2008 Lexus IS-F

Brian Konoske
2008 Lexus IS-F

V-8 Sport Sedan Smackdown

Twenty years ago, the Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars that created this lunatic-small-sport-sedan category beat up the big-boy sports cars by using highly tweaked four-cylinder engines under their hoods. But now, this segment is chock-full of V-8s. What happened? Weight.

Today's "Baby Benz" C63 weighs just as much as the S-class did back then. The same goes for the M3 - it weighs almost as much as the 1980s 7-series. It seems our baby sedans aren't really babies anymore - they're big, heavy fighting machines. There are now four V-8-powered competitors in this segment.

Here are the cars that the Lexus IS-F will go up against when it goes on sale early in 2008.

Audi RS4

The 2004 Audi S4 was the first sport sedan in this class with a V-8. Its 340-hp, 4.2-liter engine made seven ponies more than the benchmark E46-chassis M3, but its heavy all-wheel-drive system meant that it could never quite keep up with the BMW. Three years later, the 420-hp RS4 stunned everyone by besting the six-cylinder M3 not only on straight roads but in the corners, too.

Unlike the S4, the RS4 isn't just an A4 with a big engine and a few suspension tweaks. Its completely revised suspension gives a firm-but-never-harsh-ride, and the V-8 is strong throughout its ultrabroad rev range.

The RS4 is nearing the end of its life as Audi starts production on the next A4. But from behind the wheel, nothing about it feels like last-generation goods. It's still the only all-wheel-drive car here, and unlike the Lexus and the Mercedes, it has three pedals.

BMW M3

The M3's 8400-rpm V-8 makes about as much power as the Audi's but with 0.2 liters less displacement, and its haunting, tenor exhaust note sounds even better. Its well-balanced chassis has a surprisingly easy time coping with all the power, although power oversteer is still very much an integral part of the experience.

Available only as a coupe (at least for now; we expect that a sedan version will debut at the L.A. auto show in late November, followed by a convertible in 2008), the M3 gives up a little practicality to its four-door brethren, and preliminary drives have given us the impression that the brakes arent up to repeated abuse.

Nevertheless, the M3 still owns this segment. Its weight might have ballooned over four generations, and its cylinder count might have doubled, but it has remained true to its manual-transmission, rear-wheel-drive roots.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

If the rest of the cars here are black cats, the C63 AMG is Pep Le Pew. Not in smell, of course, but in speed. If you recall, the lovestruck cartoon skunk always kept up with his disinterested feline objet damour without breaking asweat, no matter how hard she scrambled, scratched, and oversteered to get away.

It is with exactly such ease that the C63 AMG chases its prey. While the V-8s in the M3 and the RS4 are tuned to within a horsepower of their lives, the AMG engine was electronically detuned for C-class duty, and yet it still makes 148 lb-ft more torque than the M3's.

The seven-speed manu-matic performs perfect blip-throttle downshifts as you enter a corner. Add to that near-perfect chassis balance, spot-on suspension tuning, great brakes, and a plus-size cabin. The C63 might have dethroned the M3 if it weren't missing a clutch pedal.

*Please note that Lexus has just updated its earlier preliminary figures. The IS-F's top speed has been raised to 170 mph instead of the 168 mph indicated in the chart above.

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