Even though the Lexus IS has been around in some shape or form for the past 20 years, it often does not get some of the respect and credit that it rightfully deserves. With segment benchmarks like the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and the legendary BMW 3-Series still resonating profoundly in the compact luxury car segment, the quirky IS has never really had the opportunity to outshine the trio. Lexus engineers were eager to change that reality, and have formally unveiled the 2021 IS via a virtual event.
The exterior styling of the 2021 IS will arguably be the most noticeable change that buyers will notice. Unlike the outgoing model which was beginning to show its age, the 2021 IS adopts a very modern and sleek design. The front fascia still has the signature Lexus spindle grille, but Lexus designers have added a “three dimensional” version of it to the car, while the unit itself is complimented by redesigned headlights that ditch the split motif. A larger lower front air intake, and larger accenting vents infuse more cohesion and poise into the already aggressive DNA. F-Sport models gain more black accents, as well as mesh accents for the grille and vent work.
The profile also transforms into a more sculpted and muscular look, with a broad shoulder line that extends up and over the rear wheel wells. Speaking of the wheels, they are brand new too, with the F-Sport featuring optional 19-inch BBS wheels for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup comes equipped with standard 18-inch wheels. The rear fascia of the 2021 IS adopts a full width light bar that seamlessly meshes into the angular fixtures on either side. This particular feature was teased earlier this month in a teaser image.
The interior of the 2021 IS has been extensively tweaked, but it is not an all new affair either. While the basic design still has some old hand me downs from the outgoing car, Lexus engineers have upgraded the technology somewhat. An 8.0 inch touchscreen is standard equipment, with the unit itself being three inches closer to the driver. A larger 10.3 inch touchscreen infotainment system is optional, but the IS now boasts standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa capability. However, the system is still controlled by the annoying touch pad controller which we have encountered in other Lexus models. Here’s hoping that it has received some software fixes to reduce the amount of frustration that occurs when using it out on the move.
Along with the tweaks to the cabin, Lexus also gave the car more safety features, with the car debuting the all new Lexus Safety System+ 2.5. This suite of driving aides includes goodies such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection and pre-collision warning. More advanced features like adaptive cruise control are available too, but only as optional extras.
But the biggest surprise of them all is the performance hardware for the 2021 IS. Prior to its unveiling, rumors flowed about some potential new engines that could make their debut here (including a new V8.) But those rumors turned out to be a colossal red herring, with the 2021 IS actually carrying over ALL the old model’s engines. The base rear-wheel drive IS 300 model retains the 241 horsepower 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder, and is currently the only way you can get a four cylinder in the IS. The all-wheel drive version of the IS 300 uses a more powerful 3,5 liter V6 that’s good for 260 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Finally, the range topping IS 350 uses a tweaked version of the V6 that makes 311 horsepower and 286 lb-ft of torque. Both rear wheel drive models use an eight speed automatic, while all-wheel drive models lose two gears and arrive with a six speed auto. Buyers that want an F-Sport model will have to upgrade to the 350 since the option leaves the IS 300 lineup for 2021. The rear-wheel drive IS 350 can make the sprint to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, with the all-wheel drive version getting there in 5.7 seconds.
But while the engines did not change for 2021, Lexus engineers did improve the suspension to deliver even sharper handling. The new coil springs are 20 percent lighter than before, while the A-arms and stabilizer bar are 18 and 17 percent lighter respectively. These changes also go along with a slight increase in overall dimensions, with the 2021 IS being 12. inches longer and wider than the outgoing model. Width also creeps up by 0,2 of an inch. Buyers that choose to buy the IS 350 F-Sport model can opt for the Dynamic Handling package that features adaptive shocks. Hopefully, the slight increase in size and the changes made to the suspension components will help create a car that is more dynamically expressive and disciplined than before.
Lexus did not reveal how much the 2021 IS will cost, but look for the first units to begin arriving in showrooms before the end of the year.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.