2021 Lexus IS 350
- Starting at $44,000 (estimated)
- Fall 2020
What to expect
- Restyled headlights, taillights and grille
- Handling improvements
- Reworked tech interface features touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- New Dynamic Handling package for F Sport models
- Part of the third Lexus IS generation introduced for 2013
What is the IS 350?
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 is a V6-powered small luxury sedan that, along with the four-cylinder IS 300, competes against the best four-doors that the world has to offer. Before this year, we considered the IS 350 a solid choice in the segment thanks to its strong value statement, comfortable ride and eye-catching interior. However, its lack of driving refinement, clunky technology interface, and small cabin kept it from running near the front of the pack.
The automaker is hitting a soft reset with the 2021 Lexus IS 350. The exterior is thoroughly overhauled 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 350's hood?
There's not much new here. Just like last year, the IS 350 packs a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 with 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque on tap. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on rear-wheel-drive models (selecting all-wheel drive swaps it for a six-speed auto). While the less expensive IS 300 exists — driven by a turbocharged four-cylinder — we think the IS 350's notable performance gains and very modest fuel economy hit make it a worthy upgrade.
A handful of improvements should make the 2021 IS 350 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.
A larger wheel-and-tire package should also provide some performance gains, with standard IS 350s receiving 18-inch alloys and F Sport versions coming with new 19-inch wheels. The new Dynamic Handling package (available only on the F Sport) counts forged BBS wheels among its upgrades. The BBS wheels are each 4 pounds lighter than the standard F Sport wheels, further reducing unsprung mass. The Dynamic Handling pack also includes adaptive suspension dampers, a performance driving mode, and, for rear-wheel-drive models, a limited-slip differential. These changes all add up to an IS 350 that should be far more fun to drive than previously.
How's the IS 350's interior?
Modifications to the 2021 IS 350's interior are 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.
The car's compact dimensions translate to an interior that can feel oppressively tight for rear-seat occupants. A wide center console means that even front-seat passengers feel quite snug too.
How's the IS 350's tech?
This IS generation has been plagued 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 350'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.
If you're considering buying the Lexus IS 350, we strongly urge you to wait for the upcoming refresh. The 2021 IS 350's revised technology interface alone is worth the wait, not to mention the handling improvements and new performance upgrades.