- 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD (base price: $44,900; price as tested: $57,015)
- IIHS Top Safety Pick+
- Pro: The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is a well-mannered, comfortable, premium sports sedan that can still put a smile on your face
- Con: Its infotainment system and the AWD model’s six-speed transmission could use some updates
It’s not making supercars right now, but Lexus hasn’t completely abandoned performance just yet. Although it doesn’t have a ‘true’ IS F replacement, Lexus also knows that not every buyer wants the hardest-core experience. So, like BMW, it has something between pure luxury and pure speed: the F Sport models. And while it’s not the sharpest sports sedan out there, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD strikes a chord some drivers will undoubtedly resonate with.
Lexus subtly sharpened the IS 350 F Sport for 2021
It’s not fully redesigned, but Lexus did refresh the entire IS lineup for 2021, including the 350. The sedan has a more rigid chassis, re-valved shocks, lighter springs, and upgraded anti-roll bars and suspension components. Also, the usual wheel lugs are gone in favor of lighter and stiffer bolts.
In addition, for 2021, the only way to get a Lexus IS 350 is as an F Sport. That means 19” wheels, some extra blacked-out trim, larger brake-cooling ducts, and a cold-air intake with matching sports exhaust. And if you want some extra sportiness, there’s an F Sport Dynamic Handling Package, which adds sportier suspension, extra driving modes, adaptive shocks, lighter-weight BBS forged-alloy wheels, and a carbon-fiber rear spoiler. RWD models get a Torsen limited-slip differential on top of that.
As my 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport test car had AWD, it didn’t have the fancy LSD. However, it still benefitted from the interior updates Lexus added—as well as a few extra options.
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD’s interior isn’t big, but it has the right premium sporty vibes
Besides the exterior changes, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport also enjoys some interior upgrades over the IS 300. It has heated and ventilated front sports seats, a heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, and an 8” moving TFT bezel that apes the LFA’s main gauge. Lexus didn’t have to install that feature, but I’m delighted it did. It feels like something an eight-year-old would put in a race car, which adds to this sedan’s sporty feeling. And if you don’t giggle as it moves around, I feel sorry for you.
The no-cost Circuit Red synthetic leather upholstery in my test car also added to its performance ambiance. As do the seats and seating position, which are both best described as cozy. You can technically seat three people in the rear, but the floor hump makes things uncomfortable. Also, while I and my rear-seat passengers had no problems with the available legroom or the rakish roofline, it might be a different story for those over six feet tall, MotorTrend says. Tall occupants should also skip the optional moonroof for similar reasons.
However, the seats themselves are extremely comfortable, including the front ones. They’re well-bolstered and supportive but easy to get in and out of. Furthermore, the seating position really makes you feel like you’re sitting snug in the car, not on top of it. And while the C-pillars are a bit thick, overall visibility is excellent. Having the optional Panoramic View Monitor does make life easier, though, especially since the nose sticks out a bit far.
My 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD test car had that option, as well as the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package. I recommend getting this package not just for the performance features, but also for the ash interior trim. This trim extends to the steering wheel, which makes it even more satisfying to hold.
It needs another infotainment upgrade, but its standard safety features are solid
In addition to these other options, my 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD also had the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Packages. This added an 1800-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, machined-aluminum knobs, and swapped the standard 8” touchscreen for a 10.3” one with navigation and voice commands. If you’re an audiophile, get this package.
Unfortunately, even this package doesn’t get rid of the Lexus IS 350’s touchpad. Admittedly, there are a few instances where it came in handy. And at least the sedan has a touchscreen now; before the infotainment overhaul, it had a mouse-like controller. But because the center console must accommodate the touchpad, it means there’s less room for other tech features. There’s no wireless charging option, for example, and the only USB outlets are in the center armrest.
In short, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport’s infotainment isn’t quite on, say, the BMW 3 Series’ level. Its safety features, though, are another matter. Lexus’s Safety System+ 2.5 suite includes several driver-assistance features, including:
- Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection
- Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Adaptive headlights
Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert comes standard, too. Also, the Panoramic View Monitor is bundled with Intuitive Parking Assist. Hence why it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Is the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD fast?
|2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport|
|Transmissions||RWD: Eight-speed automatic|
AWD: Six-speed automatic
|Curb weight||RWD: 3748 lbs|
AWD: 3880 lbs
|0-60 mph time||RWD: 5.6 seconds|
AWD: 5.7 seconds
Although Lexus updated the IS’ chassis and suspension, it didn’t touch its powertrains. So, the 2021 IS 350 F Sport has the same 3.5-liter V6 as the 2020 version. But it’s at least more powerful than the IS 300 AWD’s version of the same engine.
Though its naturally-aspirated V6, the IS 350 F Sport simply isn’t as fast in a straight line as its turbocharged rivals. The 382-hp BMW M340i, for example, goes 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds. And the 365-hp Genesis G70 3.3T hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. In this company, the IS 350 F Sport is merely reasonably brisk rather than fast.
On the plus side, the V6’s mildly-raspy growl sounds great through the sports exhaust. In addition, because it doesn’t have any turbos to spool, it’s rather responsive, especially in Sport+ Mode. And while it falls behind on paper, the IS 350 F Sport is more than quick enough in the real world. You won’t be losing any on-ramp merging races with this engine. No, it’s not the fastest sports sedan on the market. But it’s fast enough for most.
Plus, you’re rewarded for ringing out all the revs with an ever-growing shove. Though be warned, you’ll pay for it at the pump. The EPA estimates the 2021 IS 350 F Sport AWD gets 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway. But in 116 miles of mostly city driving, I saw roughly 16 mpg.
Even without AWD, it strikes a comfortable balance between luxury and sports sedan finesse
Since Chicago got some snow during my time with the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD, I got to put the last part of its name to good use. Whether you’re on dry or slush-covered pavement, the IS 350 AWD grips well, even if it’s not in Snow Mode.
But it’s not a problem if you do start sliding. The car’s stiff, well-balanced chassis and accurate, reasonably communicative, and surprisingly well-weighted steering make catching drifts a breeze. Furthermore, while the F Sport suspension keeps the IS 350 cornering flat, the adaptive shocks mean the ride never gets anywhere close to uncomfortable. The Alfa Romeo Giulia feels nimbler, but this Lexus is still very satisfying to drive on curvy roads. It’s a sports sedan alright.
One downside of getting AWD is the six-speed automatic. If you’re just driving along in traffic, it’s perfectly fine, not to mention smooth. But even in Sport+ Mode, it simply doesn’t upshift fast enough. Although downshifts are reasonably snappy, especially with the paddle shifters, they don’t eliminate the upshift delay. The eight-speed transmission isn’t perfect, either, MT says, but it’s better in this regard. Plus, the RWD cars have optional LSDs.
Still, overall, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD walks the fine line between everyday comfort and sporty handling. It’s fun when you want it to be and serene when you don’t.
Is the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD reliable?
Because the 2021 IS 350 F Sport is refreshed, it’s difficult to gauge its long-term reliability. However, the last few model years haven’t earned any complaints on CarComplaints. And since the 2021 car has carryover powertrains, it should be just as solid. Also, naturally-aspirated engines tend to be more durable than turbocharged ones. Just ask BMW M.
In addition, each 2021 Lexus has a 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Lexus also provides free wheel alignments and balancing for the first year or 12,000 miles of ownership, whichever comes first. The first two scheduled services at 6 months/5000 miles and 12 months/10,000 miles are free, too.
MotorBiscuit gives the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD an expert rating of 8.2/10
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD isn’t a perfect sports sedan. Its transmission lets it down somewhat and it arguably could use more power to stay competitive. Also, other sports sedans have larger interiors and better infotainment systems. However, this comfortable, well-built, and satisfying-to-drive car is all the sports sedan most people want and will need. The IS 350 F Sport isn’t an IS F, but it’s not trying to be—and that’s just fine.
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