The F Sport Performance isn't gunning after the M3.
Ever since Lexus killed off its IS F performance sedan in 2014, car enthusiasts have been begging for the company to bring it back. Though it's not a direct replacement, the new 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance is the closest thing we've had to an IS F since the original. In fact, the two even share the same 5.0-liter V8 engine. But before we start calling the IS 500 a BMW M3 fighter like the original IS F, it's important to look at the car through a different lens.
Lexus has explained that the IS 500 is the first model to sit a new spot in its lineup called F Sport Performance, slotting above the appearance-only F Sport line but below the F performance cars. This puts the IS 500 in a different class than the IS F competed in back in 2007. Instead of competing with the BMW M3, it competes with the lesser BMW M340i.
Lexus facelifted the third-generation IS for the 2021 model year, adding a wider stance and more modern light signatures. The IS 500 is even more aggressive with quad-exit exhaust tips, a raised hood, and black badging. It may not be an official F product but the IS 500 looks properly shouty, especially finished in red paint. After the facelift, the IS no longer shows signs of its age.
Compared to the IS, the 2021 BMW 3 Series looks ultra-conservative. The M340i has avoided getting the huge BMW kidney grille treatment, which sits in stark contrast to the massive Lexus spindle grille. Like the IS 500 F Sport Performance, the M340i variant wears an M badge but it is not a true M model. It features a few sportier elements like larger wheels and exhaust tips but mostly blends in like any other 3 Series.
The exterior of the 2021 IS looks radically different, but the interior doesn't change much from its original design. Lexus thankfully added a larger 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which finally features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. Yet, the IS 500 does not receive the awesome sport seats found in the RC F, leaving the cabin looking too similar to the lesser IS 350 F Sport.
While the Lexus doesn't score many points for a more exciting interior, BMW doesn't exactly pull away in this regard. The M340i's cabin looks nearly identical to a 330i with an M Performance package, a rather premium but unexciting place to spend time. We'll give BMW some credit, though, because the 3 Series features a larger digital gauge cluster, more intuitive infotainment, wireless CarPlay, and more accessible storage compartments.
The IS 500's powertrain differs from all of its key competitors, including the M340i, Audi S4, and Genesis G70, all of which use turbocharged six-cylinder engines. A 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 sits under the raised hood, delivering class-leading figures of 472 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent out to the rear wheels only through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite being much more powerful than its rivals, the IS 500 needs 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, likely due to its porky 3,891-pound curb weight.
BMW is the master of inline-six engines, and the M340i's 3.0-liter turbocharged unit is no exception. A new 48-volt mild-hybrid system is added for the 2021 model year, generating 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph takes 4.3 seconds in rear-wheel-drive configuration or 4.1 seconds with xDrive. The M340i proves the speed advantage of a turbocharged AWD drivetrain, as even a heavier 3,979-pound curb weight doesn't detract from its performance. This comparison proves the IS 500 would be no match for the M3.
By comparing the IS 500 to the M340i, we can more accurately understand why Lexus didn't position this as an M3 fighter; it would lose badly. So long as Lexus prices the car correctly, it could be an interesting alternative to models like the S4, M340i, and G70 V6. Those models start at $49,900, $54,700, and $46,200, respectively, meaning Lexus has some wiggle room above the IS 350's $42,900 starting MSRP.
If Lexus undercuts the M340i's $54,700 starting price, we'll gladly forgive its slight 0-60 mph disadvantage and learn to enjoy it for the wonderful V8 exhaust note. As a reminder, the similarly-powered RC F currently starts at $65,975, so it will take some magic for the IS 500 to come in significantly below this figure. If we had to guess, the IS 500 will be priced around $60,000, but include more standard equipment than a base M340i.