2021 Lexus IS: Sporty New IS Sedan Embraces Its Racetrack Roots

The 2021 Lexus IS is unlike any other IS from previous generations. Lexus claims it’s the best IS to date. It’s also the first Lexus model to be developed using the new Lexus Driving Signature credo. We’re all familiar with the Lexus brand and how it blends Toyota-levels of durability and reliability in a surprisingly luxurious and refined package. Still, a Lexus was never about spine-tingling agility and superb handling. Even the mighty Lexus LFA, for all its attributes and high-revving Yamaha-built V10 engine, can be a handful when driven close to the limit.

All of that changes with the 2021 Lexus IS. The brand is keen on reinventing its offerings, as Lexus claims, to deliver a new standard of performance and handling. In short, Lexus is finally awakening from its persistent slumber and has decided to make luxurious vehicles that are genuinely fun to drive (although my colleague Carl Anthony does feel the Lexus ES 350 F Sport is a blast to drive).

“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,” said Naoki Kobayashi, Chief Engineer, Lexus International. “We aimed to make the new IS a Lexus compact sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control.”

Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama

This is where the 2021 Lexus IS was born.

Before the 2021 Lexus IS, previous Lexus models were signed off by its chief engineer. But now, Lexus engineers have to answer directly to Koji Sato, Lexus International President, and Akio Toyoda, Chief Branding Officer of Lexus, and President of Toyota Motor Corporation. Ultimately, the brass is looking to create a new generation of Lexus vehicles that are more athletic, communicative, and more confident than before.

How will Lexus do it? By opening its very own test facility, of course! Specifically, we’re talking about the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, just a stone’s throw away from Lexus’ global HQ. Lexus is the first to admit its newest 3.3-mile test course is similar to the Nürburgring Nordschleife with varying road surfaces, dangerous corners, and a nearly 250-foot change in elevation.

With the entirety of the Shimoyama test track at his disposal, Chief Engineer Kobayashi was given the go-signal to create the best-driving Lexus IS yet, and he started by improving the vehicle’s rigidity.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. Photo: Lexus.

New & Lighter Set of Bones

Improving body rigidity is no easy feat, especially when working on a proven platform. Get it wrong, though, and you’ll end up with sharper handling in exchange for a fidgety ride. The 2021 Lexus IS now has more front-side-member weld points and reinforced radiator side supports to stiffen the platform further. C-pillar and roof reinforcements help reduce noise and vibration while enhancing the ride quality and steering feel, according to Lexus.

The 2021 Lexus IS receives larger 18-inch wheels as standard, while the F Sport model gets to choose between two 19-inch wheel designs, one of which are bespoke BBS wheels as part of the Dynamic Handling Package. Lexus was kind enough to revise the suspension layout and mounting points to house those larger alloys. The new Lexus IS also benefits from lighter hub bolts to reduce the vehicle’s unsprung weight by up to two lbs.

Also new are 20 percent lighter coil springs, forged aluminum A-arms (18 percent lighter than steel versions), and a new stabilizer bar (17 percent weight reduction). The suspension consists of new swing-valve shock absorbers with ultra-low velocity valves. The result of all this, as Lexus claims, is a consistent and comfortable ride.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport.
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. Photo: Lexus.

2021 Lexus IS: Trim Variations & New F Sport

Lexus is restructuring the trim levels of its newest IS sedan. The base IS 300 RWD has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger producing 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. You can get all-wheel drive (AWD) in the IS 300, but this also means you’ll get a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine with 260 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque.

Meanwhile, the IS 350 has the same 3.5-liter V6 as the all-wheel IS 300, but the V6 is now churning out 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque in this configuration. The IS 300 RWD and IS 350 have an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while the AWD IS receives a six-speed automatic. According to Lexus, both the IS 350 RWD and IS 350 AWD hit 60 mph in under six seconds.

Lexus is still offering the F Sport package, but it’s only available on the IS 350. The F Sport kit adds unique front and rear bumpers, a new grille surround, a rear lip spoiler and diffuser, a cold air intake, and an F Sport exhaust, among other things. You can pair the F Sport package with the Dynamic Handling Package too. It includes the aforementioned 19-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, adaptive variable suspension, a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and a Lexus card key.

The electronically controlled all-wheel drive system of the 2021 Lexus IS maintains a 30:70 front-to-rear torque split. However, in certain conditions, the system can send as much as 50 percent of the available power to the front wheels.
The electronically controlled all-wheel drive system of the 2021 Lexus IS maintains a 30:70 front-to-rear torque split. However, in certain conditions, the system can send as much as 50 percent of the available power to the front wheels. Photo: Lexus.

Interior Features & Options

Standard features include an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen (a larger 10.3-inch touchscreen is optional with navigation or the Mark Levinson audio system). Drivers can relax into a 10-way power seat, while the front passenger can set the dual-zone climate control accordingly. The new IS is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa, and a power moonroof is available.

Like the chassis and suspension, the interior of the 2021 Lexus IS received an overhaul. Standard NuLuxe interior color options include Black, Glazed Caramel, and Rioja Red. On the F Sport models, interior color options include Black, Circuit Red, and a two-tone White and Black combo. There are three main finishes for the 2021 IS cabin: Black Metallic paint, Black Geometric Film, or Ash Ornamentation. The latter is exclusive to F Sport models with the Dynamic Handling Package.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport interior layout in Circuit Red.
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport interior layout in Circuit Red. Photo: Lexus.

2021 Lexus IS: Pricing & Availability

The base Lexus IS 300 RWD starts at $40,025, while the IS 350 RWD F Sport starts at $43,925 (prices are inclusive of $1,025 destination charge). All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option across the board. Standard is the Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+), which comes with frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure alert, to name a few.

Exterior colors include Cloudburst Gray, Matador Red Mica, Infrared, Grecian Water, Ultra White, Eminent White Pearl, Atomic Silver, Caviar, and Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0. Infrared and Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 are exclusive to the F Sport and carry an additional premium of $595.

The 2021 Lexus IS is available at dealerships now.

Alvin Reyes is the Associate Editor of Automoblog. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine. 

Photos & Source: Lexus.