The 2021 Lexus IS came out of left field a bit, after rumors swirled around that the Japanese automaker was considering killing its entry-level sedan off. Instead, they’re dropping its GS big brother and overhauling its rival to the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series instead. Despite saying ad nauseum that sedans are dying a slow and painful death, this is still a hugely competitive segment. It’s one that Lexus probably shouldn’t leave behind, and they’ve made some noteworthy changes for this new model year.
Not that you’ll notice many of those changes at first glance. That said, that may not be a bad thing in your eyes as the IS at least tries to look distinctive and athletic. The large spindle grille remains, while the daytime running lights have been integrated into the headlights this time. Look around back, though, and the taillights get a unique design from the old car.
We still aren’t talking about a complete revolution here, but the evolution the 2021 Lexus IS has undertaken helps keep it fresh against the current and rising competition.
While it’s also subtle, the 2021 Lexus IS has grown in nearly every aspect apart from the wheelbase. The new model is 1.2 inches longer and wider than the outgoing model (at 185.2 and 72.4 inches, respectively). It’s also just 5 millimeters (or 0.2 inches) taller, at 56.5 inches.
The interior gets some thoughtful touches
Again, the interior looks pretty much like the outgoing 2020 model at first glance. However, Lexus did make some ergonomic tweaks, especially with the infotainment system. The new model now has its 8.0-inch standard touchscreen (or optional 10.3-inch unit) perched atop the dashboard instead of being buried down inside it. Lexus also moved the screen three inches closer to the driver, to make the “touch” part of that screen easier to manage. The old mouse control is gone for the brand’s current touchpad system, as well.
The new infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, in line with its modern counterparts like the larger ES sedan. Standard, the 2021 Lexus IS gets a 15-speaker, 835 watt sound system, but you can upgrade to an optional 17-speaker, 1,800 watt Mark Levinson system if that’s not enough audio power for you.
Lexus’ new Safety System+ 2.5 makes its way into the new IS, complete with more refined driver assistance tech than the outgoing car. Its radar and camera capabilities have improved, allowing the automatic emergency braking system to detect cyclists, as well as pedestrians in daytime and low-light conditions. The suite also still includes dynamic radar cruise control, as well as lane departure alert and lane tracing assist. Blind spot monitoring, automatic high beams and rear cross traffic alert round out the safety features in the 2021 Lexus IS.
The 2021 Lexus IS has no more power than the old car
While you get more audio power with the Mark Levinson system, where you don’t get any more power is under the hood. The standard 2021 Lexus IS 300 still comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which by default sends its power to the rear wheels. Like before, it still puts out 241 horsepower and a “solid” (per Lexus) 258 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Lexus uses what’s called “G-force Artificial Intelligence” to monitor performance parameters to find the right gear depending on your driving situation.
If you opt for the all-wheel drive IS 300, the powertrain changes to a 3.5-liter V6 engine. That powertrain still manages 260 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, but comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Again, it’s a similar configuration to the old car, though it seems the eight-speed still won’t make it across the board in the IS. On dry roads, the AWD system sends 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels, though it can split torque 50:50 if conditions call for it.
Finally, for the power enthusiasts in the crowd, there’s the 2021 Lexus IS 350, in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive guise. Here, you still get the same 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque as the previous model year. The same rules apply with transmissions as well: You get an eight-speed automatic with the rear-wheel drive model, and a six-speed if you opt for all-wheel drive.
Lexus quotes a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds in the IS 350 RWD, and 5.7 seconds in the IS 350 AWD. On 2021 models, only the IS 350 will have an F Sport option, and engineers have tweaked the package. The adaptive variable suspension has been tuned for better performance, while the “Dynamic Handling Package” adds 19-inch BBS wheels that shave 16 pounds from the standard wheels. Rear-wheel drive models also get a Torsen limited-slip differential.
On sale later this year
Pricing information is not available yet, but the 2021 Lexus IS should hit dealerships later this fall. We’ll have more information closer to the launch, so stay tuned to TFLcar.com for more updates!