2020 Lexus IS

2020 Lexus IS Review: The Velvet Sweatsuit Of Sport Sedans

by Morgan Carter

To paraphrase an old adage, the Lexus IS's body writes checks its powertrain can't cash. It certainly looks the part of a sport sedan with its aggressive styling, especially when dressed up in its F Sport apparel. But even with three engines on offer, ranging from a 241-horsepower turbo four-cylinder to a 311-hp V6, the sedan doesn't have the power of more performance-oriented rivals like the BMW 3 Series M Performance sedans. Nor does it have the same level of handling, although the F Sport models can still be quite fun around the odd bend in the road. Still, the Lexus offers quite a decent list of features, especially when it comes to safety. While it may not be the high-performance thriller it tries to be, the Lexus IS is still an enjoyable luxury sedan with a well-appointed and comfortable interior that should earn it some consideration from buyers who value luxury with a smattering of adventure.

2020 Lexus IS Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2019 IS?

The 2020 Lexus IS is available in a limited (900 units) Blackline Edition. On these custom models, the grille and wheels received Black accenting, while the steering wheel, door panels, and dashboard elements receive Indigo Blue accenting. After February 2020, Liquid Platinum and Redline will be dropped from the available color palette.

Pros and Cons

  • Head-turning aesthetic
  • Refined driving dynamics
  • Comfortable ride quality
  • Plenty of driver-assistance features
  • High-quality interior
  • Clumsy infotainment
  • Middling fuel economy
  • Unenergetic acceleration
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

2020 Lexus IS Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
IS 300
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
3.5-liter V6 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$38,560
IS 300 F Sport
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
3.5-liter V6 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$38,560
IS 350
3.5-liter V6 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$42,180
IS 350 F Sport
3.5-liter V6 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
8-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$42,180

IS Exterior

The luxury sport sedan rides on 17-inch wheels equipped with all-season tires and comes equipped with LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights. The front fascia plays host to the large hourglass spindle grille, mounted with the Lexus logo and bordered by large air-intakes. The body sports plenty of bold angles that hint at the sedan's performance-focused nature, with a sloping roof that ends in a jutting rear-end with dual exhaust tips peeking out beneath. A power moonroof is installed as standard, and larger 18-inch wheels are available on the upper trims.

2020 Lexus IS Front View Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Rear View Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Front Angle View \ Lexus
See All 2020 Lexus IS Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Advertising its sporty aspirations, the IS rides low to the ground at 56.3 inches tall. It is aggressively long at 184.3 inches and has a 110.2-inch wheelbase. It can fit into most parking bays without too much hassle with an overall width of 71.3 inches with its mirrors folded. The base rear-wheel-drive models weigh in at 3,583 lbs, while the all-wheel-drive Sports models max out at 3,737 lbs. This is on par with most performance-oriented midsize sedans.

  • Length 184.3 in
  • Wheelbase 110.2 in
  • Height 56.3 in
  • Max Width 71.3 in
  • Front Width 60.4 in
  • Rear Width 61.0 in

Exterior Colors

The color palette for the Lexus IS is not overly broad to begin with, and it is set to drop by two after February 2020. The non-Sport IS models can be dressed in Eminent White Pearl, Liquid Platinum, Atomic Silver, Nebula Gray Pearl, Caviar, Obsidian, and Redling. The F Sport models drop Eminent White Pearl from the list of choices and, instead, offer Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 at an additional cost of $595. The colors being dropped later in the year are Redline and Liquid Platinum.

  • Obsidian
  • Nebula Gray Pearl
  • Liquid Platinum
  • Atomic Silver
  • Caviar
  • Redline
  • Eminent White Pearl
  • Ultra White
  • Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0

IS Performance

Since each Lexus IS trim comes equipped with a fixed engine, and often drivetrain, performance varies quite widely across the range. The 241-hp turbo inline-four-cylinder engine on the rear-wheel-drive IS 300 and F Sport is quite underwhelming, bringing the average-weight sedan up to 60 mph in a sluggish 6.9 seconds. It does have the highest maximum speed of 143 mph, though.

The all-wheel-drive IS 300 and F Sport get a V6 that develops 260 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, and while it doesn't feel much more powerful than the base engine, the powertrain is able to make the 0 to 60 mph sprint almost a full second faster at 6.1 seconds. The top speed for these models is 142 mph, although it is still electronically limited, like the base powertrain.

The IS 350 and F Sport models are powered by a more impressive 311-hp V6 engine, although it isn't turbocharged like some rivals'. Paired with either rear- or all-wheel-drive, this powertrain is the highest performer with a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.6 seconds or 5.7 seconds, respectively. However, it has the lowest limited speed of 130 mph. Even its quickest guise, the Lexus comes up short against the standard BMW 3 Series, which makes the sprint in 5.3 seconds in its more athletic all-wheel-drive guise, while its all-wheel-drive M Performance variant flies past the 60 mph mark in a brisk 4.1 seconds.

2020 Lexus IS Front View Driving Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Wheel Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Engine Lexus

Engine and Transmission

Three engines are available on the sedan. The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 and F Sport get a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engine that develops 241 hp and 258 lb-ft. While the engine certainly isn't lacking power, and these are the lightest models available, the Lexus still doesn't feel overly energetic. You'll get around town in a timely fashion, but you won't be passing even the most middling of performance vehicles on the highway, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is a bit clunky.

The all-wheel-drive IS 300 and F Sport are equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 that develops a slightly higher 260 hp and a lower 236 lb-ft. The powertrain doesn't supply enough extra power to make much of a difference on the road, and the six-speed automatic transmission rowing the gears is unrefined.

The top-tier IS 350 and F Sport variant are available in either rear- or all-wheel-drive, and get a 3.5-liter V6 that develops a moderately more impressive 311 hp and 280 lb-ft. The powertrain still can't compete with most of the luxury sedan's rivals, especially those powered by turbo V6 engines, but it is a significant improvement over the other two available engines. You'll get around town quickly enough, and you will be able to pass most of the hoi polloi on the highway. A more refined eight-speed automatic gearbox rows the gears for the rear-wheel-drive models, while the all-wheel-drive models get an adequate six-speed automatic transmission.

  • Engines
    2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 3.5-liter V6 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Automatic, 8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The Lexus IS advertises itself as a sports sedan, but it simply cannot live up to the promises its aggressive styling makes. That's not to say it's a boring drive, but you'll never be fully satisfied like you would be in a more refined performance vehicle like the BMW 3 Series.

While it may not be overly quick, the IS sedan is quite composed on the road. It handles well enough, even at speed, but you'll push up against its limits a lot sooner than you would in rivals. However, those boundaries broaden quite a bit when you opt for one of the trims equipped with the F Sport kit.

Handling is significantly improved with the addition of an F Sport adaptive suspension and a limited-slip rear differential, which allows power to be redistributed to the wheel with the most grip, making high-speed maneuvers around sharp bends much safer and more enjoyable. The fact that these improvements don't negatively impact ride comfort much is impressive. And ride comfort is one of the Lexus' strongest points, showing its deference to luxury over pure performance.

Wind and road noise are minimal, thanks to a well-dampened, well-built cabin, and the V6 engine actually sounds quite nice when put through its paces.

IS Gas Mileage

The luxury sport sedan won't rock your world when it comes to fuel economy, but that's not what performance-focused vehicles are supposed to do, anyway. The base inline-four-cylinder engine, which comes only with rear-wheel-drive, gets the best mileage at an EPA-estimated 21/30/24 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. Also with rear-wheel-drive, the 311-hp V6 engine gets a slightly lower 20/28/23 mpg. Regardless of which engine you choose, any all-wheel-drive model gets the worst fuel economy at 19/26/21 mpg. By comparison, the BMW 330i and Audi A4, each with rear-wheel-drive, get a far more impressive 28/36/30 mpg and 27/36/30 mpg, respectively. With 17.4 gallons of premium gasoline available in the tank, the Lexus IS can cover 417 miles before needing to pull into a gas station.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    17.4 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 21/30 mpg
* 2020 Lexus IS 300 F SPORT RWD

IS Interior

The interior of the IS is the ideal counterpoint to its exterior, styled in a cockpit-like fashion that complements the vehicle's sporty aspirations. The front seats get preferential treatment when it comes to space and the bolstered sports seats further emphasize the driver-focused nature of the sedan. A low dash and high windows provide great visibility but the clunky infotainment suite and cluttered controls can be distracting. The cabin is well-built using quality materials, displaying the Lexus' leanings towards comfort and luxury.

2020 Lexus IS Steering Wheel Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Steering Wheel 1 Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Driver Seat Lexus
See All 2020 Lexus IS Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

There are seating appointments for up to five, though the rear seats are a bit too cramped to accommodate more than two average-sized adults. The seats are comfortable enough for long drives, but they aren't as well-bolstered as the available sports seats. Positioned low in the cockpit, these seats place the driver as close to the car's center of gravity as possible, further enhancing the driving experience. Headroom in either of the rows is adequate, if not overly generous, but the standard moonroof makes the cabin seem roomier. Legroom is more restrictive, however, even with the unique design of the front seats aimed at improving legroom for rear passengers. As standard, the driver's seat features ten-way power adjustability, with available heating and ventilation functions.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 44.8 in
  • Front Head Room 38.2 in
  • Rear Leg Room 32.2 in
  • Rear Head Room 36.9 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The interior of the Lexus is upholstered in Nuluxe synthetic leather, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces around the dash and door panels. Upscale materials advertise the sedan's leanings towards luxury and comfort, and the overall build quality is good. The standard IS models can be dressed in Chateau, Flaxen, Black or Nuance Black Nuluxe and receive Piano Black accent trim. If you opt for the F Sports models, you can choose from Black, Chateau, or Rioja Red Nuluxe with Dark Gray Streamline accent trim.

IS Trunk and Cargo Space

The cramped nature of the rear seats seems to extend to the Lexus' trunk, which offers a measly 10.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Considering that the IS leans more towards being a luxury sedan than simply a sports car, this is quite disappointing, and rivals like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series both beat it by a few cubic feet despite sporting similar overall dimensions. Don't expect to fit more than a half a dozen grocery bags into your Lexus. The rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split, but this doesn't add all that much extra space, especially given the restrictive rear seats.

There is enough small-item storage around the cabin to satisfy most sedan owners, with spacious front door pockets and a standard glove compartment. The front cupholders are a bit small, though, and the rear cupholders are hidden away inside the armrest, so you have to haul them out to use them.

2020 Lexus IS Trunk Space Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Maximum Cargo Space Lexus
2020 Lexus IS Side View Lexus
  • Trunk Volume
    10.8 ft³

IS Infotainment and Features

Features

Unlike many luxury vehicles, the Lexus IS comes equipped with most of its available features as standard. This includes the advanced safety features, which are grouped under the Lexus Safety System+ umbrella and comprise pre-collision mitigation, pedestrian detection, lane departure alert and adaptive cruise control. Other standard features include dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, a remote start function, a rearview camera, a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, an eight-way power-adjustable passenger seat and a power moonroof. Standard on the F Sport trims and available in packages are heated and ventilated front seats. Other available include driver-seat memory functions and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column.

Infotainment

The infotainment suite is a bit of a mixed bag. It gets quite a few nice features as standard, and even more when upgraded via the Navigation Package, but it lacks some modern basics like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On top of that, operating the features can be a hassle as the operating system isn't very user-friendly. The seven-inch multimedia display supports Bluetooth, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Amazon Alexa, and Siri Eyes Free and comes paired with a ten-speaker sound system. The 350 and 350 F Sport receive built-in navigation as standard, although it can be added to the lower trims via the aforementioned package, which further upgrades the screen to a 10.3-inch split-screen monitor that comes equipped with Lexus Enform App Suite and remote touch functionality. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is available, too.

IS Problems and Reliability

J.D. Power awards the Lexus IS an overall dependability score of 83 out of 100, placing it quite high in the rankings. Further proving the reliability of the luxury sedan, the IS has not been subject to recalls in the last three years. Lexus offers a 50,000-mile/48-month limited warranty on new purchases, while the powertrain is covered for 70,000 miles/72 months. Roadside assistance is provided for an unlimited number of miles over the first 48 months of ownership.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    6 Years \ 70,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    6 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    4 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Maintenance:
    1 Years \ 10,000 Miles

IS Safety

The sedan enjoys very high safety ratings, with five-stars from the NHTSA for overall crash testing. The IIHS's evaluation gives the IS an overall score of Good, the institute's highest rating.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

Standard safety features comprise ABS, EBD, traction and stability control, a rearview camera, and 10 airbags: including dual front, front side and side curtain. Unlike many luxury rivals, the Lexus IS comes equipped with an array of advanced safety features as standard, such as pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and intelligent high beams, all under the umbrella of the Lexus Safety System+. Further available features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rain-sensing wipers.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2020 Lexus IS a good car?

There isn't anything particularly wrong with the Lexus IS. It is a luxurious sedan with an upscale interior, plenty of advanced driver-assistance features, and impressive ride comfort. However, the IS advertises itself as a BMW 3 Series alternative, and it simply doesn't live up to those claims in terms of power and handling dynamics. In fact, the 3 Series, and other German rivals like the Audi A4, offer better fuel economy, utility, and reliability, too.

Dressed in its F Sport guise, the Lexus aspires to compete with performance variants of luxury sedans like the BMW 3 Series M Performance models, but it is sorely lacking in power with a 311-hp V6 engine being its most powerful option. And while the F Sport accouterments do improve handling quite a bit, they do not uplift the Lexus to the same level as the German road royalty.

It's true that a fully decked out Lexus IS won't cost you as much as a high-tier BMW or Audi, but you get what you pay for. So don't expect the Japanese sedan to offer the same levels of performance or fun. And, if you're looking at the luxury segment, don't you want to get your money's worth? You may be better off looking at a European brand if you want a high-performance luxury sedan.

🚘What's the Price of the 2020 Lexus IS?

The Lexus IS has a pretty high starting price, most likely because of its long list of standard features, but its top-most trims are cheaper than those of most luxury rivals. Getting behind the wheel of the entry-level IS 300 will cost you a somewhat hefty $38,560, while the AWD model adds $2,450. The IS 300 F Sport will set you back $41,755, while its AWD variant adds $2,050. The standard IS 350 asks for $42,180, and the F Sport variant hikes the price up to $45,375. The most expensive standard option is the IS 350 F Sport AWD, at $46,710. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and the manufacturer's destination charge of $1,025.

2020 Lexus IS Models

Four trim levels comprise the Lexus IS range for 2020: IS 300, IS 300 F Sport, IS 350, and IS 350 F Sport. A 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine powers the RWD IS 300 models, developing 241 hp and 258 lb-ft. The AWD versions get a stronger 3.5-liter V6 that develops 260 hp and 236 lb-ft. The IS 350 trims come equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that directs 311 hp and 280 lb-ft to either all four wheels or just the rear wheels. At any power level, the rear-wheel drivetrains are always paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while the all-wheel drivetrains get a six-speed automatic transmission.

The IS 300 rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and comes equipped with LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights. A power moonroof is installed as standard, and the cabin receives a seven-inch multimedia display, Bluetooth, Amazon Alexa, Siri Eyes Free, HD Radio, SiriusXM, and a ten-speaker sound system. Lexus Safety System+, comprising pre-collision avoidance, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control, covers the advanced driver-assistance features. A ten-way power driver's seat with lumbar support comes standard, with the front seats being heated on the AWD model. Ventilation can be added, too.

The IS 300 F Sport features unique styling over the standard model and gets an F Sport suspension, F Sport bolstered heated and ventilated front seats, and F Sport 18-inch alloy wheels. The AWD swaps out the drivetrain and equips all-season tires instead of summer tires.

The IS 350 upgrades the IS 300's equipment with 18-inch alloy wheels, while the IS 350 F Sport upgrades the IS 300 F Sport with an F Sport adaptive variable suspension and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential.

See All 2020 Lexus IS Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Since most of the features available to the Lexus IS come as standard, instead of being unlocked via trim upgrades, the most reliable way to customize your sedan is through the available packages. The Premium Package ($1,510) adds heated and ventilated front seats to the models that don't have them as standard, as well as driver-seat memory, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and heated exterior mirrors. The Navigation Package ($1,745) adds navigation to the models that don't receive it as standard, as well as a larger 10.3-inch split-screen display, remote touch, and Lexus Enform App Suite. The prices of packages may vary depending on what is already standard on the trim you are upgrading. Notable standalone options include triple-beam LED headlights ($1,160), and intuitive parking assistance ($500).

🚗What Lexus IS Model Should I Buy?

If looks and comfort are more important to you than performance, then the base IS 300 F Sport should do the trick. It receives all the features that come standard on the base IS 300, as well as upgraded front seats, and a more attractive exterior. However, you will be stuck with one of the lower-power engines. But the Lexus IS only really impresses when equipped with the 311-hp V6 engine, so we suggest aiming for the top, if money isn't an issue, and purchasing the fully-loaded IS 350 F Sport. This model gets all the available F Sport upgrades that allow it to make good on the high-performance promises its appearance espouses - at least, in part.

2020 Lexus IS Comparisons

BMW 3 Series Sedan BMW
Lexus ES Lexus
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Lexus IS241 hp21/30 mpg$38,560
BMW 3 Series Sedan 255 hp26/36 mpg$40,750
Lexus ES 302 hp22/33 mpg$39,900

2020 Lexus IS vs BMW 3 Series Sedan

The Lexus IS advertises itself as a sport sedan, but when placed beside a car from the manufacturer that basically set the benchmark, it falls horribly short of that line. The 3 Series from BMW is the very definition of what a sport sedan should be; it is powerful with either a 255-hp turbo four-cylinder or 382-hp turbocharged inline-six, offers peerless handling dynamics, and outfits itself with a high-quality luxury interior. It also has a more spacious interior, with better rear seats and a larger trunk and better fuel economy. Overall, there is no area where the Lexus IS really beats the German sedan. Yes, it may be a bit cheaper, but you get a lot more bang for your buck from the BMW, so we really can't recommend it over the 3 Series.

See BMW 3 Series Sedan Review

2020 Lexus IS vs Lexus ES

The Lexus ES is the larger brother the IS, and it doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: a large, luxurious cruiser. It offers a single engine option well-suited to its needs: a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine that develops 302 hp and 267 lb-ft paired with a front-wheel drivetrain only. The larger sedan is all about powerful cruising, jetting down highways without even feeling like you're moving, but it can't handle curves the way the IS can. It has a much more spacious and opulent interior, a larger trunk, and even gets better fuel economy. If you want a bit of a thrill out of your drive, the IS will appeal to you, but if you want to arrive at your destination feeling like you never left the comfort of your lounge, the ES is the sedan for you.

See Lexus ES Review

Lexus IS Popular Comparisons

See All 29 Comparisons

2020 Lexus IS Video Reviews

Check out some informative Lexus IS video reviews below.

$38,560 - $44,345
Price Range (MSRP)
Lexus IS