Lexus has revealed the 2021 IS sport sedan, promising a more dynamic ride thanks to a nuts-and-bolts refresh of the existing chassis.
The luxury sport sedan scene is a busy one. Mere weeks after Acura debuted the second-generation TLX, Lexus is now showing off its own take on the formula. Meet the thoroughly refreshed 2021 Lexus IS, which the Japanese brand premiered via a Facebook event Monday evening.
In the realm of facelifts, this is one of the most thorough we can remember in recent history. Gone are the—let’s call them “unique”—headlights of the current model, with more traditional shapes like those of the ES and NX. The hood is lower too, and from head-on, the new IS looks much wider than before. It is, of course, but only by 30 mm (1.2 inches). Swing around the side and the most noticeable stylistic flourish is the hockey stick-shaped bit of negative surfacing. It starts just aft of the front wheels, then kicks up mid-way through the rear doors to go up and over the rear haunches.
At the rear we see the one clear bit of styling Lexus teased before the official debut: the full-width lighting setup. The taillights are mounted quite low, resulting in a tall, vertical trunk surface that’s quite a bit narrower than the rest of the rear. It’s most noticeable from the rear three-quarters, evoking the old “Bangle Butt” of early-oughts BMWs.
In addition to the extra length, the new IS is 30 mm (1.2 inches) longer, and a hair taller. The wheelbase remains the same.
Same Platform, But Different
As we mentioned before, this technically qualifies as a very thorough facelift. The current car’s platform remains—hey, we called it—but Lexus engineers have left few stones unturned in the hunt for improved dynamics. The team has increased the number of weld points, improving structural rigidity. The results are two-fold, according to Lexus: the IS offers improved ride comfort as well as more responsive handling.
The team even employs new hub bolts, shedding 1 kg (2.2 lb) of unsprung weight. The new IS’ springs, A-arms, and stabilizer bar are also all lighter than before, thanks to the use of aluminum and other materials.
Lexus International chief engineer Naoki Kobayashi explains the goal of the new model. “What we had foremost in mind in developing the new IS was to make it a car that excelled in communicating with the driver regardless of the road conditions or driving situation,” said Kobayashi-san. “We aimed to make the new IS a Lexus luxury sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control.”
To dial in the new model, Kobayashi and the development team put the IS through the gauntlet at a new purpose-built test facility. Toyota Technical Centre Shimoyama opened last year, a 5.3-kilometer (3.3 miles) ribbon of tarmac inspired by the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Like the Green Hell, it features multiple road surfaces and dramatic elevation changes—nearly 75 meters (246 feet) over the course of a lap.
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The F Sport model returns here, with the IS 350 model. As we predicted earlier today, it uses the 3.5-liter V6 from the existing model, still pumping out a healthy 311 hp. It will be available with either rear- or all-wheel drive in the US; Canadian buyers will only find the latter. Rear-drive models get a Torsen-style limited-slip differential. Lower trim IS 300 models will continue with one of two engine/transmission combos, depending on drivetrain. Rear-drive models use the 2.0-liter, 241-horsepower turbo, lashed to an eight-speed auto. All-wheel drive IS 300s use a six-speed auto, and a detuned 3.5-liter engine producing 260 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque.
For the first time, the F Sport will offer 19-inch wheels, and wider, 265-series rubber to fill the arches. A unique front bumper marks it out over the lesser IS models, with functional air intakes below to feed cool air to the brakes. In addition, a subtle rear lip spoiler, unique rocker panels, and an F Sport diffuser set the whole look off.
A Dynamic Handling Package offers an adaptive suspension and unique 19-inch BBS wheels, which shave 2 kg (4.5 lb) per corner. F Sport models with DHP also get a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, side mirrors, and center console knee pad.
In total there will be 10 exterior color options for the 2021 IS, with two—Infrared and Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0—being unique to F Sport models.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Lexus ES 300h Review
New Tech Inside
Lexus has finally added modern tech to the interior of the new IS. There’s a touchscreen! There’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay! Can you tell we’re happy to see it?
The standard touchscreen is 8.0 inches, and the “floating design” moves it 80 mm (3.1 inches) closer to the driver. Opt for navigation and it expands to 10.3 inches. This wouldn’t be a Lexus without a Mark Levinson sound system option, and it returns for 2021. The optional setup is now up to 17 speakers, and an impressive 1,800 watts.
In contrast with the new tech, most of the interior’s basic design is obviously carried over from the existing car. Some vent shapes have changed, and naturally the infotainment has moved, but other than that it’s recognizably IS. The standard seating material is faux leather, with real cow still available—and yes, in red too. F Sport models get standard heated and cooled front seats, but every trim gets a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat (and 8-way for passengers).
SEE ALSO: 2020 Lexus RX Review
New Lexus Safety System+ 2.5
Lexus is using the IS to debut the latest evolution of its suite of driver assists, dubbed Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+). The 2.5 iteration is standard on all models, and packs in frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian and cyclist detection. Improved sensors widen the range of detection at intersections. Dynamic cruise control can engage from 30 mph (50 km/h), after which it can come to a complete stop and restart all on its own. The cruise control now works in combination with the turn signals on the highway; when a driver signals from behind a slower car, the IS will automatically speed up to make the lane change.
Lane departure alert, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams are all included in LSS+ 2.5.
Is this substantial facelift enough to keep the IS in the hunt for sport sedan supremacy? We’d be lying if we said we weren’t slightly disappointed with the recycled chassis, but don’t underestimate the appeal of those new good looks, and the up-to-date tech. Lexus is targeting an autumn release for the new IS; expect pricing details closer to the end of summer.