The BMW 3 Series has long been the ideal entry-level premium sedan for driving enthusiasts. The Lexus brand has always existed in this space as well but without matching the BMW for its prestige. However, that’s been changing over the last few years and the new 3-er will take on the new-gen IS sedan.
The 2021 IS now features similar design language as other modern Lexus models starting with the large spindle grille. It’s similar to the gaping grille design that pretty much deletes the need for a front bumper as seen on other Lexus sedans and SUVs but on the IS, it just looks disproportionally big. To borrow some Lexus lexicon, the new grille “features a three-dimensional, polyhedral structure that originates from the foremost tip of the grille to emphasize a sense of presence”. Its definitely got that last part. In fact, it takes 6 different types of cutting tools to make that mould. Even the more aggressive blacked-out front end of the F-Sport versions with the air intake at the bottom doesn’t quite take away from how much that grille stands out.
It also gets sleek new headlamps with L-shaped LED DRLs that are also lighter than before. The shape accentuates the sportiness of the front end while the ends match the contours of the character lines on the car’s profile.
The new IS’s front fascia design is still a lot prettier than the new BMW 4 Series grille while still being a bit of a shock to the senses. Luckily, the new IS looks really good in profile and from the rear.
Unlike the German counterparts, Lexus has opted for sharp and aggressive character lines etches into sides, shoulders and rear haunches. It sits visibly lower than the previous-gen model while the extra width is more pronounced from the rear. Those flared arches also house the larger tyres.
The Lexus IS’ sharpness carries onto the rear ends with wraparound taillamps that match the contours. It also has the latest trend of a connecting lightbar that spans the width of the car’s behind. The dual exit exhausts are always welcome and they look quite real from these photos. The chunky rear scuff plate that also integrates the diffuser could have been nicer but that’s probably an upgrade reserved for a more powerful iteration in the future.
Speaking of power, the 2021 Lexus IS comes with two engines and choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The entry-level IS 300 is an RWD sedan with a 2.0-litre turbocharged in-line four under the bonnet, tuned to produce a sufficient 241hp and 350Nm with an 8-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic gearbox. This is the relatively subtle version of the new IS.
Move up the pricing order to the IS 300 AWD and you’ll be pleased to know that it is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 naturally-aspirated unit that churns out 260hp and 320Nm. This one is mated to a 6-speed AT with varying torque distribution. In the dry, it sends 70% of torque to the rear wheels but it is capable of a 50-50 front-rear distribution under certain conditions.
The most powerful spec on offer is the IS 350 which increases the output of the same 3.5-litre V6 to 311hp and 380Nm. The RWD version uses the 8-speed SPDS automatic while the AWD is mated to the 6-speed auto. In terms of acceleration figures, the IS 350 RWD can do 0-100kph in 5.6 seconds while the AWD version of the same can do it in 5.7 seconds.
On top of that, the F Sport models get some juicy options to make the new IS a tad more fun, such as the Dynamic Handling Package for adaptive suspension and drive mode select. In the RWD models, the DHP includes a Torsen® limited-slip differential for some sideways action while exiting corners.
The cabin of the Lexus IS remains a driver-centric affair. The front passengers are separated by a thick central console and while the rear bench could seat three in a squeeze, it is really only meant for two adults. It features plush upholstery and is available in bright racing red for the F-Sport models. Also, as a Lexus, it is packed with plenty of safety tech, a nice sound system, distinct button placements and an odd trackpad for the infotainment and satnav. In terms of differences in the 2021 model, it gets newly designed steering mounted controls, circular air vents, and an optional 10-inch touchscreen central display over the standard 8.0-inch unit. The central console still has actual buttons which are nice in the modern era. It still has the round clockface too between the central air vents.
I’d say the 2021 Lexus IS simply brings this sedan up-to-date with the rest of the brand lineup in terms of appearances. But is it truly a worthy alternative to the likes of the BMW 3 Series or maybe even a Kia Stinger? I guess those who get to drive cars will tell. But on paper, it’s a decent Japanese alternative.
Check out the gallery below, let me know in the comments what you think of the new Lexus IS and don’t forget to subscribe to The Auto Loons for more cool updates from the car world.