ROAD TEST: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport

By Shari Prymak

Sometimes many small changes can add up to a big improvement. In the case of the updated for 2021 IS 300 and IS 350 sport sedans, that is exactly what Lexus has accomplished. Rather than go for a full redesign, Lexus has made many small improvements to the existing IS, which has now been around in more or less the same form since 2014. The result is a rather polished and refined sport sedan that’s seriously worthy of consideration alongside the comparable BMW 3-Series or Acura TLX.

Although it maintains the same overall dimensions and design language, the sheet metal has been revised for a cleaner, more updated look. It is an attractive car, especially if you go for one of the F Sport variants. The interior, however, remains more or less the same as before with familiar switchgear, steering wheel, and the animated centre instrument gauge. The infotainment system does receive a welcome update with touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capability, all of which make it far more useful for day-to-day use. Overall, the interior is quite a pleasing space. The F Sport model’s supportive sport seats are incredibly comfortable and all of the materials feel exceptionally high quality and well fitted.

When it comes to blending comfort with sportiness, the IS 350 is one of the most exceptional sedans in its segment. Its finely tuned suspension and modest size help give it a nimble, agile feel when tossed around corners, yet it remains refined enough for long highway drives and daily commutes. Sport S and Sport S+ modes help boost the sporty feel without compromising comfort. Although it is not quite a fast and powerful as most rivals in its class, the performance is still more than adequate and plenty quick for most.

The base IS 300 comes with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive which most will likely pass on. The volume models are the V6-powered IS 300 and IS 350 which both come standard with all-wheel drive. The long-running 3.5L V6 engine produces 260 horsepower in the IS 300 and 311 horsepower in the IS 350. Either way, it comes matched to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. The IS is the last sport sedan to be fitted with a naturally-aspirated engine and it is all the better for it. The lack of turbos gives it a wonderful sounding exhaust note when pushed with clean, smooth power delivery. The Lexus V6 and 6-speed automatic are also a simple, well-proven combination that should deliver exceptional long-term reliability and low repair costs.

The IS has a starting MSRP of $42,950 and can climb up to $58,650 depending on the model and package. Although the IS 350 F Sport is an enjoyable package, the sweet spot in the lineup is probably the IS 300 AWD F Sport which, for under $50,000, offers more or less the same driving experience and comforts for substantially less money. The pricing is about in line with the Acura TLX and Genesis G70, but it is significantly less expensive than a comparable BMW 330i xDrive or Mercedes C300 4MATIC, making it excellent value for money.  

Consumers may be gravitating more and more towards SUVs, but the Lexus IS makes a strong case for the more traditional sport sedan. The latest updates have polished the IS to the point where it is a very competitive and attractive option. When you factor in its exceptional reputation for build quality, long-term reliability, and high resale value, it becomes hard to make a strong case for anything else.