Even though the Lexus IS has been around for 20 years, it doesn't get much credit in the compact luxury car segment. With historically good alternatives like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A4 taking up most of the limelight, it’s easy to overlook the offbeat Lexus.
But the 2021 Lexus IS hopes to change all that. Sporting a new look, more advanced features – both inside and out – and a revised suspension that's said to be sportier, Lexus hopes the new IS will get people talking… as long as they don't talk about power and they don't live in Europe.
Not much has changed for the new IS visually (or underneath, really, as the IS rides on the same platform). The saloon still wears the brand's signature spindle grille – albeit a revised "three-dimensional" version of it – which now comes accented by a larger lower intake and two larger accenting vents on either side. On the Lexus IS F Sport specifically (pictured below), the grille and vents get more blacked-out elements and a unique mesh pattern that separates that trim from non-F Sport models.
The headlights are lower and larger, too. The 2021 IS ditches the previous model's split headlight fixture – with the main beam up top and the accenting LED "swoosh" beneath it – for a more traditional setup with the LED accent now embedded within the housing. Triple-beam LED headlights are available as an option.
The new Lexus IS also gets a more sculpted profile with a muscular shoulder line that extends up and over the rear wheel wells. The wheels are new, too, with the 2021 IS F Sport rocking optional 19-inch BBS wheels for the first time while 18-inch wheels are now standard on lower trims. The backend of the IS, meanwhile, gets a full-width LED taillight bar that forms seamlessly into angular fixtures on either side. The company previewed that new rear design earlier in the month in a teaser image.
Bigger, But Not More Powerful
Believe it or not, the 2021 Lexus IS uses the exact same engines as the previous model. And they each produce the same amount of power, too. The base IS 300 with rear-wheel drive keeps the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, good for 241 bhp and 258 pound-feet. The all-wheel-drive IS 300, meanwhile, gets a more powerful 3.5-litre V6 good 260 bhp and 236 lb-ft. And at the top of the range, the IS 350 – available in both RWD and AWD – gets a 3.5-litre V6 good for 311 bhp and 280 lb-ft.
Gallery: 2021 Lexus IS
Both RWD models use an eight-speed automatic, while AWD versions of the new IS get a six-speed automatic. The IS 350 with RWD can hit 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds, while the AWD IS 350 gets there in 5.7 seconds. And now buyers will have to upgrade to the 350 model if they want the F Sport trim; Lexus isn't offering an IS 300 F Sport with this new model.
|IS 300 RWD||Turbo 2.0L||241||258||6-Speed Automatic|
|IS 300 AWD||3.5L V6||260||236||8-Speed Automatic|
|IS 350 RWD||3.5L V6||311||280||6-Speed Automatic|
|IS 350 AWD||3.5L V6||311||280||8-Speed Automatic|
While the chassis isn't totally new, engineers thoroughly reworked the IS' suspension to give the saloon an even sportier feel. The 2021 model's new coil springs are 20 percent lighter than those found in the previous version, the new A-arms are 18 percent lighter, and the stabiliser bar is 17 percent lighter. And the 2021 Lexus IS grows as well; it's 1.2 inches longer, 1.2 inches wider, and 0.2 inches lower than its predecessor. Buyers of the IS 350 F Sport model can also option a Dynamic Handling package with an adaptive suspension. Hopefully, that newfound size and engineering lead to better overall dynamics.
Like its underpinnings, the inside of the 2021 Lexus IS isn't totally new either. But the refreshed cabin does offer a bit more in the way of tech. An 8.0-inch touchscreen comes standard – which is now three inches closer to the driver – while a larger 10.3-inch touchscreen is available as an option. Things like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility come standard, but the same maddening touchpad controller from the previous model carries over.
The new IS also gets the latest Lexus safety equipment. Dubbed "Lexus Safety System+ 2.5," the standard suite of active safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection and a pre-collision warning system. More advanced equipment – like adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, road-sign assist, and even lane-departure alert with lane-centring technology – is available at an extra cost.
No word on how much the 2021 Lexus IS will cost when it goes on sale, but we expect the new saloon to hit dealerships before the end of the year.