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Lexus IS 2021 review: 350 F Sport

The new front end of the IS350 looks a lot like the gorgeous LC500.

A few weeks back, I warmly welcomed the heavily facelifted Lexus IS in the form of the IS300. It was, of course, lovely, but contained a couple of disappointments, chief among them the lack of finesse from the eight-speed transmission.

At the other end of the range (for the moment) is this car, the IS350. For $75,000, before on-road costs, you get 19-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, a hefty safety package, reversing cameras, around-view cameras, keyless entry and start, a massive media touchscreen, sat nav, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, electric front seats (heated and cooled), LED headlights and plenty more.

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What does it look like?

Lexus wants you to think the new IS is all-new but it isn't. However, the facelift is a lot more than just a new set of headlights and bumpers.

The car looks more muscular than ever, especially in F-Sport trim, with the big wheels and black aero bits. It's the best looking IS since the awesome original nearly two decades ago and the two cars could not be more different.

The facelift is a lot more than just a new set of headlights and bumpers. The facelift is a lot more than just a new set of headlights and bumpers.

The facelift has given the IS a much more purposeful stance, like its European rivals, and there isn't an awkward angle anywhere.

The front end looks more than a little bit like the genuinely stunning LC500 so I haven't a bad word to say about the styling, even if the core of the car remains identical to the previous machine.

The interior could perhaps have have been paid a bit more attention and is largely carried over from the old car, including the annoying ‘Remote Touch’ control pad on the centre console.

The car looks more muscular than ever, especially in F-Sport trim. The car looks more muscular than ever, especially in F-Sport trim.

The best part of the interior is the new 10.3-inch touchscreen. Clear, crisp and fast, it also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto stretched across its lovely wide screen.

To be fair to the IS's cabin, it has never been a bad one to look at, it just feels a little dated. On the upside, Lexus has been bolting these interiors together for a long time now and it feels granite-solid. As just about every Lexus is.

How does it drive?

As foreshadowed in the introduction, I never quite gelled with the turbo four-cylinder version. Well, to be more accurate, the engine and transmission never quite gelled. The gearbox could never make up its mind and would occasionally produce a lurch that is unbecoming of a Lexus.

In the IS350, order is restored. That rarest of things, a non-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine hides under the bonnet.

You'll enjoy a very smooth and almost plush ride, even on the 19-inch wheels. You'll enjoy a very smooth and almost plush ride, even on the 19-inch wheels.

Every single competitor with the same number of cylinders also throws a turbo into the mix, but Lexus has stuck with the super-smooth V6 even though it may not be the most efficient (there is also a hybrid IS available).

This engine combination makes a whole lot of sense and feels the most Lexus-ey. The transmission and engine have a far better relationship with none of the awkwardness of the four-cylinder.

The F Sport specification includes adaptive damping, which means that if you don't touch the drive select dial on the console, you'll enjoy a very smooth and almost plush ride, even on the 19-inch wheels.

A non-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine hides under the bonnet. A non-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine hides under the bonnet.

Around the city it's an extraordinarily relaxing place to spend time, something I've always appreciated in this particular brand.

You can, if you fancy it, turn the dial to Sport or Sport+, with the V6 making a bit more noise and the suspension tightening up to improve the handling, without destroying the ride comfort.

How spacious is it?

One downside to the new IS is that it's still a bit cosy inside if you're tall, particularly in the rear. While the front seats in this F Sport are quite slim, legroom is still at a premium and the falling roofline combines with the thick-ish C-pillar to thoroughly ensconce you.

  • While the front seats in this F Sport are quite slim, legroom is still at a premium. While the front seats in this F Sport are quite slim, legroom is still at a premium.
  • One downside to the new IS is that it's still a bit cosy inside if you're tall, particularly in the rear. One downside to the new IS is that it's still a bit cosy inside if you're tall, particularly in the rear.
  • The boot is a thoroughly Germanic 480 litres (VDA). The boot is a thoroughly Germanic 480 litres (VDA).
  • That's thirty more than the hybrid version which gives up some space for the battery. That's thirty more than the hybrid version which gives up some space for the battery.

It's also a little tricky to get into if you've got limited mobility as you kind of have to post yourself through an awkwardly-shaped gap.

The boot is a thoroughly Germanic 480 litres (VDA), which is thirty more than the hybrid version which gives up some space for the battery.

How easy is it to use every day?

The IS is a very, comfortable and serene place to be. It's set up to be peaceful - no loud beeps or alarms, everything works the way it should and everything is nice to touch.

While the buttons scattered about the place immediately age the interior, they're easy to work out and it's unlikely you'll ever need the manual, except perhaps for some of the quirks of the media system.

The IS is a very, comfortable and serene place to be. The IS is a very, comfortable and serene place to be.

Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders which are joined by a slot which makes it good spot to lay a phone if the wireless charging pad under the ventilation controls is already in use.

The rest of the console is taken up with the pointless, irritating touchpad that you can avoid by using the touchscreen.

There are bottle holders in the front door, there's no room in the rears for them but the rear centre armrest does have a pair of cupholders.

How safe is it?

Lexus has loaded up the IS with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (with day and night pedestrian detection while between 10km/h and 80km/h, with cyclist detection during the day and car detection all the way up to 180km/h), active cruise control, lane departure warning, lane trace assist, turn assist (which tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic), blind spot monitoring, road sign recognition and reverse AEB (up to 15km/h) and reverse cross traffic alert.

Child and baby seats can be anchored with two ISOFIX points and three top-tether points.

Lexus has maintained the five star ANCAP safety rating from 2016 when standards were lower but as mentioned, this is essentially the same car.

What’s the tech like?

The new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system behind it are a massive improvement. It looks lovely and the hardware is lightning quick so is a pleasure to use.

The new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system behind it are a massive improvement. The new 10.3-inch touchscreen and the media software system behind it are a massive improvement.

On top of that, the system now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although annoyingly that's USB-only, despite the wireless charging pad.

The basic 10-speaker stereo is perfectly fine but if you want, the F Sport + Enhancement Pack 1 (at $78,100 before on road costs) installs 17 Mark Levinson-branded speakers along with powered blinds in the rear, and a sunroof.

How much does it cost to own?

The official combined cycle figure for the 232kW/380Nm V6 is 9.5L/100km, running on premium unleaded.

In mostly city and suburban running, I got 11.1L/100km from the IS350, which isn't terrible but most of its rivals will stay well under 10L/100km.

The Lexus warranty spans four years/100,000km. It's an oddity in the segment because it's of longer duration than Jaguar, BMW and Audi, but they each offer unlimited kilometres.

It's shorter than Mercedes and relative newcomer (and Lexus business model copier) Genesis which both offer five years/unlimited kilometres.

Every 12 months or 15,000km, Lexus expects to see your car for a service. For the first three years the amount is capped at $495, which is the same no matter which IS you buy.

The Lexus warranty spans four years/100,000km. The Lexus warranty spans four years/100,000km.

That means a three year figure of just under $1500, which is $250 less than a (significantly more expensive) six-cylinder BMW 3 Series will cost you over five years, which is a bit of a surprise. A more comparably priced Genesis will cost you zip during the same period.

Roadside assist lasts for the three years of the capped-price program.

Lexus will come and get your car from you and leave you with a loan car or you can take a loan car when you go to the dealership.

Show me a cranky Lexus owner and I'll immediately buy us all a lottery ticket. I'm sure they exist, but I'm yet to meet one.


The Wrap

The IS350 is perhaps the definitive IS in the current range, with all of the signature smoothness and plushness I've come to enjoy whenever I have the chance. Yeah, I'm getting old, sue me. The hybrid maybe just as smooth and pleasant with its electric motor joining the internal combustion engine, but it doesn't have the character of the six.

Lexus knows families have long-since defected to SUVs, which is why the company makes so many of them and why there was no business case to build a whole new platform for the IS. Luckily, the IS we knew and loved was always lovely if it wasn't the most modern or dripping with tech. But IS buyers aren't looking for that, they're after a sleek sedan with awesome reliability, from a brand with a fearsome reputation for looking after its owners.

Likes

Gorgeous new looks
Incredible build quality
Super smooth V6

Dislikes

Not very modern-feeling
Tight rear seats
Pricey servicing

Scores

Peter:

3.8

The Kids:

3.6

$75,000

Based on new car retail price

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