All-new 2021 Lexus IS Actually Doesn’t Change Much

Published on June 15, 2020 in New Models by Guillaume Rivard

The current-generation Lexus IS dates back to 2014, so the new 2021 model unveiled today in a virtual premiere was kind of a big deal. However, it turned out to be kind of a dud.

Before going any further, you need to know that Lexus and parent company Toyota last year opened a new technical centre in Shimoyama, Japan in order to improve the performance and driving feel of their cars while making them more balanced and refined. The 2021 Lexus IS happens to be the first product embodying the new concept of “Lexus Driving Signature.”

“What we had foremost in mind in developing the new IS was to make it a car that excelled in communicating with the driver regardless of the road conditions or driving situation,” said Chief Engineer Naoki Kobayashi of Lexus International. “We aimed to make the new IS a Lexus luxury sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control.”

Photo: Lexus

Standing 30 mm longer and wider, the 2021 Lexus IS benefits from a more rigid body structure, which should translate into a smoother, quieter and more stable ride along with better handling. For the first time, it will be available with 19-inch wheels (the standard alloys increase from 17 to 18 inches) and those look pretty sharp, too.

Such an upgrade required a revision of the suspension including new forged aluminum A-arms, new stabilizer bars, new coil springs and more. All these components are 17-20 percent lighter, as well.

Timid Redesign

From a styling point of view, the changes are quite subtle. The grille is larger, the front lighting units are now integrated into a single, sleeker-looking assembly, the redesigned taillights are connected by a strip as seen on a growing number of vehicles nowadays, and the bumpers feature slightly different sculpting. The rear deck has been lowered to give the car a squatter look.

Beyond the wheels, F SPORT models stand out with exclusive Infrared paint (one of five new body colours introduced on the 2021 Lexus IS), more prominent air intakes and rocker mouldings, wider rear tires, a new rear spoiler and a unique exhaust.

Photo: Lexus

The interior remains largely unchanged, which is quite disappointing. Aside from a rearranged centre console, new touchscreen atop the dashboard and round air vents at each corner, it’s the same old IS we already know. It’s almost as if Lexus designers didn’t want to embrace the new decade. At least there are striking colour options like Glazed Caramel or Circuit Red to add some flair inside.

The aforementioned touchscreen, which is compatible avec Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is eight inches in size as standard or 10.3 inches in models with navigation. More importantly, it sits nearly 80 mm closer to the driver for easier access—a good thing because the frustrating touch pad is back on the centre console. Meanwhile, music lovers will surely appreciate the new available 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system totalling 1,800 watts.

Same Engines, Extra Safety

If you were hoping for more muscle under the hood, we’re sorry to tell you that the 2021 Lexus IS returns with the same three powertrains, starting with the IS 300 RWD and its turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The eight-speed automatic transmission it’s mated to gets adaptive control logic that helps determine the most appropriate gear for each driving situation, Lexus claims.

Photo: Lexus

As for the IS 300 AWD and IS 350 AWD, their 3.5-litre V6 still generates 260 hp/236 lb-ft. and 311 hp/280 lb-ft., respectively. Lexus didn’t even bother switching their old six-speed autobox with the new eight-speeder. The only change here is an improved Active Sound Control system which amplifies the notes of the V6 engine.

The brand prides itself on being a safety-first car company, so for 2021, the Lexus Safety System+ reaches new levels of sophistication. In particular, the single-lens camera and millimeter-wave radar elements of the Pre-Collision System receive enhancements to expand the response range, detecting even a preceding pedestrian in daytime and low-light conditions. Also, lane keeping assist has been improved with enhanced recognition of line and road edge.

The new 2021 Lexus IS will arrive at dealerships in late fall. Pricing, fuel economy ratings and full equipment details will be announced a short while earlier.

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