The first Lexus IS launched in the United States in 2001, and two decades later, the compact sports sedan is still a favorite among drivers seeking performance, comfort, and style. Now, Lexus is looking ahead to the future. As the 2021 Lexus IS arrives in dealerships this fall, it sports upgraded styling, technology, and performance enhancements aimed to showcase the new Lexus Driving Signature. We got a closer look at the 3 categories of improvements made to the 2021 IS 300 and the IS 350 F Sport during an e-meeting with the Lexus team.
1. Dynamic Performance
The transformation of the 2021 Lexus IS began at the new Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama. The innovative development facility located near Toyota's home office in Japan houses a test course that is modeled after grueling tracks such as Germany's Nürburgring.
At the opening of the test facility in 2019, President Akio Toyoda revealed how it will guide the future of Lexus and Toyota vehicles: "With the aim of making ever-better cars, we have continued to make various efforts in "feeling the road" and "conversing with cars" through driving tests around the world, including our Five Continent Drive Project and the Nürburgring 24 Hours endurance race. Based on such experiences, we have replicated a variety of roads in the world at the new test course".
The new IS is one of the first Lexus vehicles to be designed and tested at Shimoyama, with some lofty goals that Lexus defines as its “relentless pursuit of perfection”. These include creating a more responsive and connected driving experience to set the stage for a uniform Lexus Driving Signature.
According to Chief Engineer Naoki Kobayashi, “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. 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.”
The new 2021 IS is ushering in a new generation of vehicles that will feature the Lexus driving signature. This transformation is characterized by a more balanced, refined, and confidence-inducing driving experience whether on a track or highway. The focus for the IS engineers was tuning the vehicle's chassis to optimize the control and connection to the road. Linear steering, optimized handling, and improved brake response are some of the key changes drivers of the last generation IS will notice in the redesigned sedan.
The performance improvements continue down to the wheels. Larger 18" wheels are available on the IS 300, while the IS 350 F Sport models get 19" wheels which are designed to improve cornering force by providing a larger contact patch with the road. Borrowing from the Lexus LFA supercar, lighter weight hub bolts are used to secure the wheels which take 2 pounds off the vehicle's unsprung weight and further increases rigidity for better handling.
2. Agile and Provocative Design
The exterior design of the 2021 IS is intended to be a visual manifestation of the aforementioned performance upgrades. As a result, the new IS features a lower and wider stance for a more agile and athletic appearance. Muscular lines, larger wheels, and signature lighting give the IS a sleek and aggressive presence. The IS makes a bold first impression with its large and intricate spindle grille and the F Sport stands out with a sportier mesh pattern on the grille as well as a grille-bottom air intake that functions to allow air to flow through and assist in cooling the brakes.
New lighting adds a menacing touch to the new IS design. Slim headlamps featuring daytime running lights form a sharp L-shape that runs across the lateral axis above the lamp units. The lighting signature is positioned low around the grille to convey the vehicle's lower center of gravity. Equally stunning is the vehicle's rear L-shaped blade-style lightbar that spans across the width of the rear.
To differentiate its high-performance model, Lexus gives the IS 350 F Sport a unique front bumper, rear bumper, grille surround, rear lip spoiler, and rocker molding. It sits on larger 19-inch wheels featuring a unique center cap and larger rear tires for enhanced performance. The F Sport also gets a cool air intake with a sound generator and a unique exhaust and diffuser. F Sport badging can be spotted on the sides and the rear of the vehicle, branding it as the high-performance model.
3. New Technology
The in-car technology improvements for the 2021 Lexus IS start with a new multimedia system touchscreen display. The standard 8" touchscreen is moved 5.5" closer to the driver to improve access to the controls, and a horizontal dashboard layout is intended to minimize eye movement and distractions. Also available is a large 10.3-inch touchscreen, which moves 5.9 inches closer to the driver. The new multimedia system features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration.
An enhanced Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System is available with a 17-speaker system and a new amplifier offering 1,800 watts. The new sound system improves the sound quality with its two extra speakers while reducing interference.
In addition to leading the way for the new Lexus driving signature, the 2021 IS is also pioneering the automaker's new suite of safety tech. The vehicle is the first to feature standard LSS+ 2.5 which offers enhancements and additions to the Lexus Safety System+. The All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control can be activated above 30 mph and is designed to perform vehicle-to-vehicle distance controls down to 0 mph and can resume from a stop. The radar and camera in the Pre-Collision System are improved to detect preceding bicyclists and pedestrians, while the Blind Spot Moniter and Rear Cross Traffic Alert now come standard.
Trims, Powertrains, and Pricing
The 2021 Lexus IS arrives in dealerships this fall and is available in 2 trims including the IS 300 with RWD and available AWD, and the performance-focused IS 350 F Sport also offered with RWD and available AWD.
2021 Lexus IS 300
The IS 300 RWD starts at $39,000 and comes with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 241-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The IS 300 AWD starts at $41,000 and features a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 260-horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
The Lexus IS 350 offers drivers a power boost with a 3.5-liter V6 that's good for 311-horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. The RWD model is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the AWD gets a six-speed automatic. The IS 350 RWD F Sport starts at $42,900, while the AWD's starting MSRP jumps to $44,900.