The compact luxury performance Lexus

It takes careful craftsmanship to create the perfect balance of sportiness and sophistication is no easy task. Still, the 2021 Lexus IS walks that fine line with an air of elegance and effortlessness.

With a lineage that spans more than 20 years in the U.S., the IS has always remained true to its foundation as a front-engine rear-wheel-drive sports sedan. For 2021, the IS will expand upon the qualities that have built its loyal following while also ushering in the new Lexus Driving Signature.

For 2021, the IS will have a starting MSRP of $39,000. One of the most significant changes to the lineup is that F SPORT models will be optional on the 350. All 350s will only be offered in F SPORT grade. The 350 F SPORT’s starting price is $42,900, offering customers a 311-horsepower F SPORT.

The Lexus Driving Signature Lives at Shimoyama

From day one, the IS has left a lasting impression in the compact luxury sports sedan segment, where dynamic capability and driving performance are mandatory attributes. The 2021 IS provides a linear driving characteristic and direct feedback to the driver. To achieve this objective, Lexus engineers needed the proper tool to hone the vehicle’s skills.

The Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama is the new test facility. The IS burnt some rubber on the asphalt track during Lexus’ product development course and speaks to the brand’s commitment to its human-centered nature.

The latest IS represents the first step down a path that has evolved into a uniquely Lexus tarmac testbed that will affect every Lexus product’s trajectory that comes next.

“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 Chief Engineer Naoki Kobayashi of 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.”

Maturation of Driving Performance

The “relentless pursuit of perfection” has always been a guiding philosophy for the brand, but also at stake is the mission to create a uniform Lexus Driving Signature, and that objective begins with the new IS.

Taking a cue from the Lexus LFA supercar, engineers took rigidity enhancements one step further by employing lighter weight hub bolts to secure each wheel to the new IS.

Fast, Fun, Ferocious – Putting the “F” in F SPORT

The IS F SPORT lineup is restructured in the 2021 model year, as F SPORTs will only be offered on the IS 350. F SPORT features a host of visual and performance cues that immediately set it apart, including a unique front bumper with functional aerodynamic enhancements, rear bumper, grille surround, rear lip spoiler, rocker molding, and more.

Inside the new IS, stainless-steel scuff plates adorn the door sills. Eyes are immediately drawn to the stylish F SPORT front seat surfaces, especially when dressed in the available new Circuit Red. The front seats also offer standard heated and ventilated functions. A heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with unique center ornament, perforated leather-wrapped shifter, and F SPORT combination instrumentation meter await the driver, as do unique F SPORT accelerator pedal, brake pedal, and footrest.

The distinctive front seats offer available two-way power-adjustable lumbar support as well as four-way adjustable headrests. Unique F SPORT door accents highlight the black geometric film window switch surrounds. Active Sound Control further improves the exhilarating performance notes of the V6 engine while reducing unpleasant tones.

The rear-wheel-drive F SPORT models with the Dynamic Handling Package (DHP) comes with a Torsen limited-slip differential (LSD) that improves handling and performance thanks to enhanced traction when cornering or exiting turns. The DHP also features drive select mode Sport S and Sport S+, which provides advanced engine and transmission mapping to enhance performance. Sport S+ also adjusts the amount of EPS steering assist and damping force to deliver sportier handling to match the updated powertrain settings. Custom Mode is available on DHP models, offering multiple combinations for powertrain (Normal/Eco/Power), chassis (Normal/Sport), and air conditioner (Normal/Eco).

F SPORT models equipped with the DHP receive a unique carbon-fiber rear spoiler and a Lexus Smart Access Card Key. Carbon-fiber side-view mirror caps will be an available option.

Athletic and Agile

The bold new exterior styling of the 2021 IS not only aims for a provocative design, but its athletic silhouette signifies the agile changes that have taken place below the sheet metal. Overall, the new IS evokes lower, wider proportions. It is slightly wider, with muscular fenders that extend to enhance and accommodate the larger available 19-inch wheels and larger diameter tires.

Standard IS models feature a new grille that includes mini spindles within its design. This intricate pattern required six different types of cutting tools to create the mold.

The rear fender’s lines blend into the extended, lowered rear deck to create a low stance that enhances the broader hips. The three-dimensional form of the rear deck design creates a stamping technology called press-in mold construction.

There are five new exterior colors available on the 2021 IS, including Iridium, Cloudburst Gray, Matador Red Mica, Infrared*, and Grecian Water. The old colors are Ultra White, Eminent White Pearl, Atomic Silver, Caviar, and Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0*.

*Colors unique to F SPORT models, and includes a premium paint charge of $595

Bask in Cabin Comfort

Luxury and performance are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and yet the two live in harmony in the new IS. The interior features standard NuLuxe-trimmed seating with a 10-way power driver and 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seats. A dual-zone automatic climate control system with touch-sensitive controls, an available power moonroof, and SmartAccess with push-button start is also standard.

New trim adorns each door in F SPORT models with a graphic pattern of embossed intersecting lines, representing a new form of Lexus decorative expression and Takumi craftsmanship.

Piano Black accents also can be found on surface elements for the cabin atmosphere that is both dignified and sporty. Standard NuLuxe interior color options include Black, Glazed Caramel, and Rioja Red. On F SPORT packages, the options include Black, Circuit Red, and two-tone White/Black, while the F SPORT Dynamic Handling Package is available in Black or Circuit Red interior.

The IS features a standard 8-inch touchscreen nearly 5.5 inches closer to the driver for easy access to the controls. An expansive new 10.3-inch touchscreen, which is 5.9 inches closer than the previous multimedia screen, is available on vehicles equipped with navigation or Mark Levinson with navigation. The new multimedia system features Apple CarPlay compatibility, Android Auto compatibility, and Amazon Alexa integration.

The available Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System is available with a 17-speaker system with a new amplifier offering an impressive 1,800 watts.

Drivetrains and Powertrains

The 2021 IS will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drive options and there are three distinct powertrain options available depending upon the grade.

The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 features a 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled inline four-cylinder engine. The 2.0-liter engine is updated for 2021, featuring an adaptive transmission control that helps determine the most appropriate gear for each driving situation based on driver input to achieve a linear response. Rated at 241 horsepower, the four-cylinder also produces 258 lb-ft of torque across a flat torque range from 1,650 rpm up to 4,400 rpm. It’s not only powerful; it’s efficient, too, thanks to a sophisticated Variable Valve Timing-intelligent – Wide (VVTi-W) system, which allows the engine to switch between the Otto and Atkinson combustion cycles to maximize efficiency. It comes equipped with an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission. It integrates an advanced G-force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) system that monitors multiple performance parameters to determine the optimum gear selection.

For added traction in cold-weather climates, the IS 300 is also available with all-wheel drive. The IS 300 AWD is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 260 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system is designed to help enhance traction and grip by automatically varying front-to-rear torque distribution. On dry roads, it maintains a 30:70 front-to-rear torque split for maximum performance, but it’s capable of sending as much as 50 percent of the power to the front wheels in certain conditions.

For buyers who crave maximum power, there’s the IS 350 in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 311 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of peak torque. The rear-wheel-drive model uses the same eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission found in the IS 300 RWD, while the AWD version sends power through a six-speed automatic. If there’s any question about the performance-minded nature of each vehicle, look no further than their 0-60 times, as the IS 350 RWD covers the ground in 5.6 seconds while the IS 350 AWD goes from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds.

Enhanced Lexus Safety System+

The standard Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+) found on the new IS receives additions for 2021 in the form of the new LSS+ 2.5. A number of key features that are part of the Lexus Safety System+ have been enhanced, along with the addition of a few new features.

For starters, the Pre-Collision System (PCS), which includes Frontal Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Pedestrian Detection, and Bicyclist Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) , and Lane Departure Alert. By enhancing the radar and camera capabilities, it is now possible for the system to help detect the vehicle ahead and a preceding bicyclist in the daytime and even a preceding pedestrian in daytime and low-light conditions. At intersections, the system has improved recognition of an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian when performing a left-hand turn and is designed to activate typical PCS functions if needed. Additional PCS functions include Emergency Steering Assist (ESA), which is designed to assist steering within the vehicle’s lane as cued by the driver.

Additional LSS+ 2.5 features include Intelligent High Beams, which detects preceding or oncoming vehicles and automatically switches between high beam and low beam headlights. Road Sign Assist (RSA) is designed to acquire certain road sign information using a camera and navigation maps when data is available and displays them on the multi-information display (MID). Standard Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) can offer added peace of mind by helping to detect vehicles approaching from either side while backing out with a visual and audible warning.

The new 2021 Lexus IS are in dealerships now.