2021 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT TEST DRIVE
2021 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT TEST DRIVE BY CAR CRITIC STEVE HAMMES
Ok, its bark is worse than its bite but the new IS 350 F SPORT with Dynamic Handling Package is an attainable luxury sports sedan that satisfies on a number of fronts. Not the least of which is this sexy new styling.
Lexus knows sedans are yesterday’s news so investing tons of money to redesign its trio of 4-doors isn’t going to happen which is why you won’t hear terms such as “all-new” or “redesigned” when it comes to the 2021 IS; the car’s first significant update since it was redesigned in 2014.
Now, part of me wants to criticize this as the most Toyota move ever but a bigger part of me kind of likes this car and the changes that have been made.
So don’t go searching for new engines, transmissions or a roomier interior; this is ostensibly the same car as before but better in terms of handling improvements, reduced weight and finally enhanced infotainment controls.
And for those reasons Lexus says this IS ushers in the new Lexus Driving Signature – the first in a new generation of Lexus vehicles that is more balanced, refined in control, and confident than ever before.
Reducing unsprung mass, enhancing body rigidity, tweaking the shocks for more responsiveness and fitting it with stickier, wider tires has elevated the driving experience of a car that has also shed 154 pounds – now weighing 100 pounds less than a BMW M340i.
Lexus aimed to create a compact sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control and those attributes are certainly present.
Highway travel, around the town, on backroads this is a Lexus that I really enjoy driving because it handles any duty well.
And the red interior with new touchscreen infotainment and some of the most supportive and comfortable front seats on the market makes for a car I truly enjoy getting into. And the more rigid chassis and upgraded suspension make it more of a driver’s car – it’s tight with luxury level fun baked into the drive but is is underpowered? For sure and that’s where the upcoming IS 500 will pick up the slack.
That V8-powered car arrives later this year but this 3.5-liter V6 isn’t a great fit here.
It produces 311 horsepower – decent – but only 280 pound-feet of torque that peaks high in the rev range. It’s paired to an 8-speed automatic driving the rear wheels on its way to a 0-to-60mph time of 5.6 seconds – same as before.
So don’t go hunting that BMW – it’ll blow your doors off at over a full second quicker. And while I’m on it, this IS 350 F SPORT RWD, fully loaded stickers for $55,065. That’s about 5 grand less than a comparable M340i which offers considerably more engine and a roomier interior.
Speaking of F SPORT, it’s only offered on the 350 now and it’s standard. All-wheel drive is also available but then you’re stuck with a 6-speed auto and an even slower car. And don’t even think about the IS 300 – that car is painfully slow.
The $4,200 Dynamic Handling Package adds 19” BBS wheels with staggered width Potenza summer use tires, an elevated Sport S+ driving mode and custom mode, an adaptive variable suspension, a Torsen limited slip differential, a beautiful ash wood heated steering wheel and interior trim, a carbon fiber rear spoiler and a smart access card key that can replace the bulky key fob.
The look is stellar – I mean this car has “it” and I’ve found myself looking back at it numerous times. It’s still instantly recognizable as an IS yet fresher with a more sinister look. And this new Circuit Red faux leather is gorgeous. The cabin is as pleasing to the eye as the body. And hey; you don’t have to use the touchpad anymore.
This bigger screen which is closer to the driver allows for touch control though it still makes that unfortunate bong sound when clicking around. Lexus is readying an all-new system that’ll soon replace this all together. And the 17 speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound system is a top notch listening experience.
I’ve driven this car for hours at a time and the cabin is always welcoming and supremely comfortable.
Even in Sport + the drive isn’t overtly sporty – the IS definitely skews more towards luxury sedan with a frisky side because it feels heavy and would benefit from a turbo to extract more raciness. But these grippy tires help overcome some of that keeping the IS glued to the road. And the ride quality is always awesome pristine.
Even though Active Sound Control has been improved, there’s still very little visceral satisfaction for your ears. Paddle shifts are quick enough though again without much sound to match the gear changes I’ve been leaving it mostly in auto where it does a fine job in Sport and higher. And there are no hijinks here; this is a rear-wheel drive car anyone can drive safely just as you would expect from Lexus. Gas mileage checks in at 20mpg city/28mpg highway on premium.
Luxurious, attractive, mildly sporty and priced right the IS 350 F SPORT with Dynamic Handling is exactly what you expect from a Lexus sports car yet better than before. If pure sports sedan characteristics are what you’re after you’ll likely want to pass yet I’ve found this car very accommodating on an everyday basis and something I’ve looked forward to driving for its balanced nature. And remember 472 horsepower is on the way.