The decision: Just a few gentle updates maintain Lexus’ sporty IS sedan alive and kicking, aimed squarely to seize the few remaining sports activities sedan consumers left in the marketplace.

Versus the competitors: The updates don’t go deep sufficient to make the IS 350 totally aggressive towards newer, brisker, quicker rivals just like the BMW M340i, Genesis G70 or Acura’s new TLX.

The gorgeous factor about so many individuals beginning to abandon entry-level luxurious sedans for entry-level luxurious SUVs and crossovers is that for the few remaining gamers on this class, a change is happening. That is changing into particularly apparent on the Japanese luxurious manufacturers, the place as an alternative of abandoning compact sports activities sedans, they’re altering their focus. Not are they only entry-level fashions; the newest ones are being realigned particularly to be interesting sports activities sedans. The pondering goes that anybody nonetheless a sedan over an SUV is admittedly in it for the type and fun-to-drive elements, so why not make them the principle focus of the automotive?

Acura did it with the brand new 2021 TLX, and now Lexus has accomplished it with the 2021 IS 300 and IS 350. However has the redo and realignment of the IS gone far sufficient to maintain it aggressive towards newer, brisker, quicker rivals?

Associated: 2021 Lexus IS: ‘I’ Is for Improved, ‘S’ is for Sort Of

Appears to be like a Bit Brisker

There are two fashions to select from within the new IS lineup: the entry-level IS 300 with a 241-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, or the IS 350 you see right here with its naturally aspirated 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Both mannequin may be had with rear- or all-wheel drive, however if you happen to go for an IS 300 AWD, it really comes with a much less highly effective, 260-hp model of the V-6 that additionally has much less torque than the turbo four-cylinder. All RWD automobiles include an ordinary eight-speed computerized transmission, whereas AWD automobiles include a six-speed computerized.

Right here’s the place we begin to see the brand new deal with making the IS a sporty sedan: The IS 300 F Sport is not a factor. You may’t get the F Sport dealing with and look bundle on that model — however all IS 350 fashions routinely include the F Sport trim, that means you may get an IS 350 solely in F Sport guise. In case you go for the IS 350 (which you in all probability ought to given its important energy benefit over the IS 300), you’ll be getting this — a compact sports activities sedan with a 311-hp nonturbo V-6 carried over from the previous mannequin yr with customary rear-wheel drive, an eight-speed computerized, a sport suspension, customary 19-inch wheels and extra aggressive styling.

Lexus has up to date the look of the IS for 2021, and I’ve to say that it’s a delicate however particular enchancment. These bizarre Nike swoosh signature LED lights up entrance have now been effectively built-in into the bigger headlight meeting and look a lot, a lot better. The Lexus signature spindle grille continues to be right here, nevertheless it’s both merely grown on us or simply doesn’t look as offensive because it used to; both means, I believe we’re lastly used to it. The fenders are a tad wider to accommodate the larger wheels and tires on the IS 350 F Sport, and a brand new trunk and rear bumper with a full-width LED taillight makes for extra muscular-looking haunches. The Dynamic Dealing with Bundle accessible on the F Sport brings a few styling modifications, too, together with the addition of pretty matte-black 19-inch BBS wheels and a fairly pointless carbon-fiber trunk spoiler. The general modifications have cleaned up the IS 350 significantly, giving it a decrease, wider, extra menacing look that’s much less funky however extra engaging.

Doesn’t Drive Any In another way

Out on the road, the brand new IS 350 actually doesn’t really feel that totally different from the final one. Greater than 300 horsepower may sound like quite a bit on paper, however 280 pounds-feet of torque isn’t all that spectacular anymore, and it reveals up within the IS 350’s fairly underwhelming straight-line acceleration. Many of its competitors, such because the Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Genesis G70 and BMW 330, all make use of turbocharged engines with torque that’s accessible low within the rev vary, making for punchier acceleration than the IS 350 delivers. The IS actually isn’t sluggish, however neither does it have the immediacy you’d count on if you flooring the accelerator as you enter a freeway on-ramp or pull out in entrance of visitors. Lexus’ given 0-60-mph time of 5.6 seconds isn’t precisely class-leading anymore. The eight-speed computerized transmission is effectively executed and does an honest job of offering clean shifts, nevertheless it doesn’t appear fast or wanting to kick down if you plant your foot, solely including to the extra relaxed, barely underpowered feeling the IS 350 delivers. Merely put, the IS 350 feels prefer it may use a extra up-to-date engine and transmission combo, one thing that will increase its acceleration to match the extra highly effective and equally priced choices just like the BMW M340i or Infiniti Q50 Purple Sport 400.

There’s not a lot to fault with the IS 350’s dealing with, nonetheless. The suspension supplies a superb steadiness of consolation and responsiveness that basically does impress with its refined really feel. For a bit extra money, you possibly can specify the Dynamic Dealing with Bundle in your IS 350 F Sport that features an digital adaptive suspension, adjusting the journey firmness and response through a mode selector on the middle console. I actually didn’t discover that it affected the journey high quality or steering effort noticeably if I switched from Regular mode to Sport S or Sport S Plus modes, nevertheless it did appear to get up the powertrain with a extra responsive throttle and permit extra revs to construct earlier than shifting. Retaining it in Sport modes isn’t actually conducive to serene driving, nonetheless, so that you’re doubtless going to simply maintain it in Regular the place the IS 350 proves to be a pleasantly quiet touring automotive that permits for quicker cruising speeds than you may in any other case count on.

Time to Rethink the Inside

Inside, there have been a couple of modifications to the IS 350 for 2021, however once more the automotive is displaying how a lot it may use a rethink to its complete platform. The inside mixes first rate faux leather-based and good ash wooden accents on the F Sport with unremarkable plastic surfaces. One notable choice is the Circuit Purple inside, which actually appears beautiful — sadly, my check automotive got here outfitted with a extra somber, much less fascinating black inside. You will have a extremely welcome new touchscreen entrance and heart, which lastly lets you skip utilizing Lexus’ distant management for the multimedia system. An 8-inch display (measured diagonally) is customary, and the 10.3-inch display in my check automotive is non-compulsory on automobiles outfitted with navigation. It’s virtually 6 inches nearer to the motive force than the earlier display, so it’s simpler to see and attain. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are customary, as is Amazon Alexa integration. 

Lexus’ maddening distant joystick management has been changed by a brand new touchpad, which is a bit higher, however there’s no substitute for with the ability to contact the display on to do what you need to do. Fortunately, Lexus has lastly realized that.

There isn’t a lot continuity to button design, with some buttons feeling giant and effectively labeled, whereas others are tiny and exhausting to seek out, and nonetheless others are virtually fully obscured from the motive force’s view and tough to make use of in any respect. The digital gauge cluster options an uncommon sliding spherical grasp gauge that first appeared in F Sport variations of the IS and different Lexuses many years ago, impressed by the LFA supercar, nevertheless it actually simply appears needlessly gimmicky. And the truth that a vibrant inexperienced “Eco” mild illuminates within the gauge cluster each time the engine enters its fuel-saving mode is actually annoying. In brief, the IS 350’s inside format and management technique wants a contemporary redo.

However that’s not likely the largest problem with the inside. The IS 350 is cramped inside, with a slim cabin and pretty tight seats. It options an unusually excessive driving place that feels as if the seat may stand to be an inch or two decrease; extra adjustability to the underside cushion’s angle could be good, too. The rear seats are additionally tight, with ample room for 2 on brief journeys and decidedly extra legroom than, say, an Alfa Romeo Giulia, however general room in again feels about common for this class of sedan. There’s loads of room within the trunk, and the rear seats do fold to permit for bigger objects. Sure, it is a compact sports activities sedan, and no one’s anticipating it to be a limousine. However its general design aesthetic, packaging and management format all appear to be in want of a extra complete replace.

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A Higher Worth Solely on Base Fashions

The fundamental Lexus IS 300 RWD begins at $40,025 (all costs embrace destination), and my IS 350 F Sport RWD check automotive begins at a nonetheless affordable $43,925, which rings in a number of thousand {dollars} lower than the 2020 IS 350 F Sport because of Lexus’ new trim technique. Add the moonroof, Dynamic Dealing with Bundle, navigation with premium Mark Levinson audio and some different odds and ends, and also you come to my automotive’s as-tested value of $55,220. That’s a bit tougher to swallow, frankly, given the other competitors you’ve gotten at this value like a BMW M340i or Infiniti Q50 Purple Sport 400, each of which outgun the IS 350 within the powertrain division. And even go for the brand new 2021 Cadillac CT5-V or Genesis G70 3.3T, each of which additionally characteristic extra highly effective engines for much less cash, accompanied by extra trendy interiors.

Lexus’ entry-level sports activities sedan is supposed to be an excellent place to begin for followers trying to get into the model, and its refocused vitality on capturing the few remaining sports activities sedan consumers with a extra value-oriented F Sport mannequin is commendable. However its updates for 2021 didn’t fairly go far sufficient to make it a extra aggressive providing versus the significantly newer, brisker and extra highly effective rivals. Nonetheless, it has its appears and refinement going for it, together with Lexus’ status for reliability. If these elements weigh extra closely for you, then the brand new 2021 Lexus IS could be price placing in your procuring record.

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