When the first IS series cars from Lexus hit U.S. showrooms in 2000, they made a splash with younger buyers interested in a sportier look. But for many car enthusiasts, Lexus has lagged behind the competition when it comes to keeping the 350’s look relevant. Billed as an affordable thrill ride, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 includes some upgrades aimed at regaining ground on competitors.
Did the carmaker’s tweaks to the IS 350 go far enough to keep sports sedan buyers interested?
What’s new with the 2021 Lexus IS 350
It’s hard to deny that the IS 350’s new look is sportier and more aggressive. But is its beauty only skin deep? Cars.com recently took a closer look at the 2021 Lexus IS 350. The website had some reservations about whether the automaker has missed the mark with its 2021 updates, saying it didn’t “go deep enough to make the IS 350 fully competitive against newer, fresher, faster rivals like the BMW M340i, Genesis G70, or Acura’s new TLX.”
Exterior styling changes on the IS 350 are subtle but noticeable. Lexus exchanged the Nike-swoosh-style headlights for larger ones, but the signature spindle grille is still there. Wider fenders to accommodate 19-inch wheels — along with a more aggressive-looking rear, sporting full-width taillights — give the vehicle a more menacing appearance.
The 2021 Lexus IS 350’s interior sees only a few minor updates. Most noticeable is the stunning Circuit Red interior option. Another welcome addition is the new touchscreen front and center, allowing drivers to skip using Lexus’ remote control to manage the car’s multimedia system.
Expect a 311-hp, 3.5-liter V6 capable of generating 280 lb-ft of torque. It comes paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission carried over from the 2020 model. The 350’s sport suspension includes a new Dynamic Handling Package. Still, it does little to change how the car drives unless you add electronic adaptive suspension, which allows you to adjust ride firmness and response using a mode selector on the center console. Sport mode adds extra responsiveness to the throttle, allowing for higher revving before shifting.
Will the changes be enough to attract sport sedan buyers?
The changes to the 2021 Lexus IS 350, although attractive, do little to make a strong case for buyers. Little was done to upgrade the 350’s interior and technology, which are well past due for improvements. The latest model doesn’t drive any better or worse than its predecessor, and 280 lb-ft torque is no longer impressive among competitors producing torque over 300 lb-ft and improved torque-within-rev range.
Overall, the Lexus IS 350 isn’t a complete disappointment. Sport sedan buyers will appreciate the sportier, more aggressive exterior design, a starting price nearly $3,000 lower on base models, and the addition of electronic adaptive suspension as an upgrade option. The 350 is also well-powered and handles well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it bears the Lexus name, which maintains solid dependability and customer satisfaction ratings.
Lexus missed the mark with its IS 350 updates
However, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 was tweaked rather than upgraded. While the latest model offers a few noticeable changes, they’re mostly subtle. And though the IS 350 is due a significant redesign, the automaker has yet to produce the necessary changes to make a strong argument against its competitors in the sport sedan market. Lexus missed the mark with this year’s upgrade.