“Sports car” is a bit of a vague term. Like “supercar,” a sports car doesn’t really have a hard and fast meaning. It really comes down to a perceived “sportiness” that also doesn’t mean much unless you actively race it. At any rate, we use the term all the time, and while I may not be able to define it specifically, I know a sportscar when I see one. Try as I might, I didn’t see it in the 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport. I believe it failed to be a sports car in three major ways.
Is the 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport fast?
No, not really. The luxury “sports” sedan sounds like a sportscar on paper but really doesn’t deliver on the main thing that comes to mind when I think “sports car,” which is speed. Of course, speed is relative, but the IS350 doesn’t even have the snap that makes you forget speed’s relativity. I know a Huracan is way more powerful than a Miata, but the snap of the Miata makes you forget all about the Lambo.
The Lexus’s 311-hp 3.5-liter V6 feels sluggish and heavy. It does plenty of snarling the further you get up the RPMs, but the speed never really seems to come. It’s like that dude at the gym making all that noise but never really seems to lift all that much. According to Car and Driver, it’ll do 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Honestly, that isn’t a terrible time, but for something so fierce-looking and sounding, the car doesn’t translate that acceleration to the driver at all. I never once felt that low-rpm that gets your rate up.
What kind of transmission does the IS350 F Sport have?
It would be foolish to expect a manual transmission in this day and age, but crisp and agressive automatic transmissions are out there aplenty, and it seems Lexus couldn’t find one. The gear changes are lazy and wet. They remind me of something falling over, not a decisive shift. Even in Sport+ mode, which holds gears longer and supports more aggressive driving, the paddles in the back are more like a gentle suggestion to someone who isn’t listening in the first place. The downshifts were way late and sloppy. The upshifts only happen when the moon and stars align on the second Tuesday of every other month. This was easily my least favorite part of the car.
Rear-wheel drive is fun, but is ultimately a buzz kill
This one is a little more complicated than the others. I love rear-wheel-drive cars. I grew up driving them; I learned to act a fool in them. They rule. The problem here isn’t really a problem; it’s more like seeing a cop on the road before you are about to do something stupid; that could well have saved your life, but it was a bummer at the time.
The buzz kill really comes from how good the traction control is, and it is great. It was very snowy and icy while testing the IS350 F Sport. I was often grateful for the effectiveness of traction control, but I found myself stuck in the middle. Rear-wheel drive is fun because of drifting and donuts. All-wheel drive is fun because the grip adds response and cornering ability.
Thankfully, the traction control turns off very easily, and while this isn’t advisable on public roads, I had a private dirt road that allowed me the only time this car moved from great looking but boring to great looking, dirty, and a blast.
The second that TC came off, all 311 horses went to those back wheels and urged the Lexus to send its tail out in a flash. It is was controlled, eager, and slow while driving like this, but THAT felt like I was driving a sports car. If the IS350 F Sport had more power, the RWD would be more fun without turning off the traction control. I would also settle for an AWD version that would put the power down and get it moving quicker without hitting the TC.
The Lexus isn’t a bad car at all; it just isn’t quite to sports car territory
I enjoyed driving it through town and running errands while I had it, but when I went for a drive, and I wanted to give it a little bit of the business, it just didn’t really come through like I thought it might.