The sleek and sporty Lexus IS luxury compact sedan is souped up for 2021 with styling revisions inside and out, enhancements to cabin comfort and driving dynamics, and an updated infotainment system.
There are three models in the 2021 IS lineup: IS 300, with rear-wheel drive and a 241-horsepower four-cylinder turbo engine; IS 300 AWD, with a 260-horsepower V6 and all-wheel drive; and IS 350 F Sport, with a 311-horsepower V6 and available in rear-wheel drive or AWD configuration.
Rear-drive models have an eight-speed automatic transmission and AWD models come with a six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is best in the IS 300, rated 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. The IS 350 F Sport with rear-wheel drive is in second place with its 20/28/23 mpg. The IS 300 AWD and IS 350 AWD F Sport are tied for third with 19/26/22 mpg. Premium fuel is required.
Zero-to-60 mph times are predictably best for the IS 350 variant. The rear-drive version does it in 5.6 seconds, the AWD in 5.7 seconds.
Pricing with a $1,025 destination charge included starts at $40,025 for the IS 300. The IS 300 AWD is $42,025, and the IS 350 F Sport goes for $43,925 with rear-wheel drive and $45,925 with AWD.
I drove the IS 350 AWD F Sport model for this report. Its glorious Infrared paint color is exclusive to the F Sport models, along with Ultrasonic Blue Mica, two premium paints that are available for an extra $595.
The F Sport package augments the IS with bolder exterior styling touches, 19-inch dark metallic alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, sport suspension tuning, and bolstered sport seats with heat, ventilation, and 10-way power adjustability for the driver and 8-way for the front passenger.
An optional ($3,800) F Sport Dynamic Handling package on my test car added other upscale features including adaptive variable suspension, ash wood interior trim and steering wheel with heat, and performance-oriented selectable drive modes.
A navigation and audio option package ($2,750) replaced the standard 10-speaker Lexus premium sound system with a top-level 10.3-inch touchscreen Mark Levinson system enhanced for 2021. It’s now a 17-speaker affair with 1,800-watt amplifier. And it includes a CD player, which I’m not ashamed to say made me happy.
The previous infotainment system’s controversial touchpad hasn’t been replaced, unfortunately. Located in the center console, the touchpad looks good and exudes tech, but is a nuisance to use, especially while driving. The car’s touchscreen and steering wheel controls are much better options. Physical control knobs for volume and tuning are a big plus in favor of the system.
The Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport interior is impeccably constructed, a hallmark of the Lexus brand. It is also handsomely styled, and the ride is always pleasant and comfortable.
Rear seat headroom and legroom aren’t the most generous among luxury compact sedans, but neither are they only adequate for little kids. They work for average-size adults, too.
Slaloming on Snohomish County’s winding backroads, roaring along I-5, and ascending into the Cascades on Highway 2, the Lexus IS 350 was sure-footed, confident, stable and responsive. Lotsa fun, too. The all-wheel drive was a reassuring boon during the week’s slippery winter road conditions.
2021 LEXUS IS 350 AWD F SPORT
Base price, including destination charge: $45,925
Price as driven: $56,960
Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.