The Lexus brand has a long-standing reputation for quality and reliability, but the original IS F Sport model aimed to add a bit more passion to the otherwise brand.
With the launch of the 2021 IS, Toyota’s upscale marque wants to push things further and, with the launch of what it has dubbed the “Lexus Driving Signature,” make “dynamic capability and driving performance…mandatory attributes” across the portfolio.
We’ve been getting a few carefully edited peaks at the new IS for weeks now, the teaser images revealing a much more sporty design than we’ve seen with past generations of the Lexus IS, with a sweeping fastback roofline and distinctive taillights running the width of the back end.
(Lexus offers another – partial – look at the new 2021 IS sedan.)
Now, we’ve gotten a first look at the entire package, and it’s obvious that IS designers looked to the Lexus LC sports car for inspiration, starting with the more aggressive version of the Lexus spindle grille. The goal was a sporty design that went more than skin deep, using the Toyota Technical Center in Shimoyama, which focuses on the automaker’s most high-performance models, to lead development of the 2021 Lexus IS.
“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 Chief Engineer Naoki Kobayashi of Lexus International.
“We aimed to make the new IS a Lexus compact sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control.”
In early incarnations, the Lexus IS was, to be blunt, intentionally boring. The decision to up the performance factor makes sense for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the 2021 LS 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.
Among other things, Lexus engineers targets body stiffness and mass – unsprung weight, in particular. They took a microscope to the new car, the 2021 model’s coil springs now 20% lighter than before, the new forged aluminum A-arms getting an 18% reduction in mass. Even the stabilizer bars saw a 17% weight reduction.
The focus on performance can be seen in a variety of other details, such as the shift from 17- to 18-inch wheels on the base car, and two different 19-inch alloy wheel options on the IS F Sport.
In terms of dimensions, the 2021 Lexus IS gains about 1.2 inches in length, an equal amount in width, and about 0.2 inches in height. The wheelbase remains the same 110.2 inches, however.
The base IS 300 in rear-wheel-drive configuration is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled inline-four making a solid 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, punched through an eight-speed direct-shift automatic. The all-wheel-drive version of the IS 300 opts for a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 making 260 hp and 236 lb-ft through a six-speed automatic.
(Lexus makes changes to LC 500 for 2021.)
For those who want serious performance numbers, however, there’s the 2021 Lexus IS F Sport. Gone is the V-8 found in the original model. This time, the engineers at Shimoyama turned to an upgraded 3.5-liter V-6 pumped up to 350 hp and 311 lb-ft. A cool air intake helps the engine get up to speed fast, and a sound generator is meant to add to the thrills.
The IS F Sport adds a number of distinctive sporty features, including special badging, a unique front bumper with functional aero enhancements, a one-off rear bumper, grille surround, rear spoiler, rocker moldings and larger rear tires.
As you’d expect from the luxury arm of Toyota, there are plenty of high tech features, including the updated Lexus Safety System+ 2.5. It includes features such as Pre-Collision System (PCS), which include Frontal Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Pedestrian Detection and Bicyclist Detection.
There’s also Emergency Steering Assist, which is designed to assist steering within the vehicle’s lane as cued by the driver, explains Lexus, The update active cruise control system, meanwhile, can take the car down to zero and start up again in heavy traffic.
The new IS features 10.3-inch touchscreen that’s also been moved closer to the driver for easier access. There’s an optional 10.3-inch upgrade with cars equipped with navigation or the Mark Levinson sound system, the latter punching 1,800 watts of power through 17 individual speakers.
Both base and upgrade systems handle Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new IS also integrates the Amazon Alexa personal voice assistant which not only can control in-vehicle systems but smart home devices including lighting and thermostat.
As one might expect, the new IS gets an interior upgrade, with leather trimmed seating with a 10-way power setting for driver and eight-way for front passenger. The F Sport gets a unique, embossed graphic pattern and distinctive accent details, including ashwood ornamentation.
(Lexus ready to rock with new IS sedan.)
Lexus hasn’t yet released performance or fuel economy specs and pricing will be announced closer to the 2021 IS sedan’s on-sale date in late autumn.