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Has "carsguide" Published The World's Worst Lexus Review?

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Around the world, there's been dozens of reviews written about the third-generation Lexus IS, particularly the IS 350 F Sport. And I've read most of them, either before or after my own purchase of the F Sport. Most give credit where credit's due, while each author gives their own opinion of the minuses: the exterior styling, the foot brake, the weight, the relatively thirsty 3.5-litre engine and so on. The authors' verdicts may differ, yet the vast majority of reviews are comprehensive, and focus on the aspects of the vehicle that matter, both to the audience and the seasoned motoring journalist.

I was rather amused, then, that a recent Australian review of the IS 350 F Sport by a supposedly experienced Australian journalist was factually inaccurate, embarassingly superficial and puerile.

Joshua Dowling carries the title of "National Motoring Editor, News Limited". To be more exact, he is a freelance journalist that used to work for Fairfax, but now spends most of his time commentating on motoring industry news of interest to the masses, such as the local Holden factory shutdown. He isn't the chief editor of News' Carsguide, and you can count the number of car reviews he's authored for Carsguide in 2013 on one hand. A motoring journalist of 20 years, he has also had the pleasure of being flown this year to an Porsche international launch event, the Tokyo Motor Show and to the US to review the Chevrolet SS.

On 25 December (yes, Christmas!), Carsguide published Dowling's review of the 350. It begins with the requisite blurb about Lexus taking it up to the Germans, falling short of success and devising a response. Amazingly, it then criticises the pricing:

When the first IS sedan was released ... 14 years ago, one of its advantages was a long list of standard equipment, which were often extra cost options on the European marques. But times have changed ... The car we're testing however is the current flagship of the IS sedan range, the IS350 F-Sport, which starts at $84,000. For that sort of money you're within striking range of super-efficient twin-turbo power from the German brands; in the Lexus you get a relatively low-tech and thirsty 3.5-litre V6 that's been around since Noah's Ark.

Calling the F Sport the "flagship" is inaccurate in itself, but I'll avoid nitpicking. The point is, Dowling has mixed up two distinct model grades. It's the Sports Luxury, not the F Sport, that starts at $84,000; the price of the F Sport, before on-road costs, is $73,000 with solid black paint. It appears the model equipped with active cruise control was tested; that variant is $85,000-$90,000 on the road. The equivalent on-road price of a 200 kW-plus German model, including options that Lexus includes as standard, is around $110,000-$120,000 for an Audi A4 and around $120,000 for a Mercedes-Benz C Class or BMW 335i. The naturally-aspirated engine's fuel usage is mentioned in the context of value for money. Most IS 350 owners will pay around $5,000 in fuel over 5 years; but you could travel 25,000 km a year for ten years, and still have a lower cost of ownership than a German rival.

Fourteen years after the first IS was released, the Lexus is still thousands of dollars cheaper than an equivalently-specified German model, and the fuel economy of the Germans doesn't make up for the higher sticker price. A veteran journalist should know these facts, so one wonders whether Dowling has disguised the cost of the Lexus IS to make it appear more expensive to own than any of the mentioned rivals.

Dowling's reference to "Noah's Ark", and the "crude" and "old tech" engine might make him sound like a technophile at first, but it belies both his aversion to technology as well as his hypocrisy. He questions the effort required to use the Remote Touch to program a radio station while driving when, in fact, most IS owners would use the in-built digital radio to browse to their favourite FM station, without the need to scan the frequency range and then "store" the discovered station. He belittles the driving modes by stating that Lexus was "feeling the need to add a gadget or two", while both complimenting the handling of the IS and criticising its fuel economy. Both seem important to Dowling, but it's lost on him that the driving modes can optimise fuel economy and handling. Dowling writes,

As with most cars in this class, the Lexus IS has all the electronic gadgets covered, with lane departure warning, blind spot alert, radar cruise control and lots of other stuff that will have you looking for the "off" switch.

Not only are all of these features optional in the three Germans, but Dowling suggests they don't appeal to motorists. And yet, he suggests in one of his other few model-related articles of 2013 that Ford Mustang "enthusiasts" will be pleased with the inclusion of such features in the upcoming model. Furthermore, a reference to the 2GR engine as "last night's dinner reheated" wasn't applied to Dowling's glowing review of the 2014 Chevrolet SS, the LS3 engine of which is five years older.

Granted, Lexus expected negative feedback on their recent styling decisions, but to spend over 20% of the car review criticising the IS's exterior appearance highlights the article's lack of depth in other aspects of importance. The rest of the article has other inaccuracies. The F Sport has eight airbags, not ten, and Dowling suggests that the eight-speed transmission "helps with brisker acceleration off the line". Dowling also confuses intentional design with build quality when discussing the gap between the headlights and the bonnet lid, and suggests that a tyre pressure warning indicator was a "fault" when it could have been easily corrected if he bothered to read the manual. Considering this together with the inaccuracies in pricing, one wonders whether Dowling was going out of his way to discredit Lexus' well-acclaimed hallmarks of value for money and build quality.

So, why does a journalist - who generally doesn't bother to write a car review unless it involves an overseas trip - decide to review a Lexus IS model in Australia? And, given that the review reads like the journalist has had the car for an hour - not a week - why does News decide to publish it on the one day of the year with the lowest readership levels? Why publish it at all?

It turns out that Dowling is one of two Australian-based judges for the World Car Awards. As the Lexus IS is shortlisted for the 2014 World Car of the Year (WCOTY), Dowling is duty-bound to review it by 1 February.

Unfortunately, Joshua Dowling's amateurish and misleading review is a poor contribution to the WCOTY judging process. It's time for the Dowling to stop riding on his accomplishments of yesteryear, get off the journalism gravy-train and make way for a panel judge who can write reviews that are accurate, thorough and unbiased.

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I get the impression that some motoring journos try to underrate Lexus cars.Sure they have some faults but doesn't any car.I'd rather a Lexus than a MB or worse still BMW.Sure they 're well designed and have the edge on Lexus in that regard but reliability!!It's a no contest.

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Top Gear Australia magazine has a 350 F Sport on a long term test (finally) that they will be reviewing each month over the next few months.

Should be good as they were mightily impressed with the GS350 F Sport they had recently too.

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is this the engine that came out with the last generation IS350? direct injection, and 233kW?

If so, surely it's not that old as I believe it was a completely new engine, not just a modification of the 2grFE engine (202kW one used in RX350, Toyota Aurion)



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is this the engine that came out with the last generation IS350? direct injection, and 233kW?

If so, surely it's not that old as I believe it was a completely new engine, not just a modification of the 2grFE engine (202kW one used in RX350, Toyota Aurion)

I also thought the reference to the engine being "around since Noah's Ark" could not have specifically referred to the IS 350's 2GR-FSE, as it only first appeared in production cars in 2006. So I thought Dowling was having a go at the GR generation of engines, which first appeared in 2003. In comparison, the first GM LS family engine appeared in 1998.

Alternatively, Dowling could have made such a reference just because, well, the IS' engines are naturally aspirated. And anything else is, in comparison, high-tech ...? That's a subjective point of view, and one is entitled to it; but the point is that the age of the technology didn't seem to matter with his review of the SS.

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