Jun
21
2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport in “Iridium” silver (a $425 option)

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

Class: Premium Compact Car

Miles driven: 375

Fuel used: 18.0 gallons

Real-world fuel economy: 20.8 mpg

Driving mix: 80% city, 20% highway

EPA-estimated fuel economy: 19/26/22 (mpg city/highway combined)

CG Report Card
Room and ComfortC+
Power and PerformanceB+
Fit and FinishA-
Fuel EconomyC+
ValueB-
Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
Big & Tall Comfort
Big GuyC-
Tall GuyC
Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.
Drivetrain
Engine Specs311-hp 3.5L
Engine TypeV6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Drive WheelsAWD

Fuel type: Premium gas recommended

Base price: $44,900 (not including $1025 destination charge)

Options on test car: Intuitive Park Assist with Auto Braking, Rear Pedestrian Detection, and Panoramic View Mirror ($1400); F Sport Dynamic Handling Package ($3800); triple-beam LED headlamps ($1250); Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package ($2750); Premium Paint ($425); power tilt-and-slide moonroof ($1100); illuminated trunk sill ($450); rear bumper applique ($85); illuminated door sills ($425); all-weather floor liner and trunk tray ($290); door-edge guards ($140)

Price as tested: $58,040

 

Quick Hits

The great: Satisfying acceleration; athletic handling; cabin looks and feels sporty and high-end

The good: Improved infotainment interface for 2021; all-weather capability of AWD

The not so good: Small door openings; limited rear-seat passenger space; despite nicely executed updates, some limitations of the aging basic design and powertrain show through

More IS price and availability information

 

John Biel

If Lexus is just marking time in the premium-compact class, at least it’s doing so with a new watch. The IS sedan is redone—to a degree—for 2021 in ways that make what’s down deep an aging car into one that Lexus hopes will represent the brand well for at least a few more years.

With all the hot action in compact vehicles taking place in the crossover segment, it’s hard to justify a sizeable investment in a fresh platform or powertrains for a sedan. Lexus didn’t do that with the IS. But it has refined body and chassis construction, revamped the infotainment system, and reduced the model lineup.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

The Lexus IS lineup undergoes a heavy refresh for 2021. Among the updates are a fortified body/chassis structure for extra rigidity, updated suspension components, and a full styling revamp that includes a sleek full-width taillight.

For this test, Consumer Guide drove an IS 350 F Sport with all-wheel drive. That alone touches on one thing that’s new for ’21. All 350s, whether rear-drive or AWD, now come with F Sport equipment—there is no non-F. Conversely, the F Sport version formerly available for the IS 300s has been dropped. That’s how the product line was trimmed by half. The test car started at $45,925 with delivery but the sticker blossomed to $58,040 with copious options.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

The basic dashboard layout is carried over from 2020, but a new and improved touchscreen infotainment system is a key upgrade. It includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, and offers an available 10.3-inch widescreen display (shown here). The console-mounted touchpad infotainment interface remains as well.

Our First Look and First Spin reports on the 2021 IS have documented the appearance and dimension modifications made to the car, as well as the chassis tweaks in pursuit of greater rigidity with less weight. The new thing that will be in drivers’ faces every time they slip behind the wheel is the altered multimedia unit. The system newly incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility to go with Amazon Alexa functionality. Just as significantly, display and operation are now on a touchscreen—though the console touchpad that used to be the sole control method remains active and at the disposal of masochists. The screen now sits more than 5 inches closer to the driver to facilitate direct, easy fingertip input, including pinch and zoom capability. Standard are an 8-inch screen, 10-speaker audio system, satellite radio, and Wi-Fi hotspot, but CG’s test car was built with a $2750 option package that included a 10.3-inch screen, 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, and navigation.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

The IS has never been particularly generous in terms of passenger space. The front seat is cozy, especially for big and tall occupants, and the rear seat is best suited for kids. Circuit Red upholstery makes for an extra-sporty ambiance.

In another tech upgrade, the standard Lexus Safety System+ goes to version 2.5 with the addition of low-light pedestrian detection, daytime bicyclist detection, Intersection Turning Assist, Emergency Turning Assist for the existing collision-mitigation system, lane-tracing and road-sign assists, and curve-speed reduction for the adaptive cruise control. These are in addition to the existing lane-departure alert with steering assist and automatic headlight high-beam control.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

Trunk space is 10.8 cubic feet–not great, but on par with most premium compact car class rivals. An all-weather trunk mat is an extra-cost accessory.

The IS 350 F Sport looks the part of a sport sedan with its own blacked-out version of the spindle-shape grille, front bumper with aerodynamic enhancements, specific rear bumper, and rear lip spoiler. The 19-inch alloy wheels (a gain of one inch for ’21) have a dark-metallic finish. Inside are heated and ventilated specially bolstered front sport seats with 10-way-driver and 8-way-passenger power adjustment, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, geometric-pattern interior accents, and pedal faces trimmed in aluminum. A circular sliding-bezel instrument display changes with the driving mode. A cool-air intake (with sound generator), specific exhaust, and distinct suspension tuning round out the picture.

For a look and feel that are sportier yet, there is the $3800 Dynamic Handling Package with adaptive variable suspension and enhanced Drive Mode Select. The adaptive suspension incorporates sensors to monitor G-forces and adjust damping in turns for improved body control. The mode selections include a second “Sport” setting—“Sport S+” that firms the suspension to better resist body lean—and programmable “Custom.” Other items in the group are matte-black BBS wheels, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and ash trim for the steering wheel and cabin accents.

With less unsprung weight to wrestle thanks to the changes in chassis components, the IS F Sport improves on what already was sharp handling paired with the added benefit of enjoyable ride. Even in base “Normal” mode ride stays composed without resorting to sponginess, and bump absorption is good. The all-wheel-drive system can push front-wheel torque distribution from 30 percent to a maximum 50 percent as conditions dictate.

As always, a 3.5-liter V6 is under the hood of the 350s, still at 311 horsepower. Acceleration is good, just not great, so it helps that the 6-speed automatic transmission kicks down quickly to assist highway passing. (Rear-drive ISes use an 8-speed trans.) Paddle shifters are included for those who seek a little more engagement. EPA fuel-economy estimates for the test car’s powerteam are 19 mpg in city driving, 26 mpg in highway use, and 22 combined. This tester’s 64.4-mile stint with 45 percent city-style operation averaged a commendable 24.4 mpg.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

IS 350s are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 311 horsepower and is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission in AWD models (rear-drive models get an 8-speed automatic). It’s one of the oldest powertrains in the premium compact car class, but it provides smooth, respectable power nonetheless. F Sport models equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package get exclusive BBS-brand 19-inch lightweight wheels in a matte-black finish.

The IS cabin is nicely put together with good distribution of soft-touch materials, though “NuLuxe” leatherette is the only available upholstery material. A lot of buttons and repetitive-push temperature controls are required for the dual-zone climate system. The sport seats place a good grip on front passengers. With a core design that dates to 2014, the story hasn’t changed for passenger room since then: Only big or tall adults riding in front may find things a little close but anybody will be squeezed in back if the front seats need to be tracked back to any great degree, and tight rear footwells don’t make exits easy.

Storage in the cabin is limited, with modest glove and console boxes and no pockets in the rear doors. The 10.8-cubic-foot-capacity trunk narrows considerably between the wheel houses. Rear seats are split 60/40. When retracted, the seat backs rest flat but at a level well above that of the trunk floor.

Time is money, it is said. By updating the timeworn IS design Lexus is still able to offer a premium-compact sedan at a competitive price.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

Newer-design rivals offer more up-to-date powertrains and available technology features, but given the age of its basic platform, the Lexus IS stacks up better overall than you might think–and its numerous upgrades for 2021 give it a more finely honed look and driving feel at a lower price point than most comparably equipped German rivals.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Gallery

(Click below for enlarged images)

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

First Spin: 2021 Lexus IS

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport