2021 Lexus IS: ‘I’ Is for Improved, ‘S’ is for Sort Of

2021 Lexus IS: ‘I’ Is for Improved, ‘S’ is for Sort Of

06/15/2020

Competes with: [Deep breath] Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CT4, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Americans’ desire to buy an SUV

Looks like: The old IS hit the gym (and maybe the plastic surgeon, too)

Powertrain: 241-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (rear-wheel drive), 260-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 (all-wheel drive) or 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 (IS 350); eight-speed automatic (RWD) or six-speed automatic (AWD)

Hits dealerships: Late fall

Lexus virtually has debuted the latest generation of its IS compact sports sedan, showing off a longer and wider look that is sporty and muscular, crucial in a class where nearly every competing manufacturer touts its model’s driving fun factor. The IS’ updated interior, meanwhile, tries to keep pace in the rapidly accelerating technology battle.

Related: 2021 Lexus IS Reveal Moves to Monday

Changes take place under the skin, as well, with Lexus adding stiffness to the IS’ chassis while also reducing weight. The IS also offers 19-inch wheels for the first time in its history. Where changes haven’t taken place, however, is with the sedan’s available drivetrains: Both the IS 300 and IS 350 offer the same engine and transmission choices as the previous generation. Lexus has also simplified the IS lineup somewhat by limiting the F Sport model to the more-powerful IS 350 trim.

Exterior

In front, the 2021 IS gets a new version of Lexus’ now-familiar spindle grille, with F Sport and regular models wearing different designs. F Sport models also get an air intake at the bottom of the grille to improve brake cooling. New, slimmer headlights give the IS a more aggressive face. Along the sides, the IS has a sculpted look with new rocker panels that lead up into the muscular rear quarter panels. A sculpted rear deck lid gives the illusion of an even wider and more imposing stance, and new L-shaped LED taillights span the rear. 

Standard wheels are 18 inches in diameter, up from the previous 17-inchers. F Sport models offer a choice of two 19-inch wheel options, including lightweight BBS wheels in the optional Dynamic Handling Package. Lexus says these 19-inch wheels “improve cornering force and provide a greater contact patch with the road.” F Sport models with the Dynamic Handling Package also get a carbon-fiber rear spoiler and matching mirror caps.

Interior

We’ve long lamented the Lexus Remote Touchpad infotainment system, and the first ray of light for a change came with the refresh of the popular RX SUV for the 2020 model year, which finally has a touchscreen. Now, it’s in the IS as well. Shoppers can choose between an 8- or 10.3-inch touchscreen, the latter coming with optional in-car navigation with or without the premium Mark Levinson stereo. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa connectivity are all standard.

F Sport Models gain standard leather-upholstered front sport seats and a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, as well as a specific gauge cluster and pedals.

Engine and Transmission

The new IS uses the previous model’s engine and transmission options. Rear-wheel-drive IS 300 models are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 241 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque, paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Opt for all-wheel drive and you get a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 260 hp and 236 pounds-feet, paired to a six-speed automatic. The more powerful IS 350 uses a 3.5-liter V-6 pumping out 311 hp and 280 pounds-feet of torque. RWD models get the eight-speed auto and AWD models the six-speed.

Lexus says the IS 350 with RWD will go from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds; the AWD model hits the mark in 5.7 seconds.

F Sport models with the Dynamic Handling Package get an adaptive suspension to adjust suspension stiffness, and Lexus says that suspension has been tuned to improve performance for 2021.

Safety

For 2021, the IS gets version 2.5 of Lexus’ Safety System Plus suite of safety technologies as standard equipment. The precollision component includes emergency steering assist, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and Lexus says it can now detect the vehicle ahead and preceding cyclists in daylight situations, plus preceding pedestrians in both daylight and low-light situations. Lexus also says it does a better job of detecting and responding to potential collisions when making a left turn across traffic.

The included adaptive cruise control system works to a stop and now does a better job of overtaking a slower vehicle. Lane departure warning with lane-centering steering is also included, as are automatic high-beam headlights and a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

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No Pricing or Fuel Economy Info

What we don’t know yet are how the 2021 IS 300 and IS 350’s fuel economy figures will compare to those either of the previous generation — 2020 AWD models offered EPA combined ratings of 21 mpg, while the RWD IS 350 was rated at 23 mpg and the RWD IS 300 at 24 mpg — or the competition. We’re also still waiting on pricing information, though expect it to cost more than the outgoing model. 

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