Still a crowd pleaser – the 2021 Lexus IS350
The Lexus IS has always been one of my favorite luxury sport sedans ever since it made its debut back in 1999. I’m not sure if it’s because the rear-wheel drive compact sport sedan is so much fun to be in and drive, or because it’s so different when compared to the rest of the cars in the Lexus lineup. Or maybe with its sub-$45,000 starting price it is one of the few Lexus models that can be considered ‘affordable’. As I was handed the keys to a 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport, those feelings of excitement have returned.
Currently in its third generation, the IS still looks as good now as it did when this generation first appeared in 2013. I recall Lexus referring to the design as “aggressive elegance” – and that still holds true today. There are large air intakes up front, and with the optional F Sport package, there is a more pronounced spindle grille as well as spoilers at both ends of the car. Sporty, yes, but the lines of the car give it a very luxurious presence.
As Lexus is gearing up to rollout an all-new IS for next year, it continues to improve on the current design. The 2021 Lexus IS receives a freshening to its headlights and tailights, a new Dynamic Handling package on F Sport models and a reworked user-interface for the infotainment screen.
Being that the tester is an IS350, it is equipped with 3.5-liter V6 that makes 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. If horsepower and acceleration isn’t a concern, the IS300 is a nice way to go. Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (241 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque) it also uses an eight-speed automatic transmission. An all-wheel drive version of the IS is also available. Called the IS 300 AWD, it uses a less powerful version of the 3.5-liter V6 (260 hp, 236 lb-ft) and sends power to all four wheels by way of a six-speed automatic.
For the driving enthusiast, there is a new optional Dynamic Handling package on the IS350 F-Sport. It includes a Torsen Limited Slip rear differential along with chassis and suspension enhancements to make the IS a real performer. And to make the IS look the part, it is fitted with 19-inch BBS wheels and a carbon fiber rear spoiler.
Inside the IS is a tastefully appointed cabin. Supple leather and wood trim dress up the revised dashboard. The bucket seats are some of the best around with the F Sport receiving special seats that have microfiber inserts and leather side bolsters to keep the driver and passenger better planted during hard cornering. But as nice as the interior is, a common complaint has been the user interface for the infotainment system that relied on a touchpad. Thankfully, for 2021, that issue has been resolved – sort of. The screen, being the standard 8-inch or optional 10.3 inch, has been mounted about 6 inches closer than before and it is now a touchscreen. Meaning the driver doesn’t have to rely on the touchpad to control the various systems. So the annoying touchpad is still there – but the driver no longer has to use it. Also new is the system is now compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Behind the wheel and on the road in an IS350 continues to be a joy. The car feels very refined and the steering and handling are spot on. There is enough power from the V6 to get the IS to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds and cover the quarter mile in about 14.2 seconds. While it’s far from being the quickest car in its class, the IS is still a fast car.
Downfalls? The list is short, but it does exist. First is one that has plagued this IS since its debut and that is the cramped backseat. It’s tight – especially when it comes to legroom. The other is the power. In a world where turbo four-cylinders or six-cylinders seems to be the norm, the IS seems a step behind.
Still, though, it is quite easy to be impressed with the IS, especially as the IS350 F Sport. It looks great, is luxurious and it’s fast. And that is why the IS remains one of my favorite luxury sport sedans available.
— Christopher A. Randazzo
By The Numbers:
2021 Lexus IS350 FSport
Base Price: $42,900.00
Price as Tested: $54,625.00
Layout: front-engine / rear-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5 liter V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 311 hp
Torque: 280 ft/lb
EPA Fuel Economy: 20 city / 28 highway mpg
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