2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport Review

Incremental changes make the IS great


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Best-looking IS in the model's history, very easy to drive hard, comfortable as a daily commuter, some of the best front seats in a sports sedan today, great exhaust note, costs $2,475 less than last year's model.
Negatives: Down on power compared to rivals, infotainment system is still the same frustrating system, underpinnings are still the same, tiny buttons and knobs on the center stack need upsizing, tight back seat.
Bottom Line: The IS 350 F Sport finally looks the way it should. It's also fun to drive, comfortable, and aggressive enough for the segment. So what if it's not turbocharged?
To the untrained eye, the new Lexus IS 350 might not seem much different from the outgoing model. Granted, it's not wholly redesigned but more of a refresh that's meant to go up against competitors from Germany and Korea. The exterior has been refined for a stronger visual presence and a more cohesive overall design, while the interior goes largely unchanged. Although the power output remains pretty much the same: 311 horses and 280 lb-ft of torque (up 3 from last year), the chassis gets retuned for improved stiffness and lightness. We drove the heavily refreshed IS 350 F Sport with AWD for a week. Read our full review below.
 

Driving Experience

8.5

 

We dare to say most folks can't handle a high-powered sports sedan, and let's face it, you can't even come close to exploiting more than 350 horses in daily driving conditions. That's why we love the IS 350. It has more than enough power to be fun, and the driving dynamics make it controllable and predictable.

Ride Quality: The ride is firm, but the IS 350 feels well-dampened over the bumps. It's a sports sedan that can manage daily commutes with ease.

Acceleration: In AWD configuration, the IS 350 will get to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. It's not as quick as the Genesis G70 3.3T or the BMW M340i, but it's more than enough for most drivers. The transmission could be more responsive, and it's not quite up to snuff when engaging Sport+ mode.

Braking: The IS 350 F Sport's brakes are strong and progressive. We like the pedal feel, and stopping distances were very good.

Steering: The car has a decent amount of feedback through the steering wheel, but its precision could use some work. Competitors such as the Genesis G70 and the Cadillac CT4 exhibit a sharper setup.

Handling: Our tester came with the excellent Dynamic Handling package that comes with lightweight 19-inch BBS wheels, adaptive dampers, and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential. The car corners flat, and it feels very balanced. We had no trouble driving it in spirited fashion with great control.

Technology

6.7

 

Not much has changed in terms of the in-car tech. Lexus still strays behind competitors like BMW, Audi, and Genesis when it comes to their systems' looks, controls, and overall operation. The clunky touchpad is still present, unfortunately. It's better to use the now-standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Infotainment System: The portrait-oriented 8" touchscreen isn't especially large, but at least it's clear and decently responsive.

Controls: Avoid the infotainment touchpad to operate things since it's about as precise as a pong dart gun. The audio knobs and buttons are also too small to operate quickly while driving at highway speeds.

Styling

9.3

 

Since the cabin is pretty much identical to the last IS 350, we were surprised how good the refreshed body looks. The new IS 350, especially in F Sport trim, comes across like a much more mature sedan that looks great from every angle. It no longer looks slapped together like the old one. This is one handsome car.

Front: So much has changed about the front end, it's hard to know where to begin. The already large spindle grille is now even bigger, which actually turned out to be a good thing. The DRLs have been moved from below the headlights to the actual headlight units and above the low beams, which makes the front of the car look positively menacing. There's also a power bulge in the hood, which gives the IS 350 a thicker look from the front.

Rear: The changes to the rear are as dramatic, if not more so, than the front end's. The taillights extend the full width and meet up with the haunchs, the trunklid is taller and the valence is more prominent. Even the tailpipes look better in round versions compared to the old ones.

Profile: The side view benefits tremendously from shorter front and rear overhangs, a thicker front end, and more muscular rear haunches. Even the C-pillar uptick is steeper, and the roofline extends further out to the tail. It looks like a completely different car from this angle, and that's a good thing.

Cabin: The cabin is sporty, and the seats look great. Too bad nothing really changed in the center console or on the steering wheel.

Comfort

8.1

 

The interior dimensions haven't changed much, so the IS 350 is still on the small-ish side. At least the front occupants get great accommodations, and the materials quality is excellent.

Front Seats: The F Sport seats have great bolstering and cushioning. The seating position is also about as good as it gets. Hard surfaces are kept to a minimum thanks to good padding that flanks the center stack and dash. The car deserves a flat-bottom steering wheel, an oversight that's hard to ignore in an otherwise very sporty interior.

Rear Seats: Legroom is unchanged (and tight), but the roofline change adds about an inch to the headroom. Three people will have a tough time squeezing back here, and tall occupants will get mashed in the knees.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Build quality is excellent, and road noise is kept to a minimum. We didn't notice any disturbing wind noise at highway speeds.

Visibility: Thanks to the solid driving position, front sightlines are very good, and the pillar thickness in front is also kept in check. The sloping C-pillars do obstruct side rear sightlines.

Climate: The standard heated/ventilated seats on the F Sport are great, and the climate system also works very well.

Safety

9.5

 

The refreshed Lexus IS 350 nails safety tests across the board, and it's also laden with excellent safety features. It achieves the highest safety ratings, and buyers should have peace of mind in this regard.

IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick+ rating with "good" in every crash test. It also scored "superior" in accident avoidance tech. The only minor demerit is "acceptable" headlights in some trims.

NHTSA Rating: It earned five stars in crash tests from the federal government.

Standard Tech: The IS 350 comes with the robust Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 suite with Pre-Collision System w/ Pedestrian Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert w/ Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beams, Road Sign Assist. It also came standard with a Blind Spot Monitor w/ Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with Intuitive Parking Assist w/ Auto Braking/Rear Pedestrian Detection and a Panoramic View Monitor.

Storage/Cargo

5.8

 

Don't look to take a lot with you when you drive the IS 350. The cabin is down on storage space, and the trunk isn't especially big, either.

Storage Space: Lexus sedans don't have great storage space in the cabin, and the IS 350 is a bit parsimonious when it comes to cubbies and shelves. The armrest is small, as are the door pockets, and only the cupholders provide some modicum of small gear stowage.

Cargo Room: 10.8 cubic feet of trunk space is not big, and it goes unchanged with the refresh. The opening is decently wide and tall, however, and we had no trouble stowing gear in the back. The BMW M340i has 17 cubic feet, which eclipses the IS 350.

Fuel Economy

7

 

The IS 350 F Sport does about what we thought it would when it comes to fuel efficiency. Granted, we spend about 100% of the time in Sport+ mode when it comes to F Sport trimmed Lexus vehicles. That said, we weren't surprised nor disappointed.

Observed: 17.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 157 miles.

Audio

9.2

 

We're not shy about how much we love Mark Levinson's premium audio systems in Lexus vehicles because they're some of the best. Our tester was optioned with the 1,800-watt, 17-speaker premium system, and it's simply sublime. Powerful, clear, and full of bass, it's a pleasure to listen to. The $2,750 package comes with navigation, a bigger touchscreen, voice control, and destination assist, too. It's totally worth the asking price.



Final Thoughts

The refreshed IS 350 F Sport AWD is a wonderful sports sedan. Who says you have to have the quickest, most powerful sedan with turbos in order to have fun? What the IS 350 provides is a great driving experience, solid amount of power, great looks, and seriously good predicted reliability. Hardly anyone will be able to exploit more horsepower than this during daily driving, and you can still drive the IS 350 F Sport AWD hard in four seasons driving. It's a great all-arounder. It's only real issues are cargo space and the still frustrating tech.
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