This car serves as a reminder where this website has been over the past ten years.
Back in 2011, Lexus sent an IS 250C to truly kick off this website’s trajectory. Another IS 300 F Sport marked its fifth year of existence. This year, another IS marks the occasion. This time, it is the IS 350 F Sport.
The brief overview of this car goes like this: Lexus revamped the IS for 2021. They concentrated on revising basically everything, while retaining the same platform this third generation model rode on since 2013. Their revisions go beyond cosmetic. Lexus claims that the IS has greater rigidity and a more concentrated suspension.
The suspension part caught my attention.
Lexus stated that they developed the 2021 IS from a new Driving Signature. Essentially, this represents a new set of benchmarks for performance and driving dynamics that would dictate the future direction of the brand. They built a new test track at Shimoyama in Japan for both Toyota and Lexus to develop these vehicles to meet the criteria for the Driving Signature.
Of course, I am all about the driving experience. No matter where you live, you need to see whether the characteristics of a vehicle will match the roads you don’t normally traverse on. In my case, I’m an inner-ring suburbanite and the roads I want to explore with a car like the 2021 IS are at least 30-45 minutes away.
Before I dive into the driving experience, I want to draw your attention to the updated styling of the 2021 Lexus IS. It is because it looks more aggressive and offers sharper lines than before. My tester was the IS 350 F Sport, which brings the level of aggressiveness to another level.
Already, you have a more integrated LED headlamp design, incorporating what I call the “checkmark” driving lamps into the unit. The grille is wider overall, with a new shape at the bottom of the fascia. On the F Sport, the side “vents” are wide, giving it a nod to the RC F and GS F.
Out back, the taillights were reworked, as they now stick out from the rear fascia. A “bridge” was added to the trunk lid giving the taillights a single-unit look. The rear fenders and trunk lid were also reworked into a tapered profile.
In the middle, the silhouette is almost the same. There are some tweaks here and there, but it does have a familiar profile that melds all elements together.
For this F Sport, there are additional black elements onto the rocker panels. The rear diffuser adds more aggression to the tapered rear end. My tester came equipped with black 19-inch BBS alloy wheels with Bridgestone Turanza tires.
In all, this IS 350 F Sport is damn sexy. Perhaps sexier than before.
Once inside the IS 350 F Sport, I already noticed the biggest update in the interior. As with the RX, Lexus moved the infotainment screen forward towards the front seats. In this case, you can use it as a touchscreen. The track pad remains, as does the steering wheel controls. Mark Levinson offers up 17 speakers through an 1,800-watt surround sound system on this tester.
When it comes to letting the music play, these Rioja Red perforated leather seats are both comfortable and very supportive. You settle into those seats and command the road, as intended. However, the rear seats can be a bit tight for some adults. The center tunnel prevents even a fifth person to sit in the rear seats.
The rest of the IS F Sport’s cabin remains the same. I always enjoyed the LFA-inspired instrument cluster that features a sliding center dial that sides over to reveal a full information screen. The center dial is a digital treat with an analog-like tachometer and a digital speedometer.
The steering wheel has a very thick rim, which is easily controllable. I must admit that the steering wheel itself is of an old design and I was hoping it would be updated. Yet, it remains effective. Many of the controls are accessible, with the stalks offering a light touch to operate. No, the turns signals are not self-cancelling…and, yes, that is a nitpick on the IS.
According to Lexus, the trunk has been measured at 10.8 cubic feet. I swear that it is larger. One thing you need to negotiate is the step-down from the bumper for loading and unloading of heavier things – such as a large pullman for that week-long vacation.
Underneath the hood is the 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. This is the only engine available in the F Sport trim. From there, you can choose between a rear-drive model with an eight-speed automatic transmission or the all-wheel-drive version with a six-speed automatic. My tester is the latter of the two.
Two words describe this AWD driveline – proven and fun. The driveline is simply bulletproof, with the components working as they should. However, it is still fun to drive as it adheres to the Lexus Driving Signature. Throttle response is fantastic, and it cruises very deftly. You can add more drama to the mix by turning the drive mode knob to Sport S or Sport S+. Either mode kicks up the revs for a more engaging drive using the steering wheel mounted shift paddles and your right foot.
How does that translate into fuel consumption? To answer that, I averaged 25.4 MPG.
About that Lexus Driving Signature, I was wondering how that would translate onto this luxury sports sedan. Would the F Sport be a hardcore performance car? Or maybe a sporty cruiser? If you are looking for the former, we’re going to have to wait a few more months when the IS 500 F Sport Performance shows up at Lexus showrooms.
Therefore, I found my tester as more of a sporty cruiser. One that offers a balanced and smooth ride with superb athleticism. In Normal drive mode, you simply do not feel any roll or lean when doing evasive maneuvers or just tackling some curvy roads.
You can change some settings by switching the drive mode to Sport S+. By doing so, the steering weight becomes heavier, the suspension rate tightens up a tad, and you see higher revs per gear. In reality, I found that highway cruising is still relaxed at under 2,000 RPM and the suspension does not feel firm at all. Just compliant and sharp at the same time.
This ties into the IS’s steering system. Putting the car in to Sport S+ does weigh down the steering, providing greater control and stability. In Normal mode, the steering system has a solid on-center feel. The turning radius is good, not too wide or tight. Braking was good overall. The pedal feel was fine, as was the response to the calipers. I found stops were also good in normal and panic situations.
For the privilege of driving this revamped, refocused 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport with all-wheel drive, how much do you think it would cost? According to the sticker, this tester would set you back $58,040. That price includes the highly recommended F Sport Dynamic Handling Package, adding the Sport S/S+ drive modes and that cool fiber spoiler on the trunk lid. The 2021 IS lineup starts at $39,050 with a rear-drive IS 300 with the turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
What Lexus did here was to take what worked for their premium sports sedan and improved upon it. The design is more aggressive, the driving experience more balanced, and the overall packaging more attractive to enthusiasts and upmarket consumers.
Add the promise of the upcoming IS 500 F Sport Performance model, and this car becomes even more desirable. If you ask me, that particular IS will catapult this car onto the next plateau in its segment. I’m not saying that solely because it is a Lexus.
Even if you set aside the upcoming V8 version of the IS, you still have a premium sports sedan that’s always ready to upstage one of its contenders.
This newest version of the Lexus IS serves as a reminder of how far this website and my work evolved in the past ten years. It started with a coupe-convertible that offered a glimpse at a brand I admired since day one. Just like this IS 350 F Sport, there’s no end in sight.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern