2021 Lexus IS 350 RWD F Sport First Drive Review

When we reviewed the 202o Lexus IS just a few months ago, we lamented how far behind it was. Rivals offered a superior driving experience and more modern interiors compared to the tech-deficient Lexus. Finally, for the new model year, the 2021 Lexus IS is receiving a thorough update, but not a complete overhaul. Are the changes enough to help the compact sports sedan catch up with the competition?

Targeting performance-conscious young buyers, Lexus places a strong emphasis on the F Sport range. Nearly half of its IS cars will be F Sports, Lexus predicts. Previously, the F Sport was available on the low-powered IS 300, but for 2021 it can only be used on the high-quality IS 350, with an output of 311 hp. In fact, all 2021 IS 350 models will carry the F Sport moniker. The 350 has always been the crown jewel of the lineup, as the four-cylinder felt underpowered and the detuned 260-horsepower V6 didn’t offer the best bang for the buck.

Before getting behind the wheel, we could already tell that the update is paying off. Although it’s just over an inch longer and wider than before, the 2021 Lexus IS has nicer proportions. A long hood evolves seamlessly into a sleek rear deck with newly connected taillights. Up front, the taller grille makes the IS look lower and more planted to the ground. Headlights and daytime running lights are now integrated into a single unit for a more cohesive look.

But something worried us: The 2021 IS sedan is backed by a platform that dates back to 2013. Should we expect a wobbly ride similar to what we encountered when we drove the outgoing 2020 model? Although it uses the same basic architecture as before, the updated SI promises big changes under the sheet. First, Lexus stiffened the chassis to reduce vibration. It also upgraded the suspension with lighter coil springs, suspension arms and anti-roll bars. New oscillating valve shocks add a second valve to maintain ride comfort over small imperfections in the road. In order to get the adaptive variable suspension, you now have to go for the Dynamic Management Package, which brings other performance benefits such as new 19-inch matte black wheels, carbon fiber rear spoiler and Sport S, Sport S + and Custom. player settings. A Torsen limited slip differential is also part of the package.

The hard work has paid off. We noticed an improvement in ride quality on our 2021 IS F Sport tester with the Dynamics Management Pack compared to the old IS. Although the suspension remains firm and you can still feel grooves in the pavement, it is controlled and no longer bounces over big bumps in the road. The suspension removes imperfections large and small, so drivers aren’t rushed. Even at high speeds and in the sportiest suspension setting, the ride is stable and calm. But a little wind noise made us turn up the radio on the highway a bit. True to its name, the Dynamic Handling group offers precise steering, requiring few steering wheel corrections. Eco mode offers a light steering feel, while S + Sport mode is considerably tighter.

The IS 350’s engine is a carryover, but we’re not complaining. The 3.6-liter V6 engine produces 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft, delivering strong acceleration for any driving situation we encountered. It doesn’t immediately jump off the line, but it gains power quickly when you accelerate. The full and evocative engine note matches the sporting intentions of the car.

Open the doors and the interior should look very familiar to you if you’ve spent any time in the previous SI. For better or worse, the center stack layout is largely the same, leaving no room for useful storage compartments. Some vestiges remain: a CD player and an old-fashioned clock face. That said, the interior has improved a lot thanks to thinner materials and a healthy dose of modern technology. Unlike the previous screen, our tester’s larger 10.3-inch unit allows for touch controls and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Drivers can also control the infotainment screen with a new touchpad that’s slightly easier to use than the unruly mouse-shaped controller on the old SI. Our tip: You just have to stick to the reliable touchscreen as it’s fairly easy to access from the driver’s seat.

Eagle-eyed observers will notice a few other small but important changes. Lexus has improved the haptic temperature controls, making them larger and more user-friendly. The circular vents on each side of the cabin are reminiscent of the original SI.

Our model comes with perforated and padded faux leather seats that are plush to the touch, with heating and ventilation up front. Ash wood trim on the steering wheel and subtle metallic accents throughout the cabin add to the elegance. Other perks include a vivid 8-inch dash display and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. Drivers will also find the cab easy to see, with a low windshield and side windows.

Once again, buyers looking for spacious accommodations will be disappointed. Key rivals like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Genesis G70 offer more legroom. At 10.8 cubic feet, the trunk is also small compared to some rivals. But that’s not the reason you buy a sports sedan, is it?

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport is actually cheaper than before. Prices start at $ 43,925, making it $ 2,475 cheaper than last year. All-wheel-drive versions start at $ 45,925 or $ 1,810 less than before. Keep in mind that previous F Sport models came standard with adaptive variable suspension, which is now optional with the new Dynamics Management Package which costs $ 3,800 on rear-wheel drive models and $ 4,200 on front-wheel drive cars. integral. Still, the IS F Sport is a cheaper alternative to the 2021 BMW M340i ($ 55,695) and Audi S4 ($ 50,945), although both have a bit more horsepower.

Some other luxury compact sedans may be more refined and more attractive to drive, but the Lexus IS can now proudly compete with its competition. Key improvements in ride quality, technology and interior comfort are enough to keep it worthy of buyers’ considerations.

Lexus IS 350 RWD F Sport 2021
DISPOSITION Sedan 4 doors, 5 passengers, all-wheel drive, front engine
ENGINE 3.0L / 311 hp / 280 lb-ft 24-valve DOHC V6 engine
TRANSMISSION 8 speed automatic
WEIGHT ON BOARD 3,748 lbs (manufacturer)
WHEELBASE 110.2 in
L x W x H 185.4 x 72.4 x 56.5 inches
0 to 60 mph 5.6 seconds (manufacturer’s estimate)
EPA FUEL ECON, CITY / HWY / COMB 20/28/23 mpg
ON SALE October
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