2021 Lexus IS 300
- Starting at $40,000 (estimated)
- Fall 2020
What to expect
- Restyled headlights, taillights and grille
- Handling improvements
- Reworked tech interface features touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- F Sport package no longer available
- Part of the third Lexus IS generation introduced for 2013
What is the IS 300?
The Lexus IS 300 is one of the most intriguing small luxury sedans out there — it costs less than its German rivals yet offers more features and similar levels of comfort and quality. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the IS 300's lack of driving refinement, distracting-to-use technology interface, and small cabin keep it from running near the front of the pack.
The automaker is hitting a soft reset with the 2021 Lexus IS 300. The exterior has a new look with slim headlights, full-width taillights and redesigned rocker panels. Though it's still the same car underneath, the 2021 IS seeks to solve the most pressing problems. Among the changes are structural and suspension revisions, which should improve feel from behind the wheel, and a much-needed rethink of the infotainment system.
What's under the IS 300's hood?
The rear-wheel-drive IS 300 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This is the same powertrain as before. While it makes good power, the IS 300 is ultimately a bit slower than rivals in an all-out drag race.
Lexus offers all-wheel drive (AWD) on the IS 300, though selecting AWD swaps the turbocharged engine for a non-turbocharged V6 producing 260 hp and 236 lb-ft. It also has a six-speed automatic transmission instead of the eight-speed transmission.
Acceleration is similar, but you will notice a drop in fuel economy with the IS 300 AWD. We expect the 2021 model to have similar figures to the 2020 car, which the EPA estimates gets 24 mpg combined for RWD and 21 mpg for AWD.
A handful of improvements should make the 2021 IS 300 feel a bit sportier than last year's model. Additional reinforcements and welds increase body rigidity, which Lexus says improves handling and steering response, among other benefits. Some suspension components are lighter than before, which reduces unsprung mass and should translate to a more comfortable ride.
How's the IS 300's interior?
Since the 2021 IS 300 is a refresh rather than a redesign, modifications to the interior are relatively minor. The upper portion of the center console is finished in gloss black — rather than the brushed-metal motif of the previous model — and interior trim offerings are revised. Otherwise, the IS cabin features the same driver-centric layout as before.
The car's dimensions are unchanged, so seating is tight for rear-seat occupants. And a wide center console means that even front-seat passengers can feel quite snug.
How's the IS 300's tech?
This IS generation has been stuck with one of the least appealing infotainment systems on the market. Though it featured attractive graphics, the mouse-like controller for navigating the system was imprecise and difficult to use. Lexus has replaced the mouse with a touchpad for 2021. On other Lexus vehicles, such as the RX 350, we've found the new touchpad design to be marginally more intuitive than the mouse.
In addition, the screen is closer to the driver now and gains touchscreen capability. This is a far bigger step toward improving usability than the touchpad. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is also new for the 2021 IS.
The IS 300's advanced driving aids receive additional fine-tuning for 2021. The forward collision warning system can now detect pedestrians and bicyclists, and the lane-centering system more accurately identifies lane markers. The previously optional blind-spot monitor is now standard equipment.
How's the IS 300's storage?
Though the compact class doesn't warrant high expectations for storage, the IS still falls short. The trunk offers 10.8 cubic feet of room, which is a few cubes less than most rivals. In-cabin storage is acceptable for front-seat passengers, but rear cubbies are fairly limited. Fitting a car seat into the small back seat through narrow door openings can present a challenge.
The 2021 Lexus IS 300 isn't fully redesigned, but a few much-needed tweaks make it more appealing than last year's model. With improved tech and handling, the IS finally has the tools to meet the competition head-on.