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2021 Lexus IS Review

The 2021 Lexus IS ranks near the back of the luxury small car class. The IS has lots of standard features, pleasant handling, and a good predicted reliability rating, but it also has lackluster engine performance and cramped rear accommodations.

Pros & Cons

  • Poised ride and handling
  • Many standard safety features
  • Great predicted reliability rating
  • Underwhelming acceleration
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Cramped back seat

New for 2021

  • Refreshed exterior styling
  • Retuned chassis and suspension
  • Updated infotainment system with a touch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto

Rankings & Research

The 2021 Lexus IS's #13 ranking is based on its score within the Luxury Small Cars category. Currently the Lexus IS has a score of 7.2 out of 10, which is based on our evaluation of 39 pieces of research and data elements using various sources.

7.2

Overall

Scorecard

Critics' Rating: 6.9
Performance: 7.1
Interior: 5.4
Safety:
This rating isn’t available yet for the current model year. In the meantime, last year’s rating of 9.6 for safety is being used to calculate this vehicle’s overall score.
TBD
Reliability:
J.D. Power Ratings Logo

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Is the Lexus IS a Good Car?

The 2021 Lexus IS is a fine luxury small car. The IS offers a well-trimmed interior, composed handling, and a blissful ride over rough pavement. Its touch-screen infotainment system is fairly user-friendly, and loads of active safety features come standard. The IS also rates highly for predicted reliability. Substantive changes make this refreshed 2021 model the best IS sedan in years.

However, a few deficiencies linger. The IS’ available four- and six-cylinder engines deliver underwhelming performance and below-average fuel economy. Interior space is snug, especially for back-seat passengers, and the cabin is starting to look a bit dated. This refresh is good, but a full redesign is needed.

Why You Can Trust Us: 39 Reviews Analyzed

We’ve analyzed 39 Lexus IS reviews, as well as data points like reliability ratings and fuel economy estimates, to help you make the best car-buying decision possible.

This 2021 IS review incorporates applicable research for all models in this generation, which launched for 2014.

U.S. News Best Cars has been ranking and reviewing vehicles since 2007, and our staff has more than 75 years of combined experience in the auto industry. To ensure our objectivity, we never accept expensive gifts from carmakers, and an outside firm manages the ads on our site.

Should I Buy the Lexus IS?

The 2021 Lexus IS is worth a look if you’re shopping for a luxury sedan but not as a first pick. There are better options in this segment, like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Genesis G70.

Find a 2021 Lexus IS for sale near you »

2020 vs. 2021 Lexus IS: What's the Difference?

There are a number of differences between the 2020 and 2021 IS. For 2021, Lexus refreshes the exterior styling of the IS sedan, with particular attention given to the bumpers, grille, headlights, taillights, and fenders. The dashboard receives styling updates and an upgraded infotainment system with a touch screen and compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Lexus also retuned the suspension and chassis of the IS, but the car’s engines carry over unchanged.

Compare the 2020 and 2021 IS »

Lexus last redesigned the IS for 2014 (start of its third generation). Here are its key changes over the last few years:

  • 2016: base V6 engine replaced by a 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder
  • 2017: previously optional forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control added to standard features list
  • 2018: rearview camera became standard; slight bump in horsepower for V6 engine
  • 2019: Amazon Alexa availability added
  • 2020: no notable changes
  • 2021: refreshed interior and exterior styling; retuned chassis and suspension; updated infotainment system now includes a touch screen and smartphone compatibility

If you're considering an older model, be sure to read our 2018 IS, 2019 IS, and 2020 IS reviews to help make your decision. Also, check out our Best New Car Deals and Best New Car Lease Deals pages to learn about savings and discounts you can find on new vehicles.

How Much Does the Lexus IS Cost?

The 2021 Lexus IS has a $39,000 starting price, which is a bit higher than average for the luxury small car class. The price rises to around $49,000 for the range-topping IS 350 F Sport AWD model with the Dynamic Handling package.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Lexus dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Lexus deals page.

Lexus IS Versus the Competition

Lexus IS vs. Lexus ES

The Lexus ES is a luxury midsize car, and it offers a few benefits over the compact IS. The ES provides a comfier ride on rough roads and returns better gas mileage, and its cabin is considerably more spacious. Better still, the ES starts at around the same price point as the IS while offering many of the same safety features and comparable interior quality. It isn’t a total win for the ES, as the IS has sharper handling and a simpler infotainment system. Overall, however, the ES is a better starting point.

Compare the IS and ES »

Lexus IS vs. BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is a luxury small car that outshines the IS in most areas. The 3 Series has a sportier engine lineup that yields quicker acceleration and higher fuel economy. It’s more agile and fun to drive on winding roads, yet it still rides comfortably on everyday pavement. The 3 Series also offers roomier back-seat accommodations and trunk space, and BMW’s infotainment system is one of the best in the luxury segment. The biggest knock against the BMW is its value proposition. Its starting price is higher by about $2,300, but it offers fewer standard features than the IS. Even so, the 3 Series is the better buy.

Compare the IS and 3 Series »

Compare the IS, ES, and 3 Series »

IS Interior: Forward Progress

IS Cargo Space

The Lexus IS has 10.8 cubic feet of trunk space, which is below average for the luxury small car class. A few carry-on suitcases or a pair of golf bags will fit, albeit snugly. On the plus side, the rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, making it easier to carry the occasional bulky item.

How Many People Does the IS Seat?

The 2021 Lexus IS is a four-door sedan with five seats. The front seats are supportive and well-cushioned, and there’s adequate headroom and legroom for taller occupants. However, there isn’t much knee or elbow room, and it can feel a bit confining on longer road trips. The rear seats are snug as well. There’s sufficient space for two adults to sit in reasonable comfort on short outings, but this area is better suited for smaller children. Outward visibility is good to the front and sides of the car, but rear visibility is pinched because of the thick roof pillars.

Synthetic leather upholstery and power-adjustable front seats are standard. Heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available.

IS and Child Car Seats

The IS has two complete sets of LATCH connectors for the rear outboard seats and a tether anchor for the rear middle seat. This LATCH system is very easy to use.

IS Interior Quality

Despite some updates for 2021, the interior of the Lexus IS doesn’t look appreciably different than it did in 2014. It may be a bit dated, but build quality remains impressive. Panel gaps are uniform, and many surfaces are covered with quality materials like soft-touch plastic, synthetic leather, and wood. The cabin does a great job of muffling road and wind noise as well, resulting in a hushed and relaxing driving experience.

IS Infotainment, Bluetooth, and Navigation

The 2021 Lexus IS is offered with a standard 8-inch touch screen or an available 10.3-inch touch screen. These displays are easy to see and reach while driving. Both also support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing users to seamlessly integrate their smartphone interface on-screen. There is a touchpad on the center console that can also control these displays, but it’s a fiddly setup that seems more clumsy than convenient. Stick with the touch screen or the dashboard buttons for handling most functions.

  • Standard infotainment features: an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, Bluetooth, two USB ports, HD Radio, satellite radio, 10 speakers, and a Wi-Fi hot spot
  • Available infotainment features: a 10.3-inch touch screen, a navigation system, and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo
  • Additional standard features: proximity keyless entry, push-button start, and dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Other available features: a power moonroof

For more information, read What Is Apple CarPlay?, What Is Android Auto?, and What Is Amazon Alexa Auto?

Read more about interior »

IS Performance: More Bark Than Bite

IS Engine

The 2021 Lexus IS sedan is offered in three basic configurations: IS 300, IS 300 AWD, and IS 350 F Sport. The IS 300 is equipped with a 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive. This engine is peppy, and it does a decent job of shuttling the IS around town and up to highway speeds. The dash from zero to 60 mph takes a reasonable 6.9 seconds. The transmission changes gears smoothly for the most part, but it’s occasionally hesitant to downshift at higher speeds.

Despite its similar name, the IS 300 AWD model is equipped with a 260-horsepower V6 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. This naturally aspirated V6 sounds nice, but it has to rev hard to make the most of its power. It just doesn’t make the IS feel any quicker.

The IS 350 F Sport is outfitted with a 311-horsepower version of that V6 engine. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard in rear-wheel-drive models, while a six-speed automatic is paired with all-wheel drive. This upgraded V6 is a bit snappier. It revs eagerly and emits a sporty growl under hard acceleration. It’s perfectly fine for daily driving duties, but it doesn’t imbue the IS with sports sedan levels of excitement. The sprint from zero to 60 mph takes just under six seconds.

IS Gas Mileage

The Lexus IS gets below-average fuel economy for a luxury small car. The IS 300 manages just 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, while the IS 350 F Sport returns 20/28 mpg city/highway. Both of the all-wheel-drive variants are rated at 19/26 mpg.

IS Ride and Handling

Lexus thoroughly updated the IS’ chassis and suspension for 2021, and it shows. The steering is quick and well-weighted. The IS feels quite stable and composed around tight turns, yet it still comfortably sops up bumps and dips in the pavement, especially when fitted with the optional adaptive shock absorbers. The brakes provide reassuring stopping power as well. These changes inject a bit of sportiness into the IS but otherwise reaffirm its status as one of the comfiest daily drivers in this segment.

Read more about performance »

IS Reliability

Is the Lexus IS Reliable?

The 2021 Lexus IS has a good predicted reliability rating of four out of five.

Lexus IS Warranty

Lexus covers the IS with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Read more about reliability »

IS Safety

IS Crash Test Results

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2021 Lexus IS four out of five stars in the frontal crash test and five stars in the rollover test.

At the time of writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash tested the 2021 IS sedan. However, the organization gave the similar 2020 model the top rating of Good in the five crash tests conducted.

IS Safety Features

Standard advanced safety features:

  • Rearview camera
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Rear cross traffic alert
  • Forward collision warning
  • Pedestrian and cyclist detection
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane departure warning
  • Lane keep assist
  • Road sign recognition
  • Automatic high-beam headlights

Available advanced safety features:

  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Hands-free park assist
  • Surround-view parking camera system

Read more about safety »

IS Dimensions and Weight

The Lexus IS sedan is 15.5 feet long. Its curb weight ranges from 3,715 to 3,880 pounds.

Where Is the 2021 Lexus IS Built?

Lexus builds the 2021 IS in Japan.

Which Lexus IS Model Is Right for Me?

The 2021 Lexus IS sedan comes in three trims: IS 300, IS 300 AWD, and IS 350 F Sport. The big difference between each trim is its powertrain. The IS 300 has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. The IS 300 AWD is equipped with a V6 and all-wheel drive. The IS 350 F Sport has a more-powerful V6 engine, and it’s offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive.

We think the base model IS 300 is a good starting point for most shoppers. It offers decent engine performance and a wealth of standard features at a sub-$40,000 price.

Lexus IS 300

The Lexus IS 300 starts at $39,000, and it’s equipped with a 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive. Standard features include an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, Bluetooth, two USB ports, HD Radio, satellite radio, 10 speakers, a Wi-Fi hot spot, proximity keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, synthetic leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, blind spot monitoring, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and 18-inch wheels.

The Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 package also comes standard, and it includes forward collision warning, pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and road sign recognition.

Options include a 10.3-inch touch screen, navigation, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, a moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, hands-free park assist, and a surround-view parking camera system.

Lexus IS 300 AWD

The Lexus IS 300 AWD starts at $41,000 and features a 260-horsepower V6 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and heated front seats. All options carry over unchanged.

Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport starts at $42,900 for rear-wheel-drive models and $44,900 for all-wheel-drive models. This trim adds a 311-horsepower V6 engine, a stiffer F Sport suspension, 19-inch wheels, restyled front and rear bumpers, a trunk lid spoiler, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

In addition to the options listed above, the IS 350 F Sport is available with an F Sport Dynamic Handling package that includes an adaptive suspension, a limited-slip rear differential, matte black BBS wheels, and a carbon fiber rear spoiler.

Check out our U.S. News Best Price Program for great savings at your local Lexus dealer. You can also find excellent manufacturer incentives on our Lexus deals page.

See 2021 Lexus IS specs and trims »

The Final Call

The refreshed 2021 Lexus IS represents a good improvement over the outgoing model. The IS feels sharper and more athletic than before but still all-day comfortable over bumps and dips. The infotainment system is far easier to use thanks to the addition of a touch screen. As before, the IS offers lots of safety features, a quality interior, and a strong reputation for reliability. Despite these updates, the IS still lags the luxury small car competition in terms of engine performance and interior space. It’s a better sedan, but it’s still not among the segment’s best.

Don't just take our word for it. Check out comments from some of the reviews that drive our rankings and analysis.

  • "All told, the 2021 Lexus IS represents a healthy evolution of the compact sport sedan formula. It may not be a break-out star, but it’s a solid foundation upon which Lexus can potentially develop more enthusiast-friendly options. Some more inspiring engines would be a good next step." -- Autoblog
  • "Lexus’ entry-level sports sedan is meant to be a good starting point for fans looking to get into the brand, and its refocused energy on capturing the few remaining sports sedan buyers with a more value-oriented F Sport model is commendable. But its updates for 2021 didn’t quite go far enough to make it a more competitive offering versus the considerably newer, fresher and more powerful competitors. Still, it has its looks and refinement going for it, along with Lexus’ reputation for reliability. If those factors weigh more heavily for you, then the new 2021 Lexus IS might be worth putting on your shopping list." -- Cars.com
  • "None of these options get you an engine as potent or efficient as the best the Germans have to offer. That’s the problem with the IS350 as a whole: It’s expertly tuned to be an engaging sports sedan with a stellar ride, but Lexus’ engineers are working around the constraints of an old foundation. Its newfound charm can’t quite overcome that." -- Road and Track
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