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Sharply creased sheetmetal and furrowed headlamps give the 2021 Lexus IS an aggressive appearance that will help it stand apart from the sports-sedan crowd. Lexus claims to have focused on a bold design and a crisp driving experience with this redesigned—but not all-new —model in order to better compete with the Audi A4, the BMW 3-series, and the Genesis G70. The IS can be had with either a turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a gutsier V-6, the latter available with performance-enhancing features that should help satisfy driving enthusiasts and put the IS back in the hunt among its sprightlier rivals. Inside, driver and passengers are treated to a cabin that’s lined with well-chosen materials, but passenger space is snug; other entry-luxury cars offer an airier environment. Expect the 2021 IS to appear in Lexus showrooms this fall.
What’s New for 2021?
The freshened IS rolls into 2021 with updated interior and exterior styling, enhanced driving dynamics, improved driver-assistance features, and a modernized infotainment system.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We’d suggest the full-monty IS350 F Sport with rear-wheel drive. Not only does the F Sport package offer more aggressive exterior styling, it also comes with unique 19-inch wheels with larger rear tires, a cold-air intake system, a limited-slip rear differential, an F Sport exhaust, and sport seats with heat and ventilation. We’d also opt for the optional Dynamic Handling package which also includes an adaptive suspension system.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The 2021 IS’s engine options carry over from the 2020 model unchanged and include a 241-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the IS300 and a 311-hp V-6 in the IS350. We’ve not been a fan of the four-cylinder in previous tests of the IS300, as its dull character isn’t well matched to the car’s athletic chassis. Ordering the V-6 allows the IS to shine, and for 2021 it is the only way to get into the F Sport model, which brings numerous performance upgrades such as a limited-slip rear differential, staggered 19-inch wheels, and an optional adaptive suspension. Lexus claims to have redesigned the IS’s suspension for 2021, but we haven’t had a chance to test-drive the new model. When we last tested an all-wheel-drive IS350 F Sport, we recorded a brisk 5.5-second zero-to-60-mph time—no better than average for this swift class.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA hasn’t released fuel-economy estimates for the 2021 IS lineup, but we aren’t expecting much to change from last year’s model. The 2020 IS300 earned ratings as high as 30 mpg highway and as low as 18 mpg city depending on drivetrain, while the V-6 IS350 was rated as high as 28 mpg highway and as low as 19 mpg city. When we tested an all-wheel-drive IS350 on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test route, it delivered 30 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
While not nearly as spacious or deluxe as Lexus’s flagship LS sedan, the compact IS still offers a premium experience. Power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and push-button start are all standard features while a power sunroof and leather upholstery are optional. Although changes to the cabin are minimal, a discerning eye will notice relocated cupholders, round air vents near the door panels, and an infotainment system that’s been moved closer to the edge of the dashboard. We expect the IS’s interior space to be unchanged from the cramped 2020 model, so don’t expect tons of space for family or cargo.
Infotainment and Connectivity
An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard and also utilizes a console-mounted touchpad; a larger 10.3-inch display is optional and comes bundled with in-dash navigation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included with either system, as is Amazon Alexa integration. Like the previous generation IS, a Mark Levinson premium stereo system is available as an option, but this time with 17 speakers and 1800 watts of power.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Crash test results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) haven’t yet been published. Lexus continues to offer a standard suite of driver-assistance features as standard on the IS lineup, though, including automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Lexus says the system’s sensors have been upgraded for 2021 to improve detection of pedestrians and bicyclists in low-light conditions. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The IS has comprehensive coverage that’s highlighted by the best powertrain warranty. The first year of scheduled maintenance is included at no charge.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 6 years or 70,000 miles
- Complimentary scheduled maintenance is covered for 1 year or 10,000 miles
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