Ride & Handling
All-Wheel Drive Option
Some cars, like the 2021 Lexus IS, for example, have a way of validating life goals and aspirations. One thing I have observed about luxury cars over the years, regardless of the manufacturer, is that owners tend to think of them as a personal reward or achievement. The 2021 Lexus IS holds that same allure, only in a more contemporary and sporty package. However, if you were to purchase a vehicle for yourself as a personal reward, should you consider the Lexus IS?
We recently spent time behind the wheel of a 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. Here is how our drive went.
Lexus IS: What’s New For 2021
Although Lexus stopped short of a complete redesign, the 2021 IS still offers a generous array of standard safety, performance, and connectivity features. The most significant upgrades come via the chassis, architecture, and suspension.
The 2021 IS falls under the new “Lexus Driving Signature” umbrella, a product development initiative the automaker describes as a “cultural shift” when designing vehicles. In so many words, Lexus wants to take an “always-on” philosophy and channel that into a uniform standard across their entire line. The 2021 IS has become the first car to represent this always-on, cultural shift. However, was Lexus able to take this new ethos and engineer it into the mechanical and physical components of the 2021 IS?
Allow me to explain this more under the “Driving Dynamics” heading a litter farther down. First, let’s cover some of the basic info about the 2021 Lexus IS.
2021 Lexus IS: Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Lexus IS all-wheel drive?
Although our press vehicle for this review was rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive is available for the 2021 IS. The Lexus IS 300 and IS 350 have the option for all-wheel drive.
How much is the 2021 Lexus IS?
The IS 300 starts at $39,000 while the IS 300 with all-wheel drive begins at $41,000. The IS 350 F Sport starts at $42,900 (rear-wheel drive) and $44,900 (all-wheel drive). This free and helpful search tool* will allow you to see which dealers in your area offer the best deals on the new Lexus IS.
What engine does the 2021 Lexus IS have?
The IS 300 with rear-wheel drive has a turbo four-cylinder with 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. The IS 300 with all-wheel drive employs a larger 3.5-liter V6 with 260 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque. An eight-speed automatic (Lexus designation AA81E) is paired with the four-cylinder, while the V6 is mated to a six-speed automatic (Lexus designation A760H).
Under the hood of the IS 350, regardless of drivetrain, is the same 3.5-liter V6, but with more grunt. IS 330 models crank out 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque. The rear-wheel drive IS 350 is paired to an eight-speed automatic, while the all-wheel drive versions use a six-speed automatic (same Lexus designations as above).
The IS 350 with rear-wheel drive is the quickest model, with a zero to 60 time of 5.6 seconds.
What is the gas mileage?
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the EPA ratings for the 2021 Lexus IS. Our press vehicle for this review, an IS 350 F Sport with rear-wheel drive, achieves an EPA-estimated 20/28 city/highway and 23 combined. We were pleasantly surprised to see a higher combined fuel economy average of 24.9 after about 50 miles of driving.
What is the warranty?
Every 2021 Lexus IS comes with a bumper-to-bumper warranty of 48 months or 50,000 miles and a powertrain warranty of 72 months or 70,00 miles. To help you determine if you need additional coverage, see this helpful guide on the Lexus extended warranty.
Our 2021 Lexus IS Press Vehicle
The model we drove was an IS 350 F SPORT with rear-wheel drive. F SPORT styling upgrades include unique front and rear bumpers, grille surrounds, exhaust tips, and special badging. On the inside, F SPORT treatments include heated and cooled seats, heated Ash Wood steering wheel, unique accelerator and brake pedals, special door accents, and a leather-wrapped shifter.
Our press vehicle came with the F SPORT Dynamic Handling Package, above and beyond the standard F SPORT suspension tuning. The Dynamic Handling Package adds an adaptive variable suspension, Torsen limited-slip differential, carbon fiber rear spoiler, selectable and customizable drive modes, and matte black 19-inch forged alloy BBS wheels.
In terms of connectivity and infotainment features, our Lexus IS came with a 10.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Amazon Alexa integration, Bluetooth capability, and a complimentary trial of Lexus Enform Wi-Fi. Our press vehicle included the full list of Enform services as well. Two USB jacks in the center console, a programmable garage door opener, a Mark Levinson 1,800-watt premium stereo, and a CD player were among the other niceties.
2021 Lexus IS Safety Features
The upgraded Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 is standard on every 2021 Lexus IS. The package includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Intelligent High Beams, Road Sign Assist, Blind-Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System.
Every 2021 IS comes with a temporary spare tire, a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and a first-aid kit in the trunk.
Interior Highlights: Remote Touch Interface
One thing that always comes up when discussing a Lexus interior is the Remote Touch Interface. In the above photo, it’s the black pad just below the shifter. It works similar to a mousepad on a laptop. You run your finger over it to scroll through the different menus and features on the touchscreen. Once you land on something you want, like navigation or climate control, you press down on the pad, and you now have access to it.
Many in the automotive media don’t like this particular touchpad. The mousepad functionality doesn’t bother me so much as the random “switching” that happens (for lack of a better word). For example, I would use the touchpad to pull up Watercolors on SiriusXM to see the station and song title. After driving for a little while, I would look up to find the icon on the touchscreen had somehow moved to a different menu, like navigation, for example. Although the song was still playing, the visible menu screen was now different than SiriusXM.
I can only surmise that vibrations caused by bumps reverberate up and through the car. These vibrations, subtle though they may be, might affect the touchpad and cause an unintended movement of the icon on the dashboard touchscreen. This was especially prevalent on the highway at speeds of 60 mph or above.
Unfortunately, the 10.3-inch touchscreen seems to be designed with the touchpad in mind. When using your fingers to scroll through the various menus, the touchscreen feels clumsy and awkward, so bypassing the touchpad isn’t much better. To adjust things like the heat and AC, I used the physical interface just below the touchscreen. Scrolling through the climate menu with the touchpad is the least intuitive thing about the entire system.
Interior Highlights: Touches of Class
The 2021 Lexus IS resembles a futuristic sports car from the driver’s seat (I also felt this way with the new ES). The F SPORT’s perforated Nuluxe seats make you feel “tucked in,” almost as if you are in a cockpit. The 2021 IS feels quick and sporty from the moment you sit down! Visibility can be an issue sometimes, although features like the panoramic view monitor help when backing up.
There are touches of class throughout the cabin of the 2021 IS, like the analog clock, heated seats, and heated steering wheel, for example. These little details go a long way in adding an element of luxury to what truly feels like a dynamic sports car once you start it up. It was nice to have my hands stay warm as I maneuvered around some twisty roads north of Detroit.
Lexus says the new IS can seat five, although we feel that is a bit ambitious. There isn’t much room in the back seat, and taller passengers may feel cramped. If this is a concern, but you still want a Lexus sedan, the ES might be a better choice. Trunk space is a reasonable 10.8 cubic feet, which is slightly more than the Genesis G70 and Cadillac CT4 (10.5 and 10.7 cubic feet, respectively), but less than the Audi A4 at 12 cubic feet.
Driving Dynamics: Developing The Lexus IS
In the Art of Lexus, Toyota President Akio Toyoda says the IS “really taught me what performance driving was, and it was the moment when my love affair with Lexus began.” Toyoda’s appreciation for driving played out during the development of the 2021 IS, a significant portion of which transpired at the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture. The automaker’s 3.3-mile test course, inspired by the Nürburgring Nordschleife, includes a nearly 250-foot change in elevation, a wide variety of curves and corners, and multiple types of road surfaces.
Engineers from Lexus spent considerable time here refining the new IS. Specifically, they honed the body to make it as rigid and light as possible. For a sports car like the IS, a light and stiff body structure will provide real-world benefits, like more direct steering, better ride and handling, and improved fuel economy. To achieve this, engineers increased the number of weld points, reworked the C-Pillar design, reinforced the radiator side supports, and selected lighter wheel hub bolts (an idea borrowed from the Lexus LFA supercar).
Suspension changes include coil springs that are now 20 percent lighter, forged aluminum A-arms (18 percent lighter), and a new stabilizer bar (17 percent weight reduction). Things go up a notch with the F SPORT Dynamic Handling Package and the Torsen limited-slip differential, both of which our press vehicle had.
Driving Dynamics: Cruising The Detroit Metro
Near the beginning, I mentioned the new “always-on” mantra that Lexus wants all of its future vehicles to embody, with the 2021 IS being the first to carry this distinction. The Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama, which only just opened in 2019, is an integral part of that now. It’s where engineers work out the nitty-gritty details to help make this larger vision possible. And wow, did they ever do a good job with the 2021 Lexus IS.
After jetting off from Detroit proper on Woodward Avenue, we jumped on West Long Lake Road in nearby Bloomfield Hills. We took that to Orchard Lake Road, then down Pontiac Trail to Walled Lake. Those roads are often busy with traffic, regardless of the time of day, which causes a variance in speed and braking. Those roads also have some solid corners and hills, making it an excellent area to drive something like the 2021 Lexus IS.
The Lexus IS feels solid and composed on a straightway, then nimble and agile when you need to take a corner or change lanes. The lighter, more rigid body structure, combined with the revised suspension, makes the IS feel tight, stable, and secure. The V6 under the hood of the F SPORT provides plenty of snap, but acceleration is linear, direct, and easy to control. Drive the 2021 Lexus IS gently, and the engine’s Eco mode will deliver better fuel economy numbers than what is listed on the window sticker.
This is undoubtedly the result of the countless hours put in at the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama. It will be interesting to see how this impacts other Lexus vehicles in the near future.
Should You Buy The 2021 Lexus IS?
During our weekend drive around the lakes here in Michigan, I discovered the same appreciation Toyoda has for the IS. After all, there’s nothing like a driver’s car, and the 2021 Lexus IS is a driver’s car. However, there are other luxury sports cars on the market, and I recommend researching each one a litter further.
Start perhaps with the Genesis G70 first. The new G70 is a luxurious and sporty driver-centric car that gives the IS a run for its money. The Cadillac CT4, with its rear-drive architecture and optional 2.7-liter turbo engine, is another strong possibility. Other perennial mainstays include cars like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class.
However, if you ultimately decide on the 2021 Lexus IS, I think you will be happy. At the end of the day, it’s a well-engineered car that’s enjoyable to drive. To help you get started with your research, see the search tool below. That will show you all of the inventory in your area and which dealers are giving you the best price.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.
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