The F Sport brings a performance edge to the Lexus IS 350 line.
Compact luxury performance sedans remain an important tool to entice consumers to a new brand. Even as utility vehicles dominate the market, coupes and sedans cost less and handle the twisty roads better. The Lexus IS sedan brings its desirable attributes to the market, wrapping it in a handsome package and making it fun to drive.
Lexus offers the IS in IS 300 ($40,025) and IS 350 F Sport ($43,925) trims. These prices include the $1,025 destination charge. Add $2,000 for all-wheel drive.
New for 2021
The 2021 Lexus Is represents a new model. This one seats five and comes with standard rear-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. Its footprint and engines carry forward from the previous generation; the exterior and cabin have been extensively refreshed.
The latest IS measures just an inch longer and one inch wider than the previous model. The updates this year include new lighting, such as the accent light checkmarks placed above the headlights. The tail lamps are also reworked – a connecting panel of LED lights amplifies the rear fascia accordingly.
Much about the rest of the IS’ exterior is familiar, including the mesh hourglass grille, which may be this sedan’s most polarizing look – you either will love it or hate it. Deep cutouts upfront, body creases, and profile sculpting round out this sedan’s look. Alloy wheels, puddle lamps, and heated side mirrors are standard. The F Sport model adds unique bumpers, special exhaust tips, larger wheels, and exterior color upgrades.
Inside, the cabin is as beautiful as ever, with high-quality materials throughout. The imitation leather NuLuxe material passes for real hides and is served up in black, caramel, or red. We appreciated the layout with the layered dashboard, round bezels, and orderly console carefully designed with the front passengers in mind.
F Sport Goodies
The F Sport features bolstered sport front seats that are heated and ventilated. The driver’s seat features 10-way adjustment with power lumbar support, a natural requirement of any driver’s car. Paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control, and a drive mode selector are standard. A heated steering wheel and a power tilt-and-slide moonroof are extras.
If there is any qualm we have with the IS, it has everything to do with passenger space. Two fit comfortably, but the rear seat is challenging and few adults will find the lack of legroom manageable. Consider the IS a comfortable two-seater with enough room for pre-teens in the back.
Tech & Safety
To no one’s surprise, the Lexus IS comes well equipped. An 8-speed color touch-screen display is standard and works with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa. Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, and a 10-speaker Pioneer audio system with HD Radio, satellite radio, and a CD player are included.
Lexus connected services, including roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, and stolen vehicle notification, comes standard. A trial 4GB Wi-Fi package is also included. Lexus offers a navigation package with a 10.3-inch display, but you can skip this if you have an Android or Apple smartphone as their travel apps are just as helpful and will not cost you extra. A 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is available.
The IS comes with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 suite of driver-assist equipment. Here, you’ll find a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is also standard. The main upgrade is parking assist with automatic braking. A panoramic view camera is also available.
Lexus IS Performance
The Lexus IS offers two engine choices. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque motivates the IS 300 RWD model. Power travels to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Choose the IS 300 AWD and a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque motivates this model. Power routes to all four wheels utilizing a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Both IS 350 F Sport models also utilize the 3.5-liter engine, but here it’s tuned to deliver 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission works with the rear-wheel-drive model; a 6-speed automatic comes paired with all-wheel drive.
The standard engine delivers average power, but it’s the F Sport 350 that turns up the heat. Our test 350 F Sport RWD model demonstrated its performance credentials admirably, thanks to several upgrades. These included a cold air intake system, staggered 19-inch wheels for enhanced grip, a performance suspension system, and a limited-slip differential.
Hit the road and find your favorite twisty section and the IS struts its stuff. It stays centered while working through every angle and the steering wheel adds weight when operated in Sport mode. Models equipped with the adaptive variable suspension system are especially keyed in, but it’s part of a $4,200 upgrade that only the most committed drivers should consider. Otherwise, this sedan is balanced with direct steering and goes from 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds.
The Lexus IS in any form is a handsome machine. We’re partial to the F Sport as it delivers a performance kick that makes it fun to drive. We think the rear-wheel-drive version is the better choice for performance driving and the 8-speed transmission represents an ideal pairing to get this done.
See Also — High Performance and the Cadillac CT4 Line
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