Modifying a Lexus Vs. a Subaru — Which Brand Comes On Top?

As many of you know, the roots of our business is in many projects modifying Subaru WRX.  In the last three years, we have been hard at work developing the Lexus IS/GS/RC350 platform and making sure that our customers can extract the maximum performance from these cars, at a reasonable price. Our IS/RC/GS 300/350 supercharger kits now produce a reliable 445whp output, all while maintaining the excellent reliability of the stock engine and transmission. We offer a range of other products, such as suspension and brake upgrades to bring these cars up to true ultra-high levels of performance.

So how does the 3rd generation IS300/350 platform stack up the wildly popular Subaru WRX and STI’s?  We did a little analysis, evaluating everything from purchase price to cost of upgrades.  Here is what we found:

Purchase Price

We started by doing a quick search of the used market, comparing the 2014 Lexus IS350 to the 2014 Subaru STi.  We found 20 available Lexus IS350’s within a 100 mile search radius, versus only 10 STI listings.  So right away, it’s obvious the selection of IS’s is much better, making it easier to find the car you want.  Additionally, virtually every 2014 IS350 will be unmolested, whereas the same cannot be said for the STI’s!

Comparing purchase price  we found that the average price for a 2014 IS350 was $24,600 versus $26,900 for the STI (as of Ocrober 2018).  That’s another advantage of the Lexus, and quite amazing given the list price when new for the Lexus is typically $10,000+ higher.  Clearly, the Lexus is a much better deal in the used car market.

Comparing the Obvious

No offense to the Subaru, but just sitting in the Lexus, it is clearly obvious you didn’t just buy an econobox. Interior and build quality are in another league versus the Subaru.  Also, the IS platform doesn’t have any $20k variants, so no one is likely to confuse your new ride with a cheaper model.

Drivetrain Choices

One of the great things about the Lexus is that you can choose either RWD or AWD depending on preference.  Both transmission choices on the IS are very good, both the 6 speed AWD or 8 speed RWD automatics shift faster than 95% of folks who drive manuals.  We wish Lexus would still offer a  manual transmission, but they only offered it on the IS250.

Comparing the Chassis

The Subaru chassis has several distinct disadvantages that are difficult to overcome.  The biggest problem is the heavily front-biased weight distribution.  STi’s typically are about 60f/40r whereas the IS platform is at 54f/46r.  Ask anyone who prepares track cars, getting closer to the 50/50 balance translates to a significant handling advantage.

Additionally, Lexus employs a more sophisticated double wishbone front suspension versus the STi’s struts.  The double wishbone suspension design is superior for several reasons.  First, a double wishbone suspension requires less static camber because camber increases with suspension travel.  Secondly, the shock absorber does not act as a structural part of the suspension as it is with a MacPherson strut.  Consequently, lateral cornering forces are not translated to the shock absorber, allowing the shock absorber to be more responsive and move with greater precision.  The bottom line is….  Purpose built race cars use double wishbone suspension, and you will never find a purpose built race car with MacPherson struts!

Its also nice that you have the option of RWD or AWD when you buy a Lexus.  Both transmissions are strong, and ship faster than 95% of manual transmission drivers.  They also don’t require clutch replacement or clutch upgrades.

Lexus employs a sophisticated AWD system that typically splits torque output 50/50, but can sent all torque to the front or rear wheels depending on traction.

The Engines

Having modified Subaru’s for many years, let us summarize the Subaru market.  Many Subaru vendors are readily willing to sell you big turbos, manifolds, and other parts to get the Subie to 400hp, 500hp, or more.  But the dirty little secret is that they know you will blow your engine, usually sooner than later.  When you inevitably blow your engine, they will be there for you to sell you a new engine 😉

So while the initial cost of purchasing our $6600 supercharger kit may be higher than a typical Subaru turbo/injector/tune upgrade… the initial cost of modding the Subie is misleading and a gross underestimate of what it takes to make a 500hp STi reliable.

When it comes to high power reliability, the boxer 4 is at a big disadvantage versus the Lexus 2GR-FSE v6.  First of all, having an extra 2 cylinders to handle an output of 500hp is a bid advantage.  This equates to less stress on bearings, and significantly less stress per cylinder.   The boxer 4 engine also suffers from oiling issues, partly caused by oil slosh to the cylinder heads.  The 2GR-FSE has significantly more bearing surface area to distribute bearing load.

The 2GR-FSE engine also employs timing chains rather than belts, as well as piston oil squirters to reduce piston temperature – a critical feature for long term reliability under high stress conditions.

The bottom line is, a long-term reliable output of 500hp on stock Subaru pistons is NOT going to happen.  The Subaru boxer needs an engine rebuild, and even with a rebuilt engine, bearings are a weak-point.

Low Cost of Ownership

One thing to always consider when you modify your car is what happens if everything goes wrong.  What is the cost of making a repair.  Conventional wisdom is that Lexus is a high end car, and cost of replacement components is high – this could not be further from the truth!

We did a quick search on to see what the typical cost is for a replacement engine or transmission.  Typical low mileage engines (Under 50,000 miles) go for $2000-$3500.  Transmission prices are equally affordable.  We found several used 8-speed automatics with less than 20,000 miles for around $800!  That’s less than the cost of a typical STI clutch job, lolJ

Why are Lexus parts affordable?   Well, first of all, the 2GR-FSE engine has been in production since 2006, so there are literally hundreds of thousands of cars produced over the years.  Secondly, they are very reliable, so it is very rare that engines need replacement.  Thirdly, these cars typically don’t get abused by their owners.