First Drive: 2021 Lexus IS Makes Evolutionary Improvements

Mild makeover sees tweaks throughout and a generous suite of safety features

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Consumer Reports

Lexus has redesigned the IS, its entry-level luxury sedan, for the 2021 model year. Its styling is evolutionary, and the powertrains carry over. The real promise this updated IS makes is that its ride, handling, and steering deserve the “sports sedan” label.

The current car was billed as a sports sedan ready to take on European standard bearers such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, but as our road test exposed, it is outmatched.

The new version is again offered in rear- and all-wheel-drive configurations, with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and two V6 engine choices. The interior features traditional upscale amenities, with the latest Lexus infotainment system, an available high-powered, 17-speaker audio system, and a long list of connected technologies, such as remote services and mobile WiFi. There is a generous suite of advanced safety and driver assistance features that come standard, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

Ahead of the Lexus IS going on sale this fall, we rented an early sedan from the automaker, giving us a chance to experience the top version, an IS 350 F Sport.

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial expert assessment of the Lexus IS is already available to you below. If you haven’t signed up to become a member yet, click below to access this full article and all our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Joining also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and home appliances.

We have put a Lexus IS through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls.

CR members now have access to the full road-test results.

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Update: Since this first drive was originally published in October, 2020, we finished testing the Lexus IS.

Read the complete Lexus IS road test.

What we rented: Lexus IS 350 F Sport
Powertrain: 311-hp, 3.5-liter V6; 6-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $44,900
Destination fee: $1,025
Total cost: $45,925

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