Lexus IS VS Volvo S60
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
- Stunning looks
- Great safety kit
- Good value
- Not as fun as some
- Real world fuel use question marks
No it isn’t an all-new car. It might look like it, but the 2021 Lexus IS is actually a heavy facelift of the existing model, which originally went on sale way back in 2013.
There have been significant changes to the look of the new Lexus IS, including a revised front and rear end, and the company has widened the track and made “substantial chassis changes” to make it handle more adeptly, too. Plus there is a whole raft of newly added safety features and in-car technology, despite the cabin being, largely, a carryover affair.
Suffice to say that the new Lexus IS 2021 model - which the brand describes as having been “reimagined” - carries over a few strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. But does this Japanese luxury sedan still have enough quality traits to compete with the likes of its main rivals - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
That’s because this is the Volvo S60 2020 model, which is all new from the ground up. It’s striking to look at, svelte inside, and smartly priced and packaged.
So, what’s not to like? If I’m honest, the list is short. Read on to find out more.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The new-look Lexus IS takes several steps forward over its predecessor - it’s safer, smarter, sharper to look at and still pretty well priced and equipped.
It is feeling its age inside, and the competition has moved on in terms of engines and EV tech. But even so, if I was buying a 2021 Lexus IS, it would have to be the IS350 F Sport, which is just the most fitting version of this car, though the IS300h Luxury does have plenty to like for the money, too.
The new-generation Volvo S60 is a really likeable car. It follows the brand’s recent form in offering impressive, luxurious and comfortable models that also happen to offer extensive equipment and strong safety levels.
It is somewhat hamstrung by an ownership plan that can’t match its rivals on cost, but buyers could consider that they’re getting more car for their initial money, anyway.
You either get the Lexus look or you don’t, and I think this latest version is possibly more agreeable than the IS in years gone by.
That’s partly because the brand has finally done away with the odd spider-eyes twin-section headlights and daytime running lights - now there are more traditional headlight clusters, which look a lot more resolved than before.
The front end still features a bold ‘spindle’ grille, which gets different treatment depending on the grade, and the front, to my eye, looks better than before but still very much stuck in its ways.
At the side you’ll notice the giveaway windowline hasn’t changed, despite the chrome trim line having broadened as part of this facelift, but you can tell the haunches have muscled up a bit, with the new IS now 30mm wider overall, and the wheel sizes are 18s or 19s, depending on the grade.
The rear accentuates that width, with an L-shaped lighting signature now spanning the entire re-sculpted boot lid, giving the IS a pretty tidy rear end design.
Overall dimensions for the IS are 4710mm long, making it 30mm longer nose to tail (on an unchanged 2800mm wheelbase), while it now spreads across 1840mm (+30mm) and is 1435mm tall (+5mm).
The exterior changes really are impressive - I think it is a more purposeful but also more pleasant looking car now than it ever has been in this current generation.
The interior? Well, there’s not a whole lot to talk about in terms of design changes, aside from the repositioned and larger media screen - which sits 150mm closer to the driver because it’s now a touchscreen with the latest smartphone mirroring tech. Otherwise it’s a carryover affair, as you can see from the interior pictures.
Svelte and Swedish it may be, but this is also one sexy looking sedan. The R-Design model is particularly attractive, as it gets a muscly body kit and bigger 19-inch wheels.
All models have LED lighting across the range, and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ theme Volvo has been sticking with over the past few years works a treat here, too.
At the back there’s a really tidy backside, with a look that you could confuse for the bigger S90… apart from the badge, of course. It’s one of the best looking cars in the segment, and that largely comes down to the fact that it appears more resolved and luxurious looking than its rivals.
It carries its size well - the new model is 4761mm long on a 2872mm wheelbase, it’s 1431mm tall and 1850mm wide. That means its 133mm longer (96mm between the wheels), 53mm lower but 15mm narrower than the last model - and it’s built on the brand’s new Scalable Product Architecture - which is the same underpinnings from the range-topping XC90 to the entry-grade XC40.
The interior design is what you’d expect if you’ve seen any new Volvo from the past three or four years. Take a look at the interior pictures below.
The interior design of the IS, as mentioned, hasn’t changed dramatically, and it is starting to feel old compared to some of its contemporaries.
It’s still a nice place to be, with comfortable front seats with electric adjustment and heating across all grades, and cooling on many variants, too.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is a nice unit, and means you can essentially do away with the silly trackpad system that still resides near the gear selector, so you may still end up bumping it accidentally. And the fact the IS now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though neither are wirelessly connectable) does further its appeal on the multimedia front, as does the standard 10-speaker Pioneer stereo - though the 17-speaker Mark Levinson unit is an absolute blinder!
The centre stack below the media screen retains a CD player, and still has the electromagnetic temperature adjustment sliders as well. That part of the design is dating it just as much as the transmission tunnel console area, which looks a bit out of touch by modern standards, though still incorporates a pair of cup holders and a reasonably large centre console bin with soft armrest padding.
The front doors feature trenches with bottle holders as well, while in the rear doors there is still no drink storage - a carryover annoyance from the pre-facelift model. However, the middle seat in the back doubles as an armrest with pop-out cupholders, and there are rear air vents too.
Speaking of that middle seat, you wouldn’t want to sit in it for long, as it has a raised base and uncomfortable backrest, plus there’s a huge transmission tunnel intrusion eating into leg and foot space.
Outboard passengers also miss out on toe room, which - for my size 12s - is an issue. And it’s hardly the roomiest second row in this class for knee room and headroom, as my 182cm frame was a touch squished behind my own driving position.
Children will be better catered for in the back, and there are two ISOFIX anchorages and three top-tether attachment points for baby seats.
The boot capacity varies on the model you buy. Choose an IS300 or IS350 and you score 480 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity, while the IS300h has a battery pack that robs it of some boot space, with 450L available.
Volvo’s current design language is common from the XC40 through to the XC90, and the ’60 Series’ range also gets the same premium treatment.
The cabin is lovely to look at, and the materials used are all beautiful - from the leather on the steering wheel and seats, to the wood and metallic elements used on the dashboard and centre console. I still love the knurled finishes used on the engine starter and controls, even a few years after this look debuted.
The media screen is familiar too - a 9.0-inch tablet-style vertical display - and it does take a little learning to figure out how the menus work (you have to swipe side-to-side for detailed side menus, and there’s a home button down the bottom, just like a real tablet). I find it perfectly usable, but I do think the fact the ventilation controls - air con, fan speed, temperature, air direction, seat heating/cooling, steering wheel heating - all being through the screen is a little annoying. I guess a small saving grace is the de-mister buttons are exactly that - buttons.
There is a volume knob with a play/pause trigger as well, which is great. And there are controls on the steering wheel as well.
The storage in the cabin is okay, with cup holders between the seats, a covered centre bin, bottle holders in all four doors, and a rear flip-down armrest with cupholders. Now if you’re reading this review you must have a thing for sedans. That’s cool, I won’t hold it against you, but the V60 wagon is clearly the more practical pick. Even so, the S60 has a 442-litre boot space, and you can fold the rear seats down for extra room if you need it. The opening is a decent size, but there is a slight intrusion at the top edge of the boot that can limit the size of things that’ll fit as you slide them in - our bulky pram, for instance.
And keep in mind, if you choose the T8 hybrid, the boot size is a little compromised by battery packaging, with 390 litres.
Price and features
The updated 2021 Lexus IS range has seen a number of pricing changes, and a reduction of variants, too. There are now five IS models available, down from seven prior to this update as the Sports Luxury model has been axed, and you can only get the IS350 in F Sport trim now. However, the company has expanded its “Enhancement Pack” strategy across the different variants.
Opening the range is the IS300 Luxury, which lists at $61,500 (all prices listed are the MSRP - not including on-road costs, and are correct at time of publishing). It has the exact same equipment as the IS300h Luxury model, which is $64,500, and that ‘h’ stands for hybrid, which will be detailed in the engines section.
The Luxury trim is equipped with items such LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, a 10.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation (including live traffic updates) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, plus a 10-speaker sound system, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory settings for the driver, and dual-zone climate control. There’s also auto headlights with auto high beam, rain sensing wipers, power steering column adjustment, and adaptive cruise control.
Indeed, there’s a raft of safety technology included - more on that below - and there’s also a number of Enhancement Pack options.
Luxury spec models can be equipped with a choice of two Enhancement Packs: the $2000 Enhancement Pack adds a sunroof (or moonroof in Lexus speak); or Enhancement Pack 2 (or EP2 - $5500) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, cooled front seats, high-grade leather-accented interior trim, and a power-operated rear sunshade.
The IS F Sport trim line is available across the IS300 ($70,000), IS300h ($73,000) or the V6-powered IS350 ($75,000), and it adds a number of additional features over the Luxury grade.
As you can probably tell, F Sport models get a sportier look, with a body kit, 19-inch alloy wheels, standard fit adaptive suspension, sports front seats with cooling, sports pedals, and five drive modes to choose from (Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom). The F Sport grade also includes a digital instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch display, as well as leather-accented trim, and scuff plates.
Buying the F Sport grade allows customers to add further goodies by way of the Enhancement Pack for that grade, which costs $3100 and includes the sunroof, 17-speaker sound system and rear sunshade.
What’s missing? Well there’s no wireless phone charging in any grade, and no USB-C connectivity either. Note: the spare wheel is a space saver in the IS300 and IS350, but there is only a repair kit in the IS300h as there are batteries where the spare wheel would go.
There’s no go-fast IS F model sitting at the top of the tree here, nor is there a plug-in hybrid to compete against the circa-$85K BMW 330e and Mercedes C300e. But the fact the IS models all come in below $75K means it’s a pretty decent value proposition.
The S60 sedan range is attractively priced, with entry level variants undercutting some of the big name competitors.
The starting point is the S60 T5 Momentum, which is priced at $54,990 plus on-road costs. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, a 9.0-inch multimedia touchscreen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as DAB+ digital radio, keyless entry, auto dimming rear vision mirror, auto dimming and auto folding wing-mirrors, dual-zone climate control and real leather trim on the seats and steering wheel.
The next model up the range is the T5 Inscription, which lists at $60,990. It adds plenty of additional gear, with 19-inch alloy wheels, directional LED headlights, four-zone climate control, a head-up display, a 360-degree parking camera, auto-parking assist, wood interior highlights, ambient lighting, heated front seats with cushion extensions, and a 230-volt power outlet in the rear console.
Stepping up to the T5 R-Design gets you more grunt (info in the engine section below), and there are two options available - the T5 petrol ($64,990) or the T8 plug-in hybrid ($85,990).
Extra equipment for R-Design variants includes ‘Polestar optimisation’ (a bespoke suspension tune from Volvo’s performance division), 19-inch alloys with a unique look, a sporty exterior and interior design pack with R-Design sports leather seats, paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, and mesh metal interior finishes.
There are some packs available, including the Lifestyle Pack (with panoramic sunroof, rear window blind and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo), the Premium Pack (panoramic sunroof, rear blind and a 15-speaker Bowers and Wilkins stereo), and the Luxury Pack R-Design (nappa leather trim, blonde head-lining, power adjustable side bolsters, front massage seats, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel).
Engine & trans
The engine specs depend on the powertrain you choose. And at a glance there’s no variance between the earlier version of the IS and the 2021 facelift.
That means the IS300 model still runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor producing 180kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 350Nm of torque (at 1650-4400rpm). It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all IS models, it is rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD) - there is no all-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) model here.
Next up the spectrum is the IS300h model, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol motor teamed to an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine is good for a 133kW (at 6000rpm) and 221Nm (at 4200-5400rpm), and the electric motor produces 105kW/300Nm - but the combined total maximum power output is 164kW, and Lexus doesn’t provide a maximum torque figure. The 300h model runs a CVT automatic transmission.
The big horsepower offering here is the IS350, which runs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, producing 232kW of power (at 6600rpm) and 380Nm of torque (at 4800-4900rpm). It runs an eight-speed auto.
All models have paddle-shifters, while the two non-hybrid models have seen tweaks to the transmission software that is said to “estimate driver intentions” for better enjoyment.
All of the Volvo S60 models use petrol as part of their propulsion method - there is no diesel version this time around - but there are a few details when it comes to the petrol engines used in the range.
The T5 engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor. But there are two states of tune offered here.
The Momentum and Inscription get the lower state of tune - with 187kW of power (at 5500pm) and 350Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm) - and it uses an eight-speed automatic with permanent all-wheel drive (AWD). This powertrain’s claimed 0-100km/h sprint time is 6.4 seconds.
The R-Design model takes a higher tune of T5 engine - with 192kW of power (at 5700rpm) and 400Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm). Still eight-speed auto, still AWD, and a little quicker - 0-100km/h in 6.3sec.
At the top of the range there’s the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which also uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine (246kW/430Nm) and pairs it to an electric motor with 65kW/240Nm. The combined outputs for this hybrid drivetrain equate to a phenomenal 311kW and 680Nm, and that makes its 0-100km/h time of 4.3sec all the more believable.
And then there’s the fuel consumption…
There’s still no diesel model, no plug-in hybrid and no full electric (EV) model - which means that while Lexus was at the forefront of electrification with its so-called “self-charging” hybrids, it is falling behind the times. You can get plug-in versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the Tesla Model 3 plays in this space in full-electric guise.
As for the fuel-sipping hero of this trio of powertrains, the IS300h is said to use 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle fuel test. In reality, our test car’s dashboard showed 6.1L/100km across a mix of driving.
The IS300 with its turbocharged 2.0L engine is next best for fuel use, claiming 8.2L/100km. On our short launch drive of that model, we saw 9.6L/100km on the dashboard.
And the full-fat IS350 V6 petrol claims consumption of 9.5L/100km, while on test we saw 13.4L/100km.
The emissions for the three models are 191g/km (IS300), 217g/km (IS350) and 116g/km (IS300h). All three are Euro 6B compliant.
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres for all models, meaning your mileage range for the hybrid model could be considerably longer.
The official combined fuel consumption of the S60 varies depending on the powertrain.
The T5 models - Momentum, Inscription and R-Design - all use a claimed 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, which on the surface appears a little high for a vehicle in this segment.
But there’s a great evener in the T8 R-Design, which uses a claimed 2.0L/100km - now, that’s because it has an electric motor that can allow you to drive without petrol for up to 50 kilometres.
With the engine at the front and drive to the back, it has the ingredients for a pure driver’s car, and Lexus made a bit of a big deal about the new-look IS being more focused thanks to chassis adjustments and track width improvements - and it does feel a pretty nimble and tied-down car in the twisty stuff.
It is competent at stitching together a series of corners, and the F Sport models are particularly adept. The adaptive suspension in those models includes both anti-dive and anti-squat tech, which is designed to make the car feel solid and flat on the road - and it does, thankfully without feeling twitchy or uncomfortable, with good suspension compliance even in the most aggressive Sport S+ drive mode.
The 19-inch wheels on F Sport models are fitted with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) and there’s plenty of tarmac tenacity.
The grip from Luxury-spec models on 18s could be better, with those Bridgestone Turanza tyres (235/45 all around) proving not quite the most enthralling.
Indeed, the IS300h Luxury I drove felt very different in character to the F Sport IS300 and 350 models. It was surprising how much more of a plush-focused model the Luxury grade feels, and likewise it wasn’t as impressive in dynamic driving due to the tyre grip and less-enthusiastic drive mode system. The non-adaptive suspension is a touch more jittery too, and while it’s not to the point of discomfort, you might expect better for a car on 18s.
Across all models the steering is accurate and direct enough, with predictable response and decent feel to the driver’s hands for this electric power steering setup. The F Sport models have even further retuned steering for “an even sportier drive experience”, though I found at times it could feel a little numb for rapid changes of direction.
As for engines, the IS350 is still the pick. It has the best zest, and feels the most fitting powertrain for this model. It sounds good, too. The auto transmission is pretty clever, there's easily enough pulling power, and it's probably going to be the last of the non-turbo V6s in Lexus's line-up when this cars life-cycle is up.
The IS300's turbo engine was the most disappointing, lacking some urge and constantly feeling bogged down by turbo lag, transmission confusion, or both. It felt underdone in enthusiastic driving, though in dull day-to-day commuting circumstances it came across as more acceptable, though the remapped transmission software was far less impressive in this application than in the IS350.
The IS300h was a lovely, quiet and refined experience all around. It’s the one you should go for if you don’t really care about all that go-fast stuff. The powertrain is proven, it accelerates with nice linear delivery, and at times it’s so hushed I found myself looking down at the instrument cluster to see if the car was in EV mode or if it was using the petrol engine.
The Volvo S60 is a really nice car to drive.
That might seem a little lacking in terms of descriptive wording, but ‘really nice’ sums it up so well.
We mainly spent our time in the sporty T5 R-Design, which is impressively quick when you engage Polestar mode, but never leaves you feeling like you’re at the ragged edge. In normal driving, with Normal mode engaged, the engine response is more measured, yet still sprightly.
You can feel the difference between the R-Design version with the T5 engine and the non R-Design models, which run a 5kW/50Nm deficit. Those models offer better than adequate grunt, and you might find you don’t really need the extra punch.
The R-Design’s engine is smooth and revs freely, and the transmission is a smart thing, too, shifting almost imperceptibly and never really setting a foot wrong in terms of gear selection. The S60’s all-wheel drive system allows easy progress and plenty of traction, while the R-Design’s 19-inch wheels with Continental tyres offer heaps of grip.
The steering isn’t as engaging as in some other luxury mid-size models - it’s not quite as much a point-and-shoot weapon as a BMW 3 Series, for instance - but the steering wheel is easy to turn at low speeds, offers decent response at higher speeds, though it’s not overly engaging if you’re an enthusiastic driver.
And the ride is mostly quite comfortable, though sharp edges at lower speeds can upset things - that comes down to the 19-inch wheels. The T5 R-Design model we drove is fitted with Volvo’s Four-C (four corner) adaptive suspension, and in Normal mode there was slightly less stiffness over patchy sections of road, while the Polestar Mode made things a little more aggressive. The other models in the range have non-adaptive suspension. The S60 T8 R-Design we drove at launch was a little less comfortable, feeling a bit more easily upset by bumpy sections of road - it is considerably heavier, and it also misses out on the adaptive suspension.
The cornering stability from the suspension is impressive, with very little body roll through faster corners, but just be mindful that a Momentum - which has 17-inch wheels - could be a better pick if you often drive on rougher roads with varied surfaces.
The facelifted version scores auto emergency braking (AEB) with day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection (from 10km/h to 80km/h) and car detection (10km/h to 180km/h). There’s also all speed adaptive cruise control with low speed following.
The IS also has lane keeping assistance with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, a new system called Intersection Turning Assist which will brake the car if the system judges the traffic gap isn’t big enough, and there’s also road sign recognition.
Plus the IS has blind-spot monitoring on all grades, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking (below 15km/h).
And beyond that, Lexus has added new Connected Services features, including an SOS call button, automated collision notification if an airbag deploys, and stolen vehicle tracking.
Where is the Lexus IS built? Japan is the answer.
Volvo is synonymous with safety, so there’s no surprise that the S60 (and V60) scored the maximum five star Euro NCAP crash test rating when tested in 2018. They haven’t been put through the ANCAP ringer yet, but a maximum five-star score is a given.
Standard safety equipment for all S60 models includes auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear AEB, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with steering assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors (plus 360-degree surround view standard on all but Momentum grades).
There are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), plus there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top-tether restraints, too.
On paper, Lexus’s ownership offer isn’t quite as enticing as some other luxury car brands - but it has a strong reputation for blissful ownership.
The Lexus Australia warranty period is four years/100,000km, which is better for duration than Audi and BMW (both three years/unlimited km) but not as accommodating as Mercedes-Benz or Genesis, each of which offer five-year/unlimited km warranty.
The company has a three-year capped price servicing plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The first three visits cost $495 each. That’s okay - but Lexus doesn’t offer free servicing like Genesis, and nor does it offer prepaid service plans - for three to five years for a C-Class, and five years for Audi A4/A5, for instance.
There is complimentary roadside assistance for the first three years, too.
That said, the company has its Encore ownership benefits program that allows a number of experiences and deals, and the service team will collect your car and return it, leaving you with a loan car if you need it.
Volvo covers its models with the equivalent of the ‘standard’ level of cover in the luxury segment - three years/unlimited kilometres. It will also back its cars with the same cover for roadside assist for the duration of the new car warranty. That doesn't move the game on.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, and customers can now purchase a three-year/45,000km inclusive service plan for about $1600 - which is considerably more affordable than the previous service plans. Volvo has made this change based on the feedback of customers and reviewers (and because the other brands in the market offered more aggressive plans), so that's a plus.