Lexus says that the updated IS is more communicative than before.
Last week, Lexus confirmed that the significantly revised IS would break cover today, almost a week after originally scheduled, and here it is. Although the 2021 Lexus IS is often touted as a new model, it's more of a comprehensive facelift but couldn't have come sooner, as the IS faces stiff competition from newer rivals like the BMW 3 Series. But the new car's freshened styling, improved tech, and claims of a more engaging driving experience should bring it back into contention.
As previous spy photos have shown, the latest IS gains a more distinctive design, with the L-shaped blade-style light bar at the back being one of the bigger stylistic changes. The rest of the car hasn't been untouched, though, as there are new slim headlamps and a different take on the spindle grille. The bolder F Sport has its own mesh treatment for the grille, along with unique paint colors such as Infrared.
Although the Lexus driving experience is often typified by top-notch comfort and refinement, the brand's new Lexus Driving Signature philosophy aims to change this single-minded approach. "What we had foremost in mind in developing the new IS was to make it a car that excelled in communicating with the driver regardless of the road conditions or driving situation," explained Chief Engineer Naoki Kobayashi.
As a result, the latest IS underwent hours of testing at the recently opened Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama. Body rigidity was enhanced, bigger 19-inch wheels are offered to increase cornering force, and unsprung weight was reduced. The latest car's coil springs, for instance, are 20 percent lighter than before.
The engine updates are not as comprehensive as once rumored, with an updated 2.0-liter turbo-four in the IS 300 still making the same 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque as before. Both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered, with the mid-range IS 300 AWD using a 3.5-liter V6 with 260 hp and 236 lb-ft.
The IS 350 and IS 350 F Sport (an IS 300 F Sport is no longer offered) use a 3.5-liter V6 with 311 hp and 280 lb-ft, with the RWD model managing a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds. All RWD versions use an eight-speed automatic, while the AWDs get a six-speed auto.
In the cabin, the default eight-inch touchscreen is mounted three inches close to the driver, and should hopefully be easier to use than Lexus' poor current system. A new 10.3-inch screen is available, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are equipped as well.
The interior remains as stylish as ever, and in the F Sport, flamboyant new trim with a graphic pattern adorns the door panels. The Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 has been improved, too; for instance, the pre-collision system can now detect not only a vehicle ahead, but also a preceding cyclist or pedestrian.
We expect pricing to be similar to the current IS when the facelifted version arrives at dealerships in late fall of this year.