2021 Lexus IS debuts with new styling and greater emphasis on handling

Zac Palmer


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The reveals keep on coming today. Lexus just took the wraps off the 2021 Lexus IS sport sedan, the fourth generation of its small, sporty four-door. It may not look all that different on the outside, but Lexus is making heady claims that the driving experience is going to be the real head turner.

We’ll start with the looks, though. Lexus has only revealed the 2021 IS in F Sport trim, which is the most aggressive of all the models. The spindle grille again sits proudly in front. (Apparently, even non F Sport models have mini spindles within the grille design, so we hope you like spindles.) You’ll also see a new air intake below that grille. It’s meant to direct air to the brakes and assist in cooling. The slimmer headlights with a new LED pattern look sharp. Along the side, Lexus has implemented new rocker panels that kick up into the rear fender for a more aggressive stance. The view from the rear offers up the most noticeable change. Lexus has gone with the full-width taillight design, stretching the red element from one side of the trunk to the other. Those taillights feature more intricate sculpting, and the rear valance is finished in a glossy black. Lexus changed the exhaust tip look, too, opting for ovals this time.

But, onwards to the performance. The powertrain lineup hasn’t changed a bit. A Lexus IS 300 with rear-wheel drive continues to be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It makes the same 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque as before, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission only. However, Lexus says it’s been updated for “adaptive transmission control” that is better at choosing the appropriate gear for the driving situation. An all-wheel-drive IS 300 is also available, but it’s equipped with the 3.5-liter V6 that makes 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The all-wheel-drive IS 300 is also continuing to send the power through a six-speed automatic transmission exclusively. The system can send as much as 50% of torque to the front axle. The tip-top IS is the IS 350. It’s equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. With rear-wheel drive, it’s equipped with an eight-speed automatic, but the all-wheel-drive version is equipped with a six-speed auto. Lexus says the rear-drive IS 350 will get to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, while the all-wheel-drive car gets there in 5.7 seconds.

None of that is particularly noteworthy, as it’s mostly just carryover from last year. Lexus attacked the chassis and suspension, however, with a heavy hand. For starters, Lexus made the body more rigid. Engineers reinforced the radiator supports, increased the number of front-side-member weld points and optimized the reinforcement structures from the C-pillars to the sides of the roof. It’s fitted with new coil springs that are 20% lighter than before. Lexus is also using forged aluminum instead of steel for the A-arms (18% weight reduction) and made the suspension stabilizer bar from a “new material”) that results in a 17% weight reduction. New shocks are also fitted for improved damping in more conditions.

If you opt for the F Sport’s Dynamic Handling Package (DHP), you’ll also get new 19-inch matte black BBS wheels that are four pounds lighter than the standard 19-inch wheels on the F Sport models. DHP package cars also feature a re-tuned adaptive suspension, Torsen limited-slip differential (rear-drive only) and an even more aggressive Sport S+ mode accessible via the drive mode selector. Aesthetically, the DHP also includes a carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, side mirror caps, Lexus Card Key and contrast stitching on the center console’s knee pad.

Regular F Sport sedans have the wider tires (265-section-width) and a host of other upgrades. You get a “cool air intake with sound generator,” special F Sport exhaust and a diffuser. Lexus fits a unique front bumper and rear bumper, along with other minor changes and F Sport badges all around. On the inside, you get F Sport-specific seats (available in Circuit Red), an F Sport leather wrapped shifter, an F Sport instrument cluster display and aluminum pedals. Lexus claims its Active Sound Control system has been improved to enhance the sounds of the V6, but we’ll see about that.

The interior features a couple other noteworthy new features. Lexus has moved the infotainment screen closer to the driver and given it touch control, just like the 2020 Lexus RX. The standard touchscreen is an eight-inch unit, but opt for navigation or the Mark Levinson sound system, and you get a 10.3-inch touchscreen. Both feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. The Mark Levinson system has been upgraded with more speakers (17 speakers) and a more power amplifier.

Lexus’ full suite of driver assistance features round out the new tech found in the 2021 IS. You get it all, from Lexus’ adaptive cruise control to the Lane Tracing Assist that’ll help keep you centered in your lane. It all comes as standard equipment. Hint, hint, Germans. 

The new IS is slated to arrive in dealers come fall this year. Pricing hasn’t been revealed yet, so look for it closer to launch.

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