2021 Lexus IS gets stiffer, lighter, but hardly overhauled
After a week’s delay, Lexus has unveiled its 2021 IS sedan. The good news? If you’re a fan of the current generation, this lightly refreshed model won’t scare you off. We noted earlier this month that an extensive update of Lexus’ compact luxury sedan didn’t make much sense—the segment isn’t exactly on fire recently, and the COVID-19 pandemic gave the automotive industry a serious wallop. The significant improvements for the 2021 IS lineup, ultimately, lie in its increased rigidity, tweaked suspension, and mild infotainment updates.
Aesthetically, the 2021 IS is more cohesive than its predecessor. The 2016 model, itself a massaging of the third-gen car introduced in 2013, just looked pointy and angry. The weirdly split headlights were edgy but not particularly elegant; thankfully, the 2021 car has recovered some stylistic grace, albeit at the expense of some drama. The headlights form a single unit now, accented by an eyebrow-esque LED spear, and direct our eyes toward a nicely-textured spindle grille. The side panels evoke the rising character line on the slinky LC 500. Out back, Lexus would like you to notice the single “lightbar”—certainly not an industry-first—blessing the IS’s wide rear haunches. (Pictured is the IS 350 in F Sport trim.)
The revised body is easier on the eyes, and it’s also slightly larger: 1.18 inches longer, 1.18 inches wider, and .19 inches taller. Lexus engineers spent a great deal of time adding more welds and reinforcing the intersection between the C-pillar/roof, which should reap benefits in handling and reduction in interior noise. Will those benefits be offset by the 1-inch-larger standard wheels? We’ll have to see.
The stiffer body rides on a revised suspension. The biggest changes here lie in reduced unsprung weight: the 2021 IS features coil springs that are 20 percent lighter than the outgoing model, and new A-arms that swap steel for forged aluminum to further shave unsprung weight. New swing-valve shock absorbers make the most of these weight reductions by improving ride quality.
Inside, you’ll find that the standard 8-inch touchscreen is within easier reach—which you may be especially grateful for, since the infamously clunky touchpad also remains. Opting for the more luxe navigation package enlarges that touchscreen to a 10.3-inch unit that will happily integrate with your iPhone, Android, or Alexa-enabled device. Should you specify the upgraded premium audio system, your favorite tune will blast through two additional speakers, for a total of a 17 boasting 1800 watts (compared to the previous car’s 835). For the detail-oriented, there’s also some snazzy new texture on the interior door panels.
All these changes apply across the IS range, which includes four models with three powertrains, all of which soldier on unchanged for 2021. The base IS 300, with rear-wheel drive, comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, paired with an eight-speed automatic and good for 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Pony up for the all-wheel-drive IS 300 and a 260-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 replaces the four-cylinder. The top-tier engine is Lexus’ 311-hp 3.5-liter V-6, good for 280 lb-ft of torque. This engine is standard in both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the IS 350.
The jazzy F Sport trim is now exclusively available on the IS 350. Equipped with this package, your IS 350 will sport a more aggressive fascia along with different rocker panels and rear bumper. Various badges will advertise the F-Sportiness of your IS to your neighbors, and you’ll roll along on F-Sport-standard 19-inch wheels and slightly larger rubber out back (265/35). The interior gets sportier seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and some extremely angular pedals.
You can also stack the Dynamic Handling Package (DHP) on top of the F Sport trim. This package features more aggressive suspension damping and matte black BBS wheels that save you a grand 16 pounds in total compared to the standard F Sport wheels. Aside from the carbon-fiber spoiler and side window trim, another reason to spec the additional handling package is the limited-slip diff, offered exclusively on the rear-wheel-drive IS 350. DHP-equipped models also come with an additional drive mode called Sport S+, unlocking more intense engine and transmission mapping for your driving pleasure.
To top off the 2021 refreshes, Lexus has also added five new exterior colors: Iridium, Cloudburst Gray, Matador Red Mica, Grecian Water, and Infrared (the last of which is unique to the F Sport models).
Lexus hasn’t yet released pricing information for the 2021 IS lineup. The current IS starts at $39,985 including destination.