Preview: Oh, Snap!

Rarely do I get really excited about a future vehicle.

Granted, it is not the Ford Bronco. That reveal is coming in the first week of July. The 2021 Nissan Rogue? It is the company’s bread-and-butter these days in North America.

The Bronco has been spoiled by leaks and Ford’s insistent teasing. The Rogue…well…refer to this Commentary from last week.

Neither of these vehicles register deeply as the one that was revealed on Monday night. There is a significance and meaning to this one. Nine years ago, this was the first vehicle presented to me for publication by a manufacturer. Granted it was the coupe/convertible version of that car, but it still holds a very dear place in my heart and my resume.

That car is the Lexus IS.

Monday night gave us a look at the next generation 2021 Lexus IS. And, I was genuinely excited to see it.

What can I tell you about the 2021 Lexus IS? Well

First off, all praise to the design of the exterior. As with the current/outgoing generation, the F Sport will be the focal point of the car’s design.  The spindle grille has become a starting point for all Lexus design. There had been some modification to it along the bottom of the front fascia with an active air duct at each lower corner of the grille.

The lines flow from there with absolute aggression. Lexus IMSA race driver Townsend Bell pointed out how the roofline has a taper affect that flows to the short trunk deck, giving it a coupe-like appearance. In other words, a four-door RC? Maybe, but the profile is a standout in its class even before it arrives in its showroom.

Where things get exciting is in the taillamp treatment. There is an L-shaped LED primary light on each end bridged by a single LED light across the rear decklid. The rear fender/wheel well starts a shoulder design element that gives the IS a more muscular theme. In all, body rigidity was engineered in the right places – on the C-pillar and at the rear of the car.

The interior design follows a lot of current Lexus themes. As with the revised 2020 RX, Lexus has moved the infotainment screen a few inches towards the driver to allow touch-capacitive operation, while adding the touchpad controller on the center console. The screen is over 10-inches wide and offers a multiple pane view. Smartphone integration is added to the mix, along with the most powerful Mark Levinson audio speaker application ever installed in the IS – let alone any Lexus smaller than the LS flagship sedan.

Circuit Red will be one of the interior color choices for the IS F Sport. Not huge news, but it is worth noting. I am looking forward to seeing how these seats will feel – in Circuit Red.

The 2021 IS will feature the next update on the Lexus Safety System + driver assistance suite. LSS+ version 2.5 will feature further enhancements on driver assistance technology that will help the driver while retaining the engagement level needed to master this great new premium sports compact sedan.

The initial engine lineup has not changed for the 2021 IS. The rear-drive IS 300 will have the 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to an eight-speed automatic that has adaptive shifting. The IS 300 all-wheel-drive model will get a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with a six-speed automatic. The IS 350 gets the same V6 with 311 horsepower. No word on a V8-powered model at this point, but the rumors have been flying around for such a variant.

The overarching message about the 2021 IS centers on the idea of a Lexus Driving Signature. This is not just the domain of the F Performance family, but for all Lexus vehicles to benchmark several elements necessary for driver engagement. These elements include vehicle construction for improving rigidity to achieve optimal dynamics, as well as finding the right ride-handling mix and steering behavior. These are just a few of the benchmarks that will drive the notion of the Lexus Driving Signature.

That message began with the construction of an all-new proving ground track in Shimoyama in Aichi Prefecture in Japan. There, Toyota created a playground that resumes more of a single-lane road than high speed test track. Modeled after parts of the Nordschleife section of the Nürburgring, Shimoyama provided the perfect arena for Lexus to develop not only the 2021 IS, but to lay down some parameters for future products in terms of driving engagement and vehicle feedback based on the Lexus Driving Signature.

It all comes back to this car. And, how excited I was to see it…virtually. Still, I had a few thoughts…

First, the competitive set for this car and segment has always been tough on Lexus. Except for the one time it beat the BMW 3-Series in a Road & Track test. Still, the premium sports compact sedan segment is like a backyard brawl at a posh country club with racing memorabilia on the walls. This is not just a battle with the usual German suspects. Lexus will have to contend with – and pulverize – the new kids on the block from Genesis, Cadillac, Alfa Romeo, and Jaguar. You could throw in the new 2021 Acura TLX in the mix if you want.

Secondly, I was hoping for a few more new details, such as the steering wheel. I was hoping for some more updates on the drivetrains, such as offering the eight-speed automatic on the AWD models and a heftier four-cylinder for the IS 300 that would match up with AWD.

Lastly, I do hope that Lexus offers a V8 variant for the new IS. Maybe a twin-turbo V6? Something that will get it into battle with the BMW M340i, Mercedes-Benz AMG C 43, Cadillac CT5-V Nightwing, and so forth.

Still, the promise this 2021 Lexus IS as to offer is massive. Not only am I eager to see it in person. I want to drive one. In particular the IS 350 F Sport with rear-wheel-drive.

Never before had I been this excited about a virtual vehicle launch. No, seriously…you bet I'm excited about this upcoming car.

And, yes, I do get excited about a vehicle from time to time.

All photos courtesy of the Lexus Division, Toyota Motor North America

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