by Jay Traugott
With the GS soon to be discontinued, Lexus needs a sedan in its lineup to sit below the LS flagship. That only leaves the IS, but instead of a complete redesign, the luxury carmaker opted to give it a significant overhaul instead. Introducing the 2021 Lexus IS, featuring familiar yet updated exterior styling, upgraded interior tech, and improved handling to better compete with the best in the segment.
Based on the third-generation IS that originally debuted in 2013, the 2021 IS improves upon last year's model in many categories. The engine lineup, save for one exception, remains the same with Lexus focusing more on the driving experience in order to make it a better luxury sport sedan. The interior, while also very familiar, features a number of convenience upgrades. All in all, the refreshed 2021 IS should have what it takes to keep the car relevant for the next several model years in one of the most competitive sedan segments.
At first glance, it might be hard to notice the styling differences compared to last year's model, but they're there. For starters, the 2021 Lexus IS boasts new slim LED headlights and optional triple-beam LED headlights. The now-familiar spindle grille has returned, though it's been redesigned with a three-dimensional structure.
On the F Sport trim, a cool mesh pattern is added along with a grille-bottom air intake for improved brake cooling, a unique rear bumper, rear lip spoiler, rocker molding, exhaust, and diffuser.
All trims have new rocker panels with a sharper contour leading up to the shoulders over the rear wheel wells. The taillights have also been redesigned. A set of 18-inch wheels are standard and, for the first time with the IS, 19-inch wheels are available. Five new exterior colors include Iridium, Cloudburst Gray, Matador Red Mica, Infrared, and Grecian Water.
The IS's interior layout already earned high marks, so Lexus knew not to mess with a good thing. The general focus was to improve tech features and overall convenience. The standard 8.0-inch touchscreen has been relocated three-inches closer to the driver for easier access, while a 10.3-inch touchscreen is optional. Both Apply CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and Amazon Alexa integration are standard. Other worthwhile standard features include 10-way power driver and 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seats and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The F Sport trim comes with unique graphic patterns on the doors. Piano Black accents throughout, and those who opt for the Dynamic Handling Package receive what's described as "decorative ornamentation," a series of new finishes that can be had in Black Metallic paint, Black Geometic Film, or Ash. A 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system totaling 1,800 watts is optional.
The base IS 300 soldiers on with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Need all-wheel-drive? There's the mid-level IS 300 AWD, powered by the same 3.5-liter V6 with 260 hp and 236 lb-ft mated to a 6-speed automatic.
The more potent IS 350 is available in either rear- or all-wheel-drive. Power comes from the same V6 though it's tuned to produce an even healthier 311 hp and 280 lb-ft. Lexus claims the IS 350 RWD sprints to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds while the AWD variant does the task in 5.7 seconds.
To enhance handling, the suspension has been reengineered with 20% lighter coil springs, new A-arms made from forged aluminum instead of steal, resulting in an 18% weight reduction, and new shock absorbers to help improve responsiveness on a variety of road surfaces.
The Lexus Safety System+ safety suite is standard, a package that includes frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian and bicyclist detection.
Lexus says sales are due to begin in late fall and official pricing and other relevant details will be announced closer to that time. However, we don't expect to see a dramatic change in price. The outgoing 2020 model begins at $38,560 and tops off at around $45,000.