2021 Lexus IS Gets Sporty Redesign, Handling Upgrades

  • The 2021 Lexus IS gets an eye-catching redesign and chassis upgrades on both F Sport and non–F Sport models.
  • With the optional 10.3-inch infotainment screen, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability now come in the sedan, and both rear- and all-wheel-drive models are offered.
  • The IS300 and IS350 should reach dealers by late this fall.

    It’s not easy to stand out in the ultra-competitive compact luxury-sports-sedan segment: automakers throughout three continents are all constantly vying for a limited group of international buyers. With few major updates to the Lexus IS since 2013, the luxury division of Toyota is throwing its hat back into the ring with the 2021 IS.

    The new IS makes its presence known with a sleek, updated appearance that bolsters the sedan’s sporty aspirations. The standard IS, the IS300, gets a bigger, more imposing grille complemented by sharply angled, aggressive headlights. F Sport models get a similar update, but minus the chrome; the simpler, darker front design looks great to our eye.

    For 2021, the F Sport trim is only available on the top IS350 model with its 311-hp 3.5-liter V-6. The engine and drive configuration options otherwise carry over, with the rear-wheel-drive IS300 coming with a 241-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, the all-wheel-drive IS300 coming with a 260-hp version of the 3.5-liter V-6, and the RWD or AWD IS350 coming with the higher-output version of the V-6.

    Beyond the appearance changes to the F Sport, the performance trim now comes standard with the choice of two different 19-inch wheels, an updated exhaust, and a new Circuit Red interior color. The F Sport also now offers a Dynamic Handling package with adaptive dampers and other chassis upgrades.

    While the new IS rides on the same wheelbase as the outgoing model, the sedan gains more than an inch in height and width for 2021. Lexus says the body of the 2021 IS is more rigid, which is said to improve steering response, and other tweaks include a reduction in unsprung weight and several suspension tuning changes.

    The 2021 IS also sees technology updates, including the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability with the updated (optional) 10.3-inch infotainment screen. The standard infotainment screen in now 8.0 inches, one inch larger than in the outgoing model year. Driver-assistance systems have also been upgraded, with enhanced capabilities for automated emergency braking and pedestrian-detection technologies. The adaptive cruise control can now adjust speeds based on posted speed limits, and blind-spot monitoring is newly standard.

    After a high in 2007, U.S. sales for the Lexus IS peaked in 2014, the year following a full overhaul of the sedan, when 51.358 were sold. Since then, sales have fallen precipitously, with only 22,927 sold in 2018 and 14,920 in 2019. With German, Italian, American, Korean, and other auto brands all showing no sign of relenting in this segment, a redesign was needed, but it remains to be seen if this update will be enough to regain lost market share.

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