As an outlier in a shrinking segment, the 2021 Lexus IS faces an uphill battle. Product planners know this, so they’ve priced the new model below most of its main rivals without compromising on content or performance.
Unveiled in June 2020, the 2021 IS range consists of the entry-level 300 and the sportier 350 F-Sport, and each is offered with rear- or all-wheel drive. Pricing for the rear-wheel drive IS 300 starts at $40,025 including a mandatory $1,025 destination charge, which represents a mere $440 increase over the outgoing 2020 model. Adding all-wheel drive raises that figure to $42,025. Motorists who step up to the 350 F-Sport will need to pay $43,925 if they want power sent to the rear axle, or $45,925 if they want it channeled to the four wheels.
The list of standard features includes 18-inch wheels (an inch bigger than before), numerous electronic driving aids, power-adjustable front seats (10-way for the driver; eight-way for the front passenger), dual-zone automatic climate control, and an eight-inch touchscreen that’s nearly five and a half inches closer to the driver than the outgoing model’s. Motorists can pay extra for 19-inch wheels, a power-operated moonroof, and a 10.3-inch touchscreen. And, at last, the IS is available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Lexus shuffled its trim hierarchy for 2021, so the F Sport package is no longer available on the IS 300, but it’s fitted to every IS 350 built for the American market. It bundles a cold-air intake, a specific exhaust system, a sound generator, 19-inch wheels, a sprinkling of F Sport badges, plus a body kit that adds bits like a rear spoiler and a diffuser integrated into the rear bumper. Heated and ventilated front seats are included, too.
Power for the rear-wheel drive IS 300 comes from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which develops 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s bolted to an eight-speed automatic transmission. While you’d assume the all-wheel drive model simply gains a pair of driven wheels, the transformation is more complex. It also receives a 3.5-liter V6 with 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque on tap, plus a six-speed automatic transmission. Lexus notes the system can send up to 50% of the engine’s output to the front axles.
Selecting the IS 350 brings an evolution of the 3.5-liter six that’s rated at 311 horses and 280 pound-feet of twist. It spins the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, or the four wheels with two fewer gears. In its quickest configuration, which is with six cylinders and two driven wheels, the IS hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.
When it arrives in showrooms this fall, the IS will compete in the same arena as the Audi A4 (which comes standard with all-wheel drive), the BMW 3 Series, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. For context, these sedans start at $40,145, $42,245, and $42,395, respectively, after the destination charge is factored in.
Lexus may still have a few IS-related surprises up its sleeve. Unverified rumors claim the IS range will gain a flagship, high-performance model aimed at the M3 and the C63. Tentatively called IS 500, it will reportedly offer the naturally-aspirated, 5.0-liter V8 we know and love from the IS F that retired in 2014 and from the RC F.