Triple take

THREE-WAY TEST BMW M4 vs Lexus RC F vs Jag F-Type Coupť V6 S

by DAVID MORLEY pics CRISTIAN BRUNELLI

5.0-litre V8, blown V6 and twin-turbo straightsix: three different takes on the sports coupe question, but which answers it best?

BMW M4 Munich's mauler

M4 is the fastest here, so no surprise it also has the best power-to-weight ratio.

Itís also the most practical with four useable seats and a decent boot. And some on the test would say it has the nicest interior of our three performance combatants

Twin turbos give the BMW a potency and urgency that the others can't get near

S S ee, itís some kind of wonder that the sports coupť hasnít, over the years, been honed by successive trends to arrive at a homogenous design that all manufacturers strive to attain.

But when you line these three up, itís clear that this has never happened. They look different from each other, theyíre all powered differently and each one has different strengths and weaknesses. Yet theyíre all vying for the same dollar. Clearly, here is proof of the concept that money buys you choices.

Either way, thereís a lot to take in here.

Take, for instance, the BMW M4. The hottest 4-Series has been given what BMW calls a life-cycle impulse. Thatís facelift to you and me. The big change has been to slice thousands out of the price to avoid the M4 and the new M5 Pure getting their feet tangled on the dance floor. With a 317kW twin-turbo straight six and a seven-speed DCT, the M4 represents a modern approach with that in-line engine as a nod to its past. And the new $149,900 price tag will attract attention.

The Lexus is, despite the brand being all about cutting edge, kind of the old-school hot rod in this company. An atmo 5.0-litre V8 and 351kW tells the story, but so does its kerb weight of 1860kg (claimed).

A downsized New Ager it is not. But the $133,110 sticker price is the lowest here and puts the Lexus further into context.

And then thereís the wild card of sorts Ė the Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S. With a supercharged V6 good for 280kW, itís a few rungs down the horsepower ladder in this trio, and its $151,380 ask Ė before you add any fruit Ė doesnít do it any favours either. Itís also the only one here that is not the top-flight version of its breed, with the supercharged V8 F-Type R casting a big shadow over the V6. HmmÖ While the F-Type might draw on the E-Type for external inspiration, inside itís a different story. But if it isnít ye olde worlde drawing room stuff, itís still nicely executed with everything pretty much where you'd expect it. The electric park brake grates (for me, anyway) and in some ways is even worse than the foot-operated example in the Lexus. Only the BMW gets it right with a conventional hand brake.

Thanks to the manual gearbox fitted to our test car, the Jaguar is a bit of a one-button job when it comes to selecting the appropriate driving mode. You press the button to sharpen the throttle and open the exhaust and leave it at that for the most part. The BMW is, in contrast, vastly more complicated. There are three small buttons by the gear selector for the choosing the throttle rate, damper firmness and steering weight.

Then thereís another button nearby that controls shift aggression, and all have three settings to choose from.

And then you have a pair of M buttons on the steering wheel, both of which can be configured through the on-board menu system to make a one-touch version of all those other buttons. Seems like doubling up a bit to me, but anyway.

The Lexus is somewhere between the other two with a rotary switch on the centre console for moving between comfort and sporty modes. Itís all still a bit fiddly, though, but when youíve finally dialled everything including the active rear diff up to ĎKillí, you get a little ĎExpertí message on the dash. Nice. But mostly unwarranted. Beyond that, the Lexus interior looks and feels a bit overdone to me. Sure, the BMWís

Away from the drag strip, the Jaguar doesn't feel like it's giving much away

fake carbonfibre trim is equally naff, but at least the M4's dashboard looks like it was designed in one go.

Not so the RC Fís layout, which is more all over the place with different levels and sticky-outy bits for no apparent reason.

The Lexus does, however, have the pick of the chairs with great support and comfort (and they even look good). Not that the others are less than comfy, but the RC Fís seemed to fit me better although the rest of the cabin is a bit tight on headroom with the sunroof fitted. And you will be twisting around a bit when reversing because the Lexus has a pretty limited view to the rear. The F-Type is even worse with the same restricted rear three-quarter view and an even more limited view out through that slanted rear glass. About the only thing the rear-view mirror shows a bloke my height is the roof lining. And letís not forget that the F-Type is the only strictly two-seater here, although the Lexus rear pew is going to be used for soft luggage more often than not. It's a shame the Jag canít pull this trick off because luggage space in the Jaguarís hatch is tiny. Pack light, lovers.

All of which makes the BMW the logical, practical alternative here. Not only is luggage space good, the rear seat is actually useable. Itís a four-seater in the real world, not just in the brochure. Add the fact that the more upright glasshouse makes for a far better view in every direction and you have yourself a sensible sportster. Itís even easier to get in and out of.

At the drag strip, a very clear pecking order emerges quick smart. In fact, in about 12.57 seconds, because thatís how long it takes the M4 to blaze its way down the quarter mile. Itís doing 188.8km/h through the traps, too, and gets to 100 in a very handy 4.62 seconds. Those turbos make it very mid-rangey, and from 80-120km/h takes just 2.37sec. And itís worth remembering that those numbers were all done without the use of BMWís launch-control.

Why? Because itís rubbish, thatís why. Oh, the M4 is not alone in that boat Ė plenty of other big-power rear-drivers have useless launch systems Ė but the BeeEm's is up there with the silliest of them. Even using the cruise control buttons to lower the launch revs makes no difference: The tyres unhook almost immediately and the engine boings into the limiter and sits there. So the quickest times were recorded with nothing more than a humanís in-built launch control and the second quickest times were done with the traction control switched on. Hope BMW hasnít added too much to the price for launch control.

The Lexus was next quickest and a good chunk back with a 13.25sec at 177.8km/h and a 0-100 time of just a tenth over five seconds neat. It also managed to get from 80 to 120km/h in under three seconds. What was a bit surprising was how consistent it was with the traction control turned off. Okay, so itís an auto,

Jaguar F-Type Coventryís sex kitten

For reasons only it knows, Jaguar has decided to spend a decent whack of money developing a six-speed manual íbox for the F-Type Ė hoorah! Itís available on the V6 models and will save you $5000

but it ran 13.2, 13.2 and 13.2, time and time again.

And when you consider how damn heavy the Lexus is (plenty, trust us) thatís even more impressive.

Based on the kilowatts the Jaguar gives away to the other two, itís no surprise that it was slower. But the manual gearbox also plays against it on the dragstrip, both in terms of consistency and outright ability, as well as dictating that thereís no launch-control system in the manual F-Type. Our best of 13.64sec isnít exactly hanging around, but that was its absolute best and a poor launch or a duff shift or two can easily blow things out into the 14-second bracket. That 13.64 gave us a 0-100 time of 5.42sec, a terminal velocity of 170.25km/h and an 80-120km/h time of 3.7sec. So, while it trails the Lexus by a bit and the BMW by a lot more, itís still not what youíd call a slow car. Not by any means.

But it wasnít entirely convincing as a bomb-proof proposition with the clutch feeling like it was suffering a bit. Fast shifts on the strip felt like it had the engine either bogging slightly as you dumped the clutch, but it could also have been the clutch getting hot and bothered and not engaging solidly, allowing the driveline to take a small breather between gears.

Whatís also interesting is that away from the hotmix and Christmas tree, the Jag doesnít feel like itís giving that much away. Oh sure, itís never as feisty as the others on the road, but it has plenty up its sleeve for overtaking and hauling along in a tall gear at a moderate speed. Thanks to the fact that a supercharger is on the job from idle, the Jag builds power fairly linearly and simply piles on more as you get higher on the tacho face.

The Lexus is different because it needs a few revs up before itís really hauling. Like all good atmo lumps, the V8 has a distinct two-stage feel and in the RC F that step-up occurs at about 3500rpm and lasts until about 7000. Within that zone, thereís grunt aplenty, but below that the Lexus is still flexible, but doesnít ripple the tarmac to the same extent. It sure as hell gets your pulse going as the tacho needle sweeps past 3500rpm, though, the note deepening as the V8 starts to really winch in the horizon.

And the BMW? Well, thereís just nowhere on the tacho to hide. The boost builds quickly and from ridiculously low engine speeds to absolutely cannon you out of corners. That turbo rush also gives the BMW an urgency and potency that the others canít get near. But where the M4 falls down is in the refinement department. Okay, so performance is clearly king in a car like this, but should it be at the expense of so much smoothness?

Iím not entirely sure whatís going on here, but it could be that BMW has tried to engineer some character into the M4ís 3.0-litre straight six. Problem is, it ainít a smooth, sophisticated character; it has

Lexus RC F Nagoyaís brawler

RC F body structure is extremely stiff but unfortunately itís also extremely heavy; at 1860kg itís a whopping 266kg heavier than the Jag and 323kg heavier than the M4

As the Lexus's tacho sweeps past 3500rpm, its 5.0-litre V8 starts to winch in the horizon

, Dept of Interior

BMW M4

The nicest cabin here. iDrive system, years ago a favourite gripe of ours, now the best infotainment system around. Steering, suspension, drivetrain all individually adjustable.

JAGUAR F-TYPE V6 S

Driver-focused cockpit not as solid as the BMWís but feels special thanks to touches like the air vents rising out of the dash.

Manual íbox has a decent shift though is set a little too far back for comfort.

LEXUS RC F

A bit all over the shop.

More levels than an innercity apartment block and there are buttons, rotary dials and a touchpad that almost makes you wish for Lexusís old mouse system.

Comfy chairs and plenty of equipment, though.

more of a rough-arsed feel that reminds me of the grumpy old pushrod sixes of my yoof. Does BMWís habit of playing part of the soundtrack through the stereo system have something to do with all this?

Dunno, but I do know it doesnít feel like a traditional BMW in-line six. And Iíve driven enough of these now to know that this is not an isolated case; this is how they all feel.

That lack of finesse extends to the chassis and steering, too. The adjustability of the steering affects only the weight, but none of the available settings feel quite right. Itís probably nicest in Comfort as the Sport and Sport Plus settings simply make it more difficult to budge off-centre without actually adding to the accuracy. Speaking of accuracy, itís actually pretty good, but it just doesnít want to talk you much about it. The ride is firm, no question, but left in Comfort mode you will actually get used to it after a short time. It never feels quite right, though, and the smallamplitude, small-deflection stuff worries it a bit. Midcorner bumps are the worst. A particular crater on our drive loop had the BMWís front end using up just about all its travel, while the same hole sent the Lexusí front-left crashing into the bump stop.

The pay-off there is that the Lexus rides a little better but it still has pretty dead steering feedback. That said, it is probably almost as accurate as the BMWís tiller.

The big downfall is in its transmission, which feels a bit lazy and unpredictable in some situations while the BMWís DCT is sharp, intelligent and never throws up any surprises in terms of ratio choice.

Being a manual, if the Jag wrong-slots you, itís your own fault, but itís worth saying that the shift action is very good and the engine is flexible enough that you can pull sixth at 80km/h happily and without

stressing the car. If anything, the steering is just as lethargic at the straight ahead as the others but thanks to the lighter engine, it feels a little better balanced at speed. If you ask me, Iíd say it has a little less spring and a little more travel than the others because when it came to that test-loop crater, the Jag just floated over it. I even did it a second time to make sure I hadnít missed it first time through. Despite its short wheelbase, the F-Type is the best riding car of this lot and probably the best suited to local road conditions.

Never saw that coming, did you?

The Lexus RC F is a competent, swift and well-made car but neither finishes first on a cerebral level nor on an emotional one. And that has to mean it only gets to stand on the third step of the podium.

If you approach this with your head, the BMW is an easy winner. Itís faster, grippier, has better brakes and is somehow, despite all that, vastly more practical than the other two. Hell, itís even better value when you look at the kit it carries.

But for me personally, Iíd be driving away in the Jag.

Limited space? Relative lack of oomph? Couldnít give a monkeyís to be honest. Itís just big enough, is fast enough in isolation and it just moves me. In particular, that exhaust note has got to be among the best around and itís the comfiest of the bunch. And that stuff about the V6 being the poor relation to the V8 F-Type? As Tony Soprano once said: "Fugg-edaboudit". M