2021 Lexus IS Review: Big Ambitions, Small Car

2021 Lexus IS Review: Big Ambitions, Small Car



  • The 2021 Lexus IS is priced from $42,950 before shipping and handling.

  • Solid, build quality, smooth and refined V6 engine.

  • Lazy automatic transmission, cramped rear seats, screen media interface.


At the risk of repeating ourselves, the future is certain for the car market, while the trend towards services does not lose steam. Despite everything, luxury brands still offer a few sedans within their lineups, and the 2021 Lexus IS benefits from a major redesign to better match its well-established competition.

This significant modification, however, does not include the adoption of a new platform, unlike all new Toyota and Lexus models. In this case, we preferred to keep the architecture of the old IS generation, sold here as models from 2014 to 2020. This is a clear sign that the manufacturer has tried to reduce development costs.

Reusing a platform to create a new design is nothing new, and neither is it a loss. In the case of the 2021 Lexus IS, a significant deficiency has been adopted in this new generation, a deficiency that we expected to disappear. We will return to him.

The new IS sedan still competes with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class for the German brands, but also the Infiniti Q50, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Volvo S60, Genesis G70 and Cadillac CT5. It is available in Canada in three versions: IS 300 RWD, IS 300 AWD, and IS 350 AWD.

On the first hand, it has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo, developing 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Sufficient power, but below average in the luxury sedan segment. Not to mention that the IS 300’s rear-wheel drive isn’t the best choice for dealing with Canadian winters, even if you can get by with a smart choice of tires.

For the complete IS 300 swap, we swap the four-cylinder for the standard 3.5-liter V6, while the automatic transmission offered has six gears instead of eight. Its power is 260 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and although we get refinement and sound, city/highway consumption goes from 9.5 to 10.8 L/100 km. In addition, premium gasoline is required. During our IS 300 AWD test, we averaged 10.3 L/100 km.

At the top of the range, at least, until the arrival of the V8-powered Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance, is the IS 350 AWD, banking on the same engine as the IS 300. Same technical specs, same transmission. , the same fuel consumption rating, but with 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft.

Obviously, with an additional fifty horsepower, the IS 350 is more efficient, and by adding the F SPORT 3 package, the car gets a Sport + driving mode that further emphasizes its sporty character. Otherwise, the times are serviceable, because the gearbox takes its time to drop.

Otherwise, ride quality is solid, as you’d expect from a well-rounded luxury car. The IS 300 AWD we tested offers five premium option groups, including F SPORT 1, F SPORT 2, Luxury and Ultra Luxury. The rear-drive IS 300 doesn’t offer any options, but it does include heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, F Sport trim with 19-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.

While the exterior design has changed somewhat to bring it closer to the brand’s most recent products, the interior of the 2021 Lexus IS has only undergone minor revisions compared to previous model years. Famous English proverbs if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) goes for good workmanship and high quality materials. The firm feel of the controls gives us the feeling that the car will still look new after 20 years. The seats offer good support and, of course, great comfort.

However, two major problems have not been corrected, and the third, in part. When activating the IS with all-wheel drive a couple of years ago, we had to add a bump to the floor to engage the front wheels – the car is rear-wheel drive – and this bump is just ahead of the accelerator. Therefore, the driver must put his right foot on it, emphasizing the feeling of closure. Initially, the Lexus IS 2021 is not a spacious car, while the rear seats are not very spacious and the trunk volume is only 305 liters. This is exactly the second problem.

The third is the multimedia system in which the touchpad on the central console is difficult to use when stationary, and it is quite distracting when driving. We installed a touchscreen – eight inches as standard, 10.3 inches as an option – to facilitate system operation, but we would have preferred full customization.

Available from $42,950 before shipping and handling costs, the 2021 Lexus IS sits head-to-head with many of its competitors. The IS 300 AWD with the Ultra Luxury Package, as tested, costs $51,000 while the IS 350 AWD with the F Sport 3 package hits the cash register for $58,000. The new V8-powered 2022 IS 500 is priced from $72,900.

Beautiful, sporty, solid and refined, the Lexus IS has several properties, and its price is affordable. We also like the smoothness and sound of the V6 engine, the well-insulated cabin and the sound and comfort of the front seats. However, you are not used to the cramped space around the accelerator, the back seats are small and the trunk is small, the gas mileage is normal and the lazy gearbox improves performance. It’s certainly an attractive alternative to the German models, and it enjoys as good a resale value as any Lexus model, but know that this small sedan is not without its flaws.