The 2021 Lexus IS Debuts With Fresh Looks and Technology But Still Falls Short in The Areas That Matter the Most

The Lexus IS has been around for a very long time now, trying to fit itself as one of the cool guys that hangs out with the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4, and BMW 3 Series. But, not many people see it as a worthy alternative to any of the three Germans.

Lexus is trying to change that image for the better part of the last decade with some major upgrades, but it has failed to make a mark. Now, the company has launched the 2021 IS model with refreshed looks on the outside, but pretty much the same on the interior and under the hood. Will the IS be a real threat to its rivals this time?

What’s New On The Outside?

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The 2021 Lexus IS looks new and refreshed without looking a whole lot different from its predecessor.

In still rides on the same platform, but it is longer and wider by 1.2 inches. Up front, it still carries the same hourglass, spindle grille, but now with revised three-dimensional elements and a tad more size added. The redesigned bumpers and headlights look extremely sharp. The boomerang-shaped LEDs under the headlights present on the 2020 IS are now integrated inside the headlamp clusters.

Lexus is offering triple-beam LED headlights as an option as well. The air intakes are larger and more asymmetrical, but suit the persona of the 2021 model. They are functional on the F-Sport model, but cosmetic on the standard models.

The side profile looks striking and the boomerang design is evident here. It starts around the front door and goes all the way up to the rear door’s handle. The wheel arches are prominent but not flared. This time around, Lexus has introduced 19-inch wheels on the IS 350 F-Sport as optional. 18-inch shoes are now standard on all the trims.

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Lexus says the wheel hubs are lighter and stronger now. The wing mirrors are mounted on the doors and stick out a little too wide when viewed from the front. It gives the car a Pagani Huayra-esque look. Overall, it may seem overdone to a few folks, but it looks sharp and modern from the side.

The rear is radically different from the 2020 Lexus IS. The previous model saw the taillights bulging downwards along the bumper line. This time, they extend outwards running parallel to the ground. Lexus has also connected both the taillights with a light bar, which seems to be the trend these days.

The diffuser is larger and gives the IS a sporty appearance. The rear profile is sure to draw polarizing opinions, although I find it smarter than the 2020 IS. If you were planning to opt for the IS 300 in the F-Sport trim, I have bad news for you. Unlike the 2020 model, Lexus will offer the F-Sport version only on the IS 350. The IS 300 F-Sport is eliminated.

What’s Different On The Inside?

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On the inside, things are pretty much the same in terms of layout and appearance. The rectangle air vents are left out in favor of round units. The armrest and center console are redesigned and Lexus is offering a few new trims and colors for the cabin. In terms of technology, however, there are a few noticeable changes.

The 2021 Lexus IS now comes with an eight-inch touchscreen as standard, as opposed to the seven-inch screen on the previous iteration.

The automaker has positioned the screen three inches closer to the driver. You can opt for a larger 10.30-inch screen as well.

2021 Lexus IS Interior
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Lexus has finally offered Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the IS. The automaker is even offering Amazon Alexa as standard. It needs to be seen if the system is directly integrated into the infotainment system, as it is in the Lamborghini Huracan EVO. If yes, then this integration will also allow access to all standard Alexa features and capabilities, including playing music, getting directions, placing calls, turning on the air conditioner, etc. It will even be accessible even when the vehicle is offline. Lexus will continue offering the touchpad controller on this model, too.

It Comes With Lexus’ Latest Safety Equipment

2021 Lexus IS Exterior
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The 2021 Lexus IS is benefitted from the automaker’s latest safety suite called "Lexus Safety System+ 2.5". It includes:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian And Bicyclist Detection
  • Pre-Collision Warning System
  • Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go Functionality
  • Road-Sign Assist
  • Lane-Departure Alert with Lane-Centering Technology

Lexus Has Retained The Same Engine Choices for the 2021 Model Year

2021 Lexus IS Exterior
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Unfortunately, Lexus has carried over the same engines in the same states of tune. Not even a slight power bump in any of the mills.

The base IS 300 features a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged mill that makes 241 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a revised eight-speed automatic transmission. It is expected to do the 0-60 mph sprint in 6.9 seconds. The IS 300 is also offered with an all-wheel-drive layout, and it is powered by a 3.5-liter, naturally-aspirated V-6 mill. It makes 260 horses and 236 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Coming to the IS 350, it is also offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. In this case, both the drive layouts feature the same 3.5-liter, V-6 mill, albeit in a slightly powerful form. Here, they make 311 ponies and 280 pound-feet of torque. Just like the IS 300, the RWD is mated to an eight-speed automatic and the AWD to a six-speed automatic transmission. The IS 350 sprints to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.6 seconds and 5.7 seconds for the RWD and AWD models respectively.

2021 Lexus IS Exterior
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Speaking of the IS 350 F-Sport, it is powered by the same mill as its non-F-Sport counterpart, but comes with a few different features. You can choose between two different 19-inch wheel designs and a new Circuit Red interior theme. It is equipped with an updated exhaust system, too. Lexus is also offering a Dynamic Handling package which includes adaptive dampers and other chassis upgrades.

Lexus has made tweaks elsewhere to compensate for the same mills. The automaker has reinforced the radiator supports and made additional weld points to give the car extra rigidity. This also helps increase the ride comfort and steering response while reducing the overall NVH levels.

Lexus has also revised the suspension setup by making use of lighter coil springs, new A-arms, stabilizer bar, and swing-valve shock absorbers. The earlier iterations boasted of a drag co-efficient of just 0.28 for the rear-wheel-drive models and 0.29 for the all-wheel-drive models. There’s no word on this yet for the 2021 IS.

2021 Lexus IS specifications
IS 300 IS 300 AWD IS 350 RWD/AWD
Type, Materials In-line 4-cylinder aluminum block and cylinder heads V6, aluminum block and cylinder heads V6, aluminum block and cylinder heads
Valvetrain DOHC 16-valve with Dual VVT-iW DOHC 24 valve with dual continuously variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) DOHC 24 valve with dual continuously variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i)
Displacement 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged with intercooler (1,998 cc; 121.9 cu. in.) 3.5 liter (3,456 cc) 3.5 liter (3,456 cc)
Bore x Stroke 3.39 in x 3.39 in 3.70 in. x 3.27 in. 3.70 in. x 3.27 in.
Compression Ratio 10.0:1 11.8:1 11.8:1
Horsepower (SAE) 241 hp @ 5,800 rpm 260 hp @ 6,600 rpm 311 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Torque 258 lb.-ft. @ 1,650-4,400 rpm 236 lb.-ft. @ 2,000-4,800 rpm 277 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission Type 8-speed automatic w/paddle shifters 6-speed automatic 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters/6-speed automatic
0 to 60 mph 6.9 6.1 5.6
Top Speed 143 mph 130 mph 142 mph

Final Thoughts

2021 Lexus IS Exterior
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The IS sedan becomes the first model from the brand to be based on the new Lexus Driving Signature philosophy. We still don’t have an idea of what it means, but Lexus says it will extend it across the lineup in the future. It perhaps has more to do with the driving dynamics than the looks itself.

This 2021 model became the first Lexus to be developed at the new Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama in Aichi, Japan. The facility has a 3.3-mile test track with elevation changes, corner types, and road surfaces, to make sure the car is developed with proficiency on all terrains.

Lexus has not revealed the pricing for the IS yet, but we expect it to be priced at a premium of around $2,000 over the current starting price of $38,560. The top-end could go north of $50,000. The 2021 Lexus IS is expected to hit the dealerships by the end of the year. What are your thoughts on this Japanese sedan? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Sidd Dhimaan
Associate Editor and Truck Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. He is currently our pickup truck expert and focuses his attention on heavy-duty and off-road vehicles.  Read More
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