The 2021 Lexus IS Is Tweaked, Not Fully Updated

Though the Supra’s 2JZ remains a first-gen IS300 exclusive, Lexus has updated its compact sports sedan over the years. The second-gen, for instance, got the V8-engined IS F. And now, for the 2021 model year, the Lexus IS enters its fourth generation. But the new model is less a full overhaul than a careful refinement.

The 2021 Lexus IS’ mechanical changes

Gray 2021 Lexus IS sedan
2021 Lexus IS | Lexus

Under the new styling, the 2021 Lexus IS rides on the same platform it’s had since 2013, Motor Trend. However, that’s not unlike the Dodge Challenger and Charger, as well as the Nissan Frontier. And to be fair, for 2021 the IS’ platform and suspension have been tweaked somewhat.

The body is more rigid, for better handling and ride comfort, and less NVH. The shock absorbers have new valves, Road & Track reports, to further ride improvement. The rest of the Lexus IS’ suspension is also revised, with new and lighter springs, control arms, and anti-roll bars.

To further decrease weight, Lexus gave the IS some LFA supercar tech. Instead of the usual lug nuts and studs, the wheels have lighter and stiffer bolts. Exactly how much weight was saved overall isn’t stated. But cutting unsprung weight does improve comfort and handling.

But for all those tweaks, the 2021 Lexus IS doesn’t get new powertrains. The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 still has a 241-hp, 258-lb-ft 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with an 8-speed automatic. There’s also an IS 300 AWD, which comes with a 260-hp 3.5-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic. The Lexus IS 350 has the same V6, albeit tuned to 311 hp and 280 lb-ft. As before, the 350 is available in both 8-speed RWD and 6-speed AWD trims. 0-60 in RWD form comes in 5.6 seconds.

Silver 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport sedan, rear view
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport rear | Lexus

However, although the Lexus IS 350’s powertrain didn’t change, its F Sport trim has a few new things. In addition to some blacked-out trim and larger brake cooling ducts, it has a cold-air intake and sports exhaust, Roadshow reports. There’s also an updated Dynamic Handling Package. This adds adaptive dampers, some carbon-fiber trim, extra driving modes, a RWD-only limited-slip differential, and lighter-weight BBS wheels.

The interior: what’s new, what’s not

The 2021 Lexus IS also receives a few interior tweaks.

The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport's interior, showing the red upholstery and center console trim, touchscreen, touchpad, and digital instrument cluster
2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport interior | Lexus

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, as is Amazon Alexa. An 8” touchscreen is standard, but there’s also an optional 10.3” one bundled with navigation, Hagerty reports. The touchscreens are closer to the driver than in the previous model, though, Motor1 reports. In addition, the 2021 IS ditches Lexus’ mouse-like infotainment controller for the navigation system. Instead, it has a touchpad mounted in the center console.

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Lexus has updated the 2021 IS’ driver-assistance features as well. The standard collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems can now detect cyclists in addition to cars and pedestrians. The improved detection also comes with steering assist, to better allow rapid turns in emergency situations. Blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning with lane-centering are also standard. Adaptive cruise control with traffic-sign and speed-limit detection is newly standard, too.

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Going with the Lexus IS 350 F Sport also gets you some interior upgrades. They include heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and an LFA-inspired digital instrument cluster.

Pricing and availability

As of this writing, 2021 Lexus IS pricing has not been revealed. The current IS 300 starts at $38,560. The 2021 model, then, will likely start at around $40,000.

The 2021 IS is expected to arrive in dealerships sometime in fall 2020, Autoblog reports. Pricing details will likely be revealed closer to then.

2021 Lexus IS vs. the competition

2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti
2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti | Alfa Romeo

These updates are a welcome sight for the Lexus IS. Especially the F Sport, which Car and Driver reports is starting to fall behind the competition. And that competition has grown beyond just cars like the faster-accelerating BMW 3-Series and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Gold 2021 Acura TLX Type S on a track, front view
2021 Acura TLX Type S front | Acura

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For one, Acura is about to release the new TLX Type S. Its exact horsepower ratings are still unknown. However, even conservative estimates put it at 350-360 hp. And even the 2021 base TLX’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes more power than the IS 300’s V6. The TLX will cost roughly the same as the IS, meaning Lexus will have to make sure its sports sedan can compete in handling and luxury.

2019 Genesis G70
2019 Genesis G70 | Genesis

Then there’s the Genesis G70. Its optional 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 makes 54 more hp, and in RWD can go 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. And the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder model offers something the Lexus IS doesn’t: a manual. All for roughly the same price.

We’ll have to see, then, if the small changes Lexus made for the 2021 IS yield any fruit.

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