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2020 Lexus IS Performance Review


Performance: 7.0

The 2020 Lexus IS has fairly docile performance, though it’s a comfortable car that displays some sportiness when pushed. That said, many other luxury small cars are more enjoyable to drive. F Sport models, which come with some performance enhancements, offer livelier handling.

The IS’ engines deliver satisfying power, but they’re far from the strongest options in the segment. Fuel estimates are below average for the class.

  • "Lexus took a shot at making the IS 300 genuinely fun to drive. While the company didn't quite hit a bullseye, it ended up with a good foundation upon which to build." -- Edmunds
  • “Instead of sending shockwaves through the car’s skeleton, an errant pothole can hit the car’s competent suspension and travel no farther than that. As a result, the occasional bump in the road does little to distract my enjoyment behind the wheel. My delight is elevated by the IS’ steering, which offers great heft to its action and adequate levels of communication about what’s happening at road level. That culminates in a car that makes me want to drive it with gusto, even during mundane A-to-B trips. That’s how a sport sedan should make you feel.” -- CNET (2019)
  • "Unlike Lexus sedans of the past, the 2018 Lexus IS demonstrates a rather playful suspension, direct and precise steering and a satisfying engine note every time the throttle is pressed to the floor. Even better, our feelings about the IS remain the same regardless whether equipped with the 4-cylinder turbo or potent V6." -- Kelley Blue Book (2018)

Acceleration and Power

The Lexus IS is available with three engine options. The base IS 300 with RWD comes with a 241-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This peppy engine accelerates smoothly, but some drivers may prefer the more powerful V6s.

All-wheel-drive IS 300 models come with a 260-horsepower V6. A 311-horsepower version of this engine comes in all IS 350 models. While these V6s deliver faster acceleration than the base engine, most rivals’ standard engines feel punchier. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard with rear-wheel-drive models, while those with all-wheel-drive come with a six-speed automatic.

With the base engine, the IS returns 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, which are some of the worst estimates in the luxury small car class. Models with the V6 engine get from 18 to 24 mpg in the city and 26 to 28 mpg on the highway.

  • "The turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides sufficient oomph to the IS 300." -- Edmunds
  • "Unfortunately, even the most energetic V-6 feels slow when compared with less powerful rivals—some of which, unlike the Lexus, also offer a manual transmission. Although [the] rear-drive IS350 F Sport we tested is even slower than less powerful rivals, it feels considerably more energetic than the four-cylinder version. That it also shaves about a half-second off the smaller engine's acceleration times earns it preferential treatment. The paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic adds a bit of driver engagement." -- Car and Driver
  • "While the V6 has more power, the smaller turbocharged 4-cylinder feels plenty quick from behind the wheel, and gets notably better fuel economy as well. That's important, as all IS models require premium-grade fuel." -- Kelley Blue Book (2018)

Handling and Braking

With its standard powertrain, the rear-wheel-drive 2020 IS has a cushioned, refined ride with good control around corners. This isn't an athletic sedan, but the available F Sport package improves handling with only minor impact on ride comfort.

F Sport models include performance upgrades like larger wheels, an adaptive sport-tuned suspension, and a limited-slip rear differential. F Sport models also allow you to personalize your driving experience with four drive modes: Sport, Normal, Eco, and Custom. The brakes are responsive and have good stopping power. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, and all-wheel drive is available.

  • "Despite contrary concerns, the F Sport package improves handling without creating a harsher ride. The F Sport option is available on all trims, with a specially tuned suspension and unique 18-inch wheels. Along with a clever chassis that adeptly transitions from relaxed to ready, precise steering is the other star of the show. Together their reflexive responses make even the underpowered four-cylinder fun to drive. The brake pedal on the four-cylinder model we drove had a reassuring feel, and the brakes responded obediently despite turning in some of the longer distances in our testing." -- Car and Driver
  • "As you'd expect from a Lexus, the ride quality and interior serenity are top notch in the IS 300. The sedan combines solid body control with smooth compliance at all the right times, without the marshmallowy float indicative of an overly soft suspension." -- Edmunds
  • "Ride quality earns the IS another gold star. It's refined and relaxed, yet also precise. The suspension of the F Sport package is naturally firmer, although the adaptive dampers in the rear-drive IS 350 F Sport model mean the best of both worlds." -- Autotrader (2018)
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2020 Lexus IS

MSRP: $38,560 - $44,345

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