Lexus believes BMW has left the door open for a more agile and sporty IS sedan to steal sales from the German manufacturer's latest 3-Series, which it says has been tuned for more for comfort than handling ability.
Speaking at a pre-production drive of the next IS in California, Lexus chief engineer Junichi Furuyama said the small BMW's move towards ride comfort meant that a more dynamic IS would appeal to disaffected BMW customers.
"I was a little shocked when I first drove the 3-Series but the trend right now is in the direction of comfort.
"BMW has achieved the brand image of sporty driving but most of their customers want the comfort, yet there is what we call the hard-core BMW customer - we call them the freaks - who are disappointed by this trend.
"We want to appeal to these customers while, of course, keeping the traditional values of Lexus."
While it is no surprise the IS is aimed fair and square at BMW's small sedan - the first IS200 had suspiciously similar specifications including an in-line six cylinder engine and rear-wheel-drive - it is unusual for a senior Lexus engineer to openly criticise the main opposition.
Mr Furuyama said the next IS, which is due to be shown to the public at the Detroit motor show in January and go on sale in Australia in about mid-2013, was benchmarked against the 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class during its development. He believes it is sportier than both.
"When developing the IS, we set ourselves the target goal to be the best fun-to-drive car in the D segment," he said.
To achieve that goal, the new IS gets a more rigid body than before thanks to the use of new welding techniques as well as adhesives to bond body panels.
Some 25 metres of adhesive line has been used around areas including door and windscreen openings, rear wheel arches and the frontal structure.
The IS uses a shortened version of the GS model's platform and shares that car's basic suspension and steering design. Compared with the current IS, changes include a front stabiliser bar that is 20 per cent stiffer for improved roll stiffness and steering precision, while the new rear suspension was designed to improve rear grip while also improving boot space.
The tuning of the electric power steering was also calibrated with the aim of increasing steering feel and providing "tangible contact with the road surface."
Australia will initially get two IS models, the 2.5-litre V6 IS 250 and 3.5-litre IS 350. The petrol/electric hybrid IS 300h will not be sold from launch, but is under consideration for the Australian market.
Lexus has not released power figures for the IS250 and IS350, but they are likely to be similar or identical to the GS 250's 154kW and GS 350's 233kW outputs.
Both engines have been fitted with an air intake system designed to give an aggressive note under hard acceleration, a clear move away from Lexus' previous stance that silence inside the car is indeed golden.
Even the hybrid model gets a sound generator that feeds an artificially produced engine note through to the cabin via speakers. It can be turned on or off, and comes with a volume control.
While the IS 250 will come with the same six-speed automatic as that in the GS, the IS 350 gets the eight-speed auto from the current high-performance, V8-powered IS-F.
The IS will be available in an F Sport model that offers not only a cosmetic upgrade, but also a "Sport-plus" driving mode that recalibrates its adaptive variable suspension, transmission behaviour and variable gear ratio steering for improved dynamics if the driver desires.
Other variants get the same Drive Mode Select knob on the centre console to choose between Eco, Normal and Sport modes, but not the F-Sport's Sport-plus driving mode.
As seems usual these days, suspension and steering calibration were carried out in BMW's backyard at Germany's high-speed Nurburgring north circuit. Furuyama-san, a racing driver and avid PlayStation Gran Turismo enthusiast, carried out some of the driving duties himself.
And did he think the goal had been achieved of outgunning the equivalent 3-Series and C-Class variants?
"We believe so," he said.
- Sydney Morning Herald