The Lexus IS luxury sport sedan is Lexus’ answer to the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. For two decades the Lexus IS has proven itself as a highly competent and engaging alternative to those European rivals, bolstered by the reliability and resale value one would expect from Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota.
The Lexus IS has been refreshed for the 2021 model year with a focus on sportier driving dynamics. Updates include enhanced rigidity to the body, suspension enhancements, bigger wheels and weight reduction in key components. The automaker touts the 2021 IS as the first of its models developed under the Lexus Driving Signature, a philosophy to inject its vehicles with a uniform feel that’s been honed at a new test track in Japan called the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama.
Beyond more exciting looks and performance, with this refresh the 2021 Lexus IS finally catches up to competitors in the tech department. It now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, along with Amazon Alexa. New, more vibrant touchscreen displays are also part of the update.
The 2021 Lexus retains its choice of three engines – a turbocharged 4-cylinder or two V6 variants with up to 311 horsepower. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional for those in cold-weather states.
What’s New for 2021?
The 2021 model year marks a refresh for the Lexus IS that includes updated design that includes an expansive rear tail light, more rigid body structure, and added technology. Regarding the former, the 2021 Lexus IS gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. The optional Mark Levinson high-end audio system gets two more speakers and a lot more watts. The sporty F Sport model is now reserved for IS 350 models with the 311-horsepower V6 engine. The standard suite of active safety systems is improved with automatic high-beam assist and road-sign recognition. See the 2021 Lexus IS models for sale near you
What We Like
- Updated tech with full smartphone integration
- Choice of three powertrains
- Rear or all-wheel drive
- Reputation for reliability & high resale value
What We Don’t
- Manual transmission offering is long gone
- Still no high-performance model like the past IS F.
$39,000-$44,900 (excluding destination charges)
The 2021 Lexus IS 300 uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic, and the car only comes with rear-wheel drive. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the Lexus IS 300 at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving.
The IS 300 all-wheel drive (AWD) uses a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 260 hp and 236 lb-ft. EPA figures are 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
The IS 350 comes with either RWD and an 8-speed automatic transmission or AWD with a 6-speed automatic transmission. This has a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 that makes 311 hp and 277 lb-ft. of torque. With RWD, it’s rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined. With AWD, that drops to 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2021 Lexus IS comes in 300 RWD, 300 AWD and 350 models.
The IS 300 RWD ($39,000) includes 18-in wheels that replace the previous 17-in ones, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with new integrated Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration, NuLuxe synthetic leather, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and 8-way adjustable passenger seat, keyless access with push-button start and dual-zone automatic climate control. With the base turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive is your only choice.
If you choose the IS 300 AWD ($41,000), you get the 260-hp V6 engine in addition to the enhanced traction of all-wheel drive.
Step up to the IS 350 F Sport ($42,900), and you’ll get a more powerful version of the V6 rated at 311 hp. For 2021, this is the only Lexus IS that can be had with the more aggressive F Sport treatment. Lexus IS 350 F Sport models bring unique front and rear bumper design, rear-lip spoiler and other exterior aesthetics. These models also come with 19-in wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, two-way lumbar support and four-way adjustable headrests.
You can increase the F Sport’s sporty ways with the Dynamic Handling Package that includes adaptive suspension and a Sport+ driving mode. RWD F Sport models can be further enhanced with a limited-slip differential.
Other options for the Lexus IS lineup include power moonroof, 10.3-inch widescreen display with navigation, and enhanced Mark Levinson premium audio system that now boasts 17 speakers and 1,800 watts.
The 2021 Lexus IS includes an impressive roster of standard safety systems. The newly enhanced Lexus Safety System+ bundles forward-collision warning with bicyclist and pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam assist, and a lane-tracing assist that when used with radar cruise control helps keep you centered in lanes. New for 2021, the Lexus IS comes standard with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
While official crash-test results for the 2021 Lexus IS are still to come, last year’s model fared well. In government crash tests, the prior Lexus IS 350 scored five out of five stars overall — four for front impact protection, five for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the IS its top rating of ‘Good’ in its main categories and made it a Top Safety Pick Plus.
Behind the Wheel
The Lexus IS has long impressed us with its nimbleness and comfort, together with its good handling and solid, well-built feel.
With the improvements made for 2021, the IS builds on those strengths and remains a thoroughly entertaining sport sedan that’s a joy to drive on curving mountain roads. The 3.5-liter V6 in the IS 350 has an abundance of power, and the suspension, though slightly firm, manages to be all-day comfortable while effectively minimizing lean in the corners.
The steering is a little heavier than you might expect, but it’s accurate, and the brake pedal thankfully is not over-boosted. As a people hauler, the Lexus ES is a better choice than the IS. But if you like to drive (and only use the back seat on occasion), the IS will put a much bigger smile on your face.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Audi A4 – The Audi A4 strikes a fine balance between comfort and sportiness, and packs a ton of technology in the process. The higher-performance S4 model is an absolute hoot.
2020 BMW 3 Series – The godfather of compact premium sedans. The 3 Series has long been the benchmark among compact luxury sport sedans, and its latest generation doesn’t disappoint.
2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Another German mainstay in this segment, the C-Class drips with luxury, like a downscaled S-Class. It has impressive driving manners, and can be had in degrees of high-performance thanks to Mercedes-AMG models.
2020 Genesis G70 – The luxury division of Hyundai did its homework in taking on the Germans, and it paid off, The G70 has manners on par with Europe’s best, includes more features for the price, an unbeatable warranty, and even a manual transmission.
Used Audi A6 – Audi’s midsize executive sedan is a size larger and comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Questions You May Ask
Is the 2021 Lexus IS a good car?
If history proves anything, it’s that the Lexus IS is an alluring choice among compact luxury sport sedans. In addition to gratifying driving manners, it has a reputation for reliability and high resale value.
Where is the Lexus IS made?
The Lexus IS is made in Japan.
The Lexus IS has always been an impressive and smart choice among entry-level luxury sedans. As long as you don’t need a fire-breathing high-performance model to rival a BMW M or Mercedes-AMG, it’s hard to go wrong with any model. And if you require AWD, you’ll get the benefit of a V6 under the hood, too. Find a 2021 Lexus IS for sale