Sometimes we need to go back and check our notes, as was the case when we learned Lexus was getting ready to reveal the next-generation IS sedan June 9. Yep, it turns out, it’s been a full seven years since the last version rolled into showrooms so, if anything, it’s almost late by the normally fast pace by which the Japanese luxury brand operates.
What’s all the more unusual is that Lexus has been quite good at keeping a complete lid on the project, with the usual Internet sources coming up with no spy shots or photo leaks. And, at least for the moment, Toyota’s upscale division is saying little more than promising that the 2021 IS will be bringing “the thrill of driving to the compact luxury sports car segment.”
That said, we’ve still been able to track down some useful insights – and a few reasonably believable rumors – about the 2021 Lexus IS.
To start with, it appears likely Lexus has decided not to base the new sedan on the TNGA-L platform, a luxury variant of the Toyota Next Generation Architecture that was expected to anchor much of the brand’s product line.
Instead, it is believed to remain on the old New-N platform as the outgoing model, albeit with a number of upgrades to enhance performance and handling. Several reports we’ve seen indicate those tweaks were made at the Shimoyama facility near Toyota City, Japan that will be overseeing future performance projects.
What we see with the teaser image here is the back end. It reveals an all-new, arching taillight teasing that flips to vertical at either corner. There also appear to be some minor revisions to the rear diffuser. While we have nothing visual to go by, indications are that Lexus will tone down the controversial spindle grille design that has overwhelmed the faces of its latest-generation products, reaching an apogee with the LC line.
In early incarnations, the Lexus IS was, to be blunt, intentionally boring. We’re confident the new model will feature a markedly more aggressive makeover. For one thing, it will now have to cover a broader space, what with the demise of the Lexus GS line. And, in a market where sedans are continuing to lose ground, the new model has to really play up the “Wow!” factor or risk being overlooked in favor of the expanded Lexus crossover line-up.
The sedan did punch up the Lexus image when the IS F made its debut for the 2008 model year, punching up performance with a 417 horsepower 5.0-liter V8 and the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission.
The terse tease suggests we’ll continue to see some real muscle available, though recent rumors seem to suggest there’ll be no new IS F in the line-up. Whether that’s a long-term decision, or just a program set back a year or two is not clear. We hope to find out more next week.
Even so, some form of performance package very well seems to be in the offing, whether in the form of the familiar, naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 or a version of the twin-turbo 416 hp V-6 found in the LS 500.
There had been some rumors floating that the IS might even get a version of the six-banger from Toyota’s new Supra – an inline package borrowed from BMW. That appears to be highly unlikely at this point.
For less sporty buyers, the base option will be a 2.0-liter turbo-four making a reasonable 241 hp. Other options may include a 260 hp 3.5-liter V-6, and a high-performance version of that engine punching things up to a more sporty 311 hp.
We’re expecting all powertrain packages to rely on the Lexus eight-speed automatic. All-wheel-drive, we’re advised, will be available only with V-6s, other variants continuing to push power to the back wheels.
The sedan was originally due to be unveiled in April at the New York International Auto Show – which was first postponed to August due to the coronavirus pandemic and then canceled entirely. The decision to unveil it now suggests that the 2021 Lexus IS will be making it to U.S. fairly close to the original fall target.