering, meanwhile, is typically Audi-light, pretty quick but lacking directness when attempting to pin an accurate line through a corner. Big 19-inch wheels also make the Audi’s turning circle ridiculously large. Proving that rear wheel drive benefits enthusiasts and commuters alike, the C-Class has an incredibly tight turning circle to shame many small hatchbacks.

This test A4 on big wheels and sports suspension also doesn’t ride very well. It’s acceptable around town, but way too jittery on country roads. The Audi mostly relies on the grip from its big 255mm tyres to sprint between corners, but there’s decent chassis balance there. It provides neither the plushness and steering intimacy of the Benz, or the playful friskiness of the BMW, however.

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Lexus has now come within striking distance of BMW for outright handling. The IS250 sits flatter than any car here in corners. It demands high corner entry speeds because it doesn’t have the power to shoot out of them, but it is very composed and reasonably sharp.

Ride quality, too, is impressive, whether the adaptive dampers are in regular or Sport modes. Being an F Sport model with big wheels the IS250 does ride very firmly; not uncomfortably, though, and in tune with the brash personality hinted at by the unique interior and edgy exterior.

The thing that most lets the Lexus down is its stability control calibration. It’s overly aggressive in tight corners, clamping down early and disallowing throttle steer on exit – it may as well be front-drive. It eases up on faster, flowing roads but even when switched completely off, unlike with the BMW, it’s never really off. It still intrudes.

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VERDICT

The Lexus IS250 just edges out the Audi A4 1.8T in this contest, thanks to its superior value equation and better blend of ride and handling. The Audi’s better engine is its single standout feature, and is almost enough to leverage it above the Lexus. Equally, however, it’s the dated engine in the IS250 that means it can move no higher in this test.

The race between the BMW 320i and Mercedes-Benz C200 is far closer. The 320i is brilliant in the bends and in a straight line. It is, however, important to consider that it must be heavily optioned to come close to matching the C200 for steering and ride finesse.

The BMW 320i hits higher highs than the Benz, but it also has more significant flaws. The C-Class is more consistent, more polished, rarely dipping below a high level of achievement in all areas. Add the fact that it’s also better value, and has a better interior, and the Mercedes-Benz C200 can be the only winner of this contest.

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This comparison review first appeared in the August issue of the CarAdvice iPad magazine app. Head to the Apple App Store to download the entire issue.

Photography by Matyas Fulop.

Audi A4 1.8 TFSI Sport Edition
 
Price: $59,900
Engine: 1.8 litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 125kW at 3800-6200rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1400-3700rpm
Transmission: CVT
0-100km/h: 8.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.8L/100km claimed (10.5L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 134g/km

BMW 320i Sport Line
 
Price: $61,725
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 135kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 270Nm at 1250-4500rpm
Transmission: 8-sp automatic
0-100km/h: 7.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6.0L/100km claimed (10.2L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 138-141g/km

Lexus IS250 F Sport
 
Price: $64,900
Engine: 2.5-litre 6-cyl petrol
Power: 153kW at 6400rpm
Torque: 252Nm at 4800rpm
Transmission: 6-sp automatic
0-100km/h: 8.1 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.2L/100km claimed (12.5L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 213g/km

Mercedes-Benz C200 BlueEfficiency
 
Price: $59,900
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 135kW at 5250rpm
Torque: 270Nm at 1800-4600rpm
Transmission: 7-sp automatic
0-100km/h: 7.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6.8L/100km claimed (11.4L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 158g/km



  • crouchy35

    Great comparison and some great photos in there! Thanks for the fantastic effort CA

    • Zaccy16

      yep great review CA! very detailed, you have trumped wheels IMO

    • turbodewd

      This Ford guy says the Lexus gauge cluster looks 10 times better than the others. Looks both intuitive and progressive and modern and rumbly-bumpkinsons!!!

  • pixxxels

    The Lexus may not be the all-round greatest car here but at least they are taking some risks with design. The 3, C-class and A4 all look painfully bland by comparison. Hopefully the Lexus’ daring design will encourage the Germans to be a little braver with their styling.

    • crouchy35

      It does make the others look exceedingly boring by comparison, doesn’t it?

    • zej

      One man’s bland is another man’s understated and discrete. The Lexus’ red interior is vulgar, front grille and headlamps over-drawn by a 14 year old manga enthusiast and tail lamps like they’re stolen from an Accord Euro and melted down to meet the rear wheelarch? The BMW and Merc may not shout as loud, but they will still look dignified in fifteen years’ time.

      • Smart US

        dignified is the key word… i rather vulgar dame

  • president of bongo bongo land

    the ugly duckling takes first price.

  • F1orce

    This site is always biased to anything German.

    • Joe

      No.. That is not true. I have gone to have a look at all the 4 cars before hand about 2 years ago. It is exactly what I have concluded in the end. Although it wasn’t the C200, 320, 250 or 1.8 I was looking for, (Was one above, C250, 325, 350, 2.0) Merc was always going to be the better car. In terms of Tech and handling (I wont say safety cause they are all pretty darn safe cars). I must admit though that Merc was always going to be the more expensive choice when it came to optioning it. This article is pretty much spot on with the reviews for every day to day driving conditions.

    • Homer

      Not really. Japs engine development in the last decade falls way behind the Euro. that’s why!! If prices are all similar its no bariner to pick any of this germans. Even at 5K more or 7 K more definitely the lexus collects teh wooden spoon. Sayonara Japs, you’re toast

      • F1orce

        Yeah right.

        The only thing the other 3 engines have over the IS250 is just a turbocharger.

        Take that out and they’ll perform like slugs.

        Mercedes, Audi, BMW uses to make N/A but they needed to go F/I to compete with the Japanese.

        • hah

          No, they’re using F/I to get better emissions. Why do you think no one will touch Lexus in Europe? The Lexus has such high emissions no one would want to pay the high co2 tax, not to mention the worse fuel consumption.

          The turbo comes with the cars as standard. Why would you talk about taking it out?
          The Lexus wouldn’t be the best equipped if you took some of that standard equipment out would it? But they would be a stupid argument just like trying to compare the engines without a standard part.

          Besides, BMW’s last mainstream n/a engine, the 528i with 190KW/8.0L100km ADR is still far more efficient than the “fresh” IS250 anyway.

          • F1orce

            The IS300h produced the lowest CO2 of any other competitor .

          • Joe

            Now you are comparing a normal car with hybrid car. That does not even compare each other. Of course the hybrid version will produce less CO2. Just for your comparison sake, the IS350 vs C350…. IS350 CO2 is 225 while C350 is 184. Both power and torque is comparable. They both don’t use any kind of turbocharger at all. I don’t really know where you are getting with this to.

          • F1orce

            The C350 has stop/start which is a big contributor.

          • Joe

            So.. that’s the technology Merc or other companies are willing to implement.. while Lexus don’t. So technically, Lexus needs to beef up on the options to offset the performance or the engine downside. That was my conclusion and I’m sure many will agree here.

          • F1orce

            All these 3 Germans cars here with sub 2 litre engines consumed a much higher amount of fuel compared with their claimed consumption figures.

            The Lexus was close to sticker claims.. Besides stop/start will affect reliability. Starting engine needs more fuel and you put more wear on the starter motor, alternator and battery.

          • h54

            Read the important part of the review again F1. I’ve put it below for you as well to try hone it down:

            “In addition to feeling the slowest, the IS250 was also the thirstiest on test, slurping 12.5L/100km, more than a litre behind the Benz and two litres off the BMW and Audi.”

          • F1orce

            Let’s see the IS250 was the heaviest vehicle in the test with the longest gearing and the least torque.

            Yet

            It was only 0.3 seconds slower than the C200 and quicker than the A4. Despite being heavier, less torque and longer gearing..

            The only reason the 320i is fast is due to its extremely short gearing and its relatively light kerb weight.

            Besides there is much more to it than the 0-100 manufacturer ‘claims’ which are no always very accurate.

            Besides I can’t remember the last review I’ve read in the World Wide Web that praised the C-class for dynamics, steering etc..

          • Joe

            I give up with this guy man.. Some one. Please buy him a Lexus.

          • Nix

            Yes, all other manufactuers are lying!

          • Stagger

            Stop start uses a capacitor to restatrt, not the battery. No effect on battery life.

          • Zaccy16

            but has a rubbish transmission and lacks torque

          • Smart US

            yet they dont have better emissions in real world – i have v6 N/A Maxima 250 j32… 9.5s l/100km in traffic day-in day-out… beat that Japanese design and its no way sluggish nor slow and pro[er family sedan

        • Joe

          But why would you even take that out in the first place? It boosts the performance of the engine plus, it reduces the emission of the car. So why would the car companies take that out? Your argument is very hard to understand. Perhaps do you own any of the 4 cars reviewed here? Because I do. And I researched quite a number of months before buying one.

        • Homer

          You must be stubborn, ignorant or just want to contradict people. Germans use smaller displacement compared to teh Japs and the Japs have absolutely no answer. they s**k. Germans engines are the best, period. Don’t argue aymore

          • JooberJCW

            Thats the short sighted answer, theres a reason why asian car makers avoid turbochargers, its all about reliability and maintenance costs. Given strong and booming markets in tropical/humid countries, most people avoid cars with turbochargers, Lexus/toyota and the rest ‘purposely’ avoid the Turbo route, to maintain what the prospective consumers in that market expects of them.

          • ahah

            From what I’ve been told by Lexus owners, a basic Lexus service is around $450 which is no cheaper than a BMW/Audi/Merc service. So if your belief about avoiding turbos for lower maintenance costs is true, Lexus is not passing on the savings. What needs servicing in a turbo anyway?

            Which tropical countries have booming sales where Lexus is making what people want?
            China is the first car market I think of when the terms ‘tropical’ and ‘booming’ are relevant. In 2012, Lexus sold 64,000 cars in China. BMW sold 326,000, Audi 406,000 & I believe every model they make these days is turbo – some twin turbo.

            I also spent some time living in Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia a few years back and didn’t see a single Lexus at all. The default and seemingly only luxury car was Mercedes. Malaysian in particular seemed to only have two types of cars on the road – local proton/produa or Mercedes.

          • JooberJCW

            If a car breaks down more often then its going to cost you more than one that doesnt, china is hardly tropical and given the resentment against the japs thats why sales are weak. Look more into south east asia, and you will see many toyotas or other japanese non turbo cars dominate. And as you mention mercesdes if its not just for the swank factor the mercedes models you mainly see regularly would be the non kompressor models hence no force induction.

            Before the realisation of the se asia market the japanese thrived on turbo cars e.g. skylines mr2, 300zx, sylvias and many others. Now that se asia is a core market for them it makes more business sense to build cheaper to run and less complicated to fix cars.

          • Hung Low

            Well said!

          • ahah

            Ummm Joober, why don’t you provide some figures to justify your claims.

            Indonesia sits right on the equator and is surely considered tropical and is definately in SE Asia and one of the largest markets there.
            Check sales for 2012:
            Mercedes: 3393
            BMW:2188
            Lexus: 611

            Again I ask, which tropical countries have booming sales for Lexus?

          • JooberJCW

            Thats because Lexus came to the market only in 2007 and still offers one dealership in all of Indonesia, also a lack of supply from Japan. Add that the camry (sedan market leader) over there is considered luxury already and priced somewhat also, which would mean head office would want a cheaper car selling for a higher margin to take priority.

            Lexus engines shares with Toyota, look how many toyota/daihatsu sales there are in Indonesia, As per my response I’ve never singled out Lexus as selling better, but the N/A engine which Japanese manufacturers deliver in their cars is preferred over the less reliable turbo engine, in hot climates.

            If you want to play premium car sales volume, look at another hot climate zone, saudi arabia, Lexus was the highest selling car there out of the premium marques, and then look at the top sellers again, all N/A based engined cars.
            Therefore Sales volume does not constitute a better or more reliable car, otherwise we’ll be saying that Mazda 3′s and corollas are better than the golf. Most buyers in the prestige market look for the ‘badge’ value over anything else, and I concur Merc and BMW do hold more value in the area than Lexus.

          • kd

            You said look in SE Asia, Saudi Arabia is in SE Asia now?

          • z00b00

            i am indonesian. in jakarta I am starting to see many lexus now. especially RX270, even my neighbour just bought one. but mercedes benz is still the champion in luxury segment of indonesia. about 5000 sales/year.

          • Homer

            It ain’t short sighted, it’s a fact! No point defending japs manufacturers, they have been complacent and are now paying the price for being left behind by the Europeans, led by the Germans, always, of course!

          • JooberJCW

            are you ok? last time I checked Toyota tops sales globally this year running. Sure the VW are using turbo’s, but are paying for it via reliability especially in hot/humid climates which the general consumer in those markets looks heavily upon.

            You don’t have to be a genius to know that heat + turbos do not mix, and the japanese car manufacturers know this, and hence kept with the simple engine card.

            Speaking about awesome cars, you heard of the ‘japanese’ GTR, and we all know how German/italian performance destroying this car is with its ‘small’ displacement 3.8′, and that it takes a car 5x more expensive from Germany to even topple it.

          • l4l

            are you ok?

            Going on and on about your silly turbo/reliability thing. Not a spec of evidence to support it. VW have plenty of reliability complaints but few, if any are coming specifically from the turbo fitment or turbo component.

            VW’s sales have increased at a rate faster than Toyota’s despite the use of turbos.

            Also,all of the Japanese diesels are turbo. Landcruisers are very popular in hot desert locations and guess what? Nearly all are turbo. Go into the hot outback and nearly every car you see will be a Landcruiser/Hilux or similar with a TURBO diesel.

            Mazda and Subaru also selling a few petrol turbos too.

            Funny you mention the ‘japanese’ GTR. Guess what? Not just turbo, but TWIN TURBO.

          • Hung Low

            Look up VW TSI TWIN CHARGER

          • JooberJCW

            What are you on about, im defending the japs stance on use of na engines still, whilst others believe it to be that they are incapable of doing what the germans did. It is a matter of choice and market strategy to suit SE asia markets and the like. Im not bagging turbos, but in some parts of the world you are better off sticking to n/a

            Diesels are a diff matter and the engine is built to handle higher heat tolerances.

          • Phil

            Oh yeah, that twin turbo engined thing……

          • Hung Low

            Who led SAAB and Volvo in the 70′s with the mainstream forced induction route?
            America started it with the Oldsmobile Jetfire in 1961
            First production German Turbo was the BMW 2002 not long after and turbo charging was not mainstream across their models until the past decade..
            The 80′s is when the Japs went into a turbo frenzy with almost every model having turbo variants. Now because the Germans are doing it on a big scale they led it? I think overall the Swedes led the charge and everyone is over sensationalizing the “it’s German” thing.

          • Nix

            Asian manufactueres made their names making the fastest turbo cars eva!

        • Lester

          “Take that out and they’ll perform like slugs”.

          That’s a ridiculous thing to say. Do you understand anything about engine technology and development? It hasn’t just been added on for performance. The turbo is there as part of a total engine package, to provide a good balance of performance, economy, driveability and emissions in the face of ever tougher emission regs round the world. It’s got nothing to do with having to catchup with the Japanese!

          • F1orce

            Better yet put a turbocharger into the IS250?

      • Sydlocal

        Yep, the 1.2L TSi engine in the Polo for example is really high tech!!! ;-) TIC

        You have a valid point though, Toyota haven’t really done much other than D4-S in the last few years and their diesels are so far behind the competition it is not funny. The others have pretty much stagnated as well. I would say Mazda are the only mainstream Japanese manufacturers (and only very recently mind you as they were WAY, WAY behind all of the others up until then) that has gone out and tried something different when it comes to engine development. The improvement in their fuel economy without going down the small capacity turbo route like pretty much everyone else is quite impressive with some really original ideas for a mainstream car engine whether petrol or diesel. However the Japanese have nearly always been a little conservative in that respect though and prefer to take an already well established concept and refine it!

        However the Japanese have something the Germans don’t. Whilst German cars are extremely well engineered (superior in that respect to the Japanese), they just don’t seem to be able to get the same reliability as the Japanese as a whole, especially the electrics (just ask anyone with an older BMW etc)! Maybe that is due to the Euros being the ‘trail blazers’!

        • md

          Odd, I have a 1988 BMW and it’s exceptionally reliable. All the electronics still work in mine and it has far more electronics than the average 80s car. Nothing in the E34 or E32 series was ‘trail blazers’ as basically everything was carried over from the previous model.I know plenty of others in the BMW club with BMWs around 20-30 years old and there are very few electrical problems for a old car.
          So I don’t have a clue what you’re on about regarding problems in older BMWS but talking to owners of new BMWs that are less than 5 years old and they seem to get electrical problems.

          • Sydlocal

            Sorry, I should have been more specific when I said ‘older’! I meant like the E38, E39 etc. Nothing wrong with the E34s (love the E34, a guy in the BMW club I was in had an Alpina B10, very nice), E30s etc as I agree, there were many in the BMW club I was in a few years ago that were great. BMWs are generally very good when it comes to engine reliability if you don’t neglect oil services etc, however from the late 90s transmissions/electrics and things like window regulators and suspension bushes ie castor bushes do give a bit of grief. (transmission mechatronics in our E53 in less than 100k and is pretty common) Having said that the E46 was pretty well sorted and probably the most reliable of the lot of them from that era late 90s/early 00s. The E65 line was scary when it came to electrics as well!
            One thing to remember when you use examples from a car club is that they are enthusiasts who generally look after their cars and carry out the required preventative maintenance etc. Do that and they last well. However a BMW doesn’t generally handle neglect as well as a Japanese car and people who don’t keep the regular/preventative maintenance up will generally have more problems.

          • md

            It’s pretty easy to skip a service on a Japanese car and get away with when the intervals on most are only a maximum 6 months apart.
            Not so easy to get away with it on a BMW when it only comes up for servicing only once every 24 months or so. Skip one service in the BMW and it’s equivalent to skipping 7 in a Toyota, so when you bring it into context regarding servicing, I think it’s the other way around – the Japanese cars generally won’t handle neglect as well. I don’t know of anyone who’s had a Japanese car that has remained in full use for over 20 years, all have either died around the 15 year/250,000km mark (usually blown headgasket & ruined engine) or they’re low km garage queens like my grandparents 1990 Camry with only 112,000kms on it.
            I’ve come across people with Japanese cars who say they won’t do more than 5000kms without a oil change (and some brands like Toyota actually say 3months/5000km services for “frequent stop/start or dusty conditions”). They’re shocked when I mention I do 25,000-30,000kms between changes on mine and it’s run past 400,000kms.

            Also I don’t think there is any preventative maintenance that helps avoid electrical problems. There is nothing in my BMW’s service book about doing preventative maintenance on the electronics (except for changing light globes).

            Of course, whether or not the newer or ‘not so old’ BMWs or Japanese cars will last is another matter.

          • kddkf

            “I don’t know of anyone who’s had a Japanese car that has remained in full use for over 20 years”

            From a logical standpoint, perhaps that may be a result of your close and deep association with BMW – you simply know more BMW owners (or more aptly, enthusiasts, since you did mention a BMW club) than owners of other vehicles; hence, you have a larger pool of owner experiences to draw from, a pool not exactly representative of your average BMW owner. So, though your argument regarding BMW may hold some validity (at best), that diminishes when considering vehicles of other brands.

          • Hung Low

            MD if you are running one of the E34 six cylinders, the M30 you have are a very over engineered and robust engine, a proper German engine like they used to build them. There are a few Japanese sixes that would go the distance too such as the n/a Nissan RB30 or Toyota n/a 1JZ, both over engineered for forced induction and the local Falcon six.
            I have had a Suzuki Gti G13b, 1300cc many years ago that done its share of track days with over 300 000km and still in perfect condition. Quality fuel oil and filters and decarbonising by WOT now and then are the keys, I used to double the routine oil change frequency when using fully synthetic oil to 20 000kms and as evident, no dramas.
            Cars that are older with low km from short trips have coked up engines that if anything perform poorer and wear quicker no matter what brand.

    • F1orce is a teenage fanboi

      Perhaps because the Germans build good cars and deserve the praise they receive.

    • Stagger

      Ever consider that the German cars are just…better?

  • dkjl

    I guess MB can just phone it in with the next C-Class, since they’re still king.

  • O123

    Well I want the lexus, I personally think its the best looking here. The options list for the BMW is a joke.

  • Regardless

    Shame Lexus hasn’t updated atleast transmission atleast.. And engine a bit, but I’d take it over the other 3 in a heartbeat anyway

    • Vip

      They have, in the IS350 f-sport trim, the new car is using the ISF eight-speed transmission, very close to a DSG performance.

      But the IS250 carries over the old drivetrain…

      Rumour has it Lexus will update the IS with a range of newly developed engine in late 2014. It’ll be intereting to do a comprasion then again.

    • mem

      I doubt it matters to many Australians, but I’d be buying a manual and all the Germans are available with a manual gearbox unlike the Lexus.

      • nugsdad

        The merc is not

        • mem

          Yes it is. Go look at UK website, LHD C class listed as standard with 6 speed manual.

          • OSienna

            Have you ever tried ordering one with a manual in Australia? I don’t believe you can, even as a special order. The only passenger vehicle from MB with a manual option is the SLK – they don’t really cater for enthusiasts in this country…

          • hah

            BMW will bring in any manual as long as long as the factory actually produce the car as a manual in RHD and you get a helpful sales person.
            I’m not sure about Merc, but I’m sure if you preset it as a deal breaker to a helpful salesperson they’ll be happy to do it for you.

            Obviously there is no chance with Lexus as they do not manufacturer this is range in manual at all.

  • AUSDAVIDZ

    Silly test, which has the best build quality, material, paint etc?
    What are the service intervals and costs?
    Resale values, dealership experience etc?
    Which will give the least issues?
    For mine the LEXUS laps this lot, that’s how far in front of the others it is, well done LEXUS would buy you in a heart beat BECAUSE YOU ARE A TOYOTA

    • O123

      The fact that BMW has too give CA a car with adaptive dampers to make it drive like it should is enough said really. The IS is the winner for me with the C and A4 coming second

      • ah

        Funny, Lexus had to give CA a IS250 with F-Sport suspension too. Don’t you find that sad? Or are you a hypocrite?

        • O123

          No one is bagging out the base is250 though.

  • Karl Sass

    It would be great to have a car that looked and drove like the 3 series with the Audi interior and Lexus reliability. Great review CA.

    • m96

      Sounds like the MB :)

      • Karl Sass

        It’s what the Beemer should be :)

        • Declan Collins

          Wait for the Caddy ATS :P

          • hahe

            I’m pretty sure Cadillac ditched their Australian plans, so you could be waiting a long time.

  • asdfg

    I’d still get the Lexus in a flash.

  • A.A

    Love the Lexus! inside and out.

  • GIG

    I’d even pick Infiniti rather than Germans, not to mention the superb Lexus.

    • jr32

      You’d be the only one, good for you, I’m sure the Infiniti dealers will be happy to give you a huge discount of RRP. Best be quick before they close up like they did last time they tried to sell cars here.

  • pol

    Enthusiasts will probably end up with either bland 3 or C-class but urban mothers will Lexus with a heartbeat, purely based on design.

  • Peter

    I suppose that you could pay $69K and get the 2 litre petrol turbo XF (or the 2.2 diesel) which is only fractionally longer, at 4.9m. These cars arent really compact anymore, or at least compact seems to be 4.7m plus, whereas it used to be around 4.5m. There is also the volvo s60 to consider at that price, the T5 (4 cyl turbo) in that is quite nice and no slouch.

  • JaCe88

    Really love the photos in this- reminds me of a bit of when TG Aus did shots in the Sydney CBD. Oh, and as a w204 owner, I’m obviously pleased to see I’m not the only one who thought the C was a great car to drive.

  • IS300h

    I wonder, why not comparing against the IS300h. Thats the one to get in my opinion.

  • Realtor

    Having know several owners in North Queensland whos IS250 dash and trim melted in the FNQ sun I would t call the Lexus reliable.

  • Butch

    reversing camera and fully electric drivers seat is now standard on the C-class

  • barry

    Doesn’t this allways go back to the basics.Merc the class.Lexus the best built for the price.Bma the sporty one.

    • marc

      Always

  • Abba

    I stopped reading when the editors mentioned that the Ausi has the smoothest engine!!

    Hahaa wtf? The V6 in the Lezus I the epitome of smoothness and refinement. It sounds and feels ridiculously smooth and refined hen revved.

    • Abba

      Audi**

    • Nix

      Yez, the Lezus is the epitome of smoothness and refinement!

  • Ruqis

    I have driven the C200 an IS250 back to back and the IS250 drives better. The IS250 does good for a small 2.5L V6, it sounds nice and smooth doing its business. It never consumes more than than 12L even on the hardest of driving. Give the C200 some gas and it guzzles like a jet.

    Ok maybe just ‘off line’ the C200 feels more peppy, but once you’ve reached 60kmh or so the situation and feel is totally different. The IS250 feels and sounds like it has grunt. It goes like the IS350 after 80km/h and pulls very strongly. Where as the C200 just doesn’t have the power.

    The C200 sounds horrible like a cacophonous strut. Out on the hwy the IS250 doesn’t sound like it struggles when you floor it. Go WOT in the C200 and it sounds as if it is going to fall apart.

    Not to mention the other qualities the Lexus has such as high interior quality, exterior quality, build quality and reliability.

    • C-Class ftw

      No.

  • K20A

    Artico = artificial cow. LOL! that’s gold!

    Sensatec = sensational plastec?

  • Jsjsksj

    8 second is really good for a 2.5 a heavy one too

  • zelda

    The Lexus is the best

  • Zaccy16

    Great review! i agree that the c class is still the best and is very capable, it looks very classy IMO in the c250 grade and above, the ride/handling balance is exceptional and far superior to the BMW, the audi still has a great interior but only makes sense as a base model with the manual not the CVT, the lexus IMO looks great inside and out and sounds like it drives well but the engine is way below rivals and is very bad on fuel, it may have been better with the 8 speed auto in the 350, i think the is IMO only makes sense with the powerful 233 kw V6

    • IMO

      needs more IMOs IMO

      • Zaccy16

        easier than saying in my opinion!

    • XXBsdf

      the IS250 isn’t too bad. the car and engine are very smooth. So it doesn’t really feel gutless.

      and at highway speeds it has strong power.

      but yea IS350 is a nice machine.

  • realist

    Good camparison….I own a benz (love it) but iam looking at the audi this time around…If this comparo was done by wheels or MM they would have stuck a daewoo/holden cruze in there to make out it was some kind of high class car. laughable…… Unless they already have.:-)

  • azrim

    Lexus makes good cars and once you buy a lexus somehow there is always a feeling that the car cares for you rather than the other way around. But Lexus just can’t get the level of finishing as the Germans and somehow as a product Lexus always feels wanting. I had owned and driven Mercs, BMWs and ended up being stuck with Lexus as in real world looks and feel only last so long, non of these Germans come close to what Lexus offers, confidence, certainty and the feeling of being on the right-side….. Germans in the last 20 years have always let me down……

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