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2021 Lexus IS Performance Review

Scorecard

Performance: 7.1

The 2021 Lexus IS has composed handling and a well-cushioned ride quality, but its four- and six-cylinder engine options disappoint in terms of power and fuel economy.

  • "The suspension kneads out imperfections large and small, so drivers aren't jostled around. Even at high speeds, and in the sportiest suspension setting, the ride is stable and composed." -- Motor Trend
  • "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." -- Car and Driver (2020)
  • "Overall, the Lexus IS’ ride quality is a fine blend of comfort and handling. It’s not as sharp as a BMW 3 Series, but the Lexus IS can still be fun when you want it to be. Moreover, for the kind of daily commuting it will most be used for, the IS remains an automotive oasis." -- Kelley Blue Book (2020)

Engine Options, Horsepower, and Acceleration

  • Base engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque (IS 300 RWD)
  • Available engines:
    • 3.5-liter V6 with 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque (IS 300 AWD)
    • 3.5-liter V6 with 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque (IS 350 F Sport)
  • Drivetrain: standard rear-wheel drive; available all-wheel drive
  • Transmission: eight-speed automatic with RWD models; six-speed automatic with AWD models

The engines in the 2021 Lexus IS all provide sufficient power for daily driving, but none live up to the car’s sports sedan billing. Acceleration is mediocre, and the transmission seems reluctant to downshift at times.

  • "The V6 does an adequate job, and with the help of some electronic wizards, sounds quite good. But age has its drawbacks, and sadly, the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter just doesn’t feel like a modern engine. … We didn’t get the opportunity to sample the downrated V6 in the AWD IS 300, and frankly we’re OK with that; we can’t imagine that it’s particularly inspiring. The turbo-four in the rear-wheel-drive model seems far more appealing." -- Autoblog
  • "The eight-speed automatic transmission is well executed and does a decent job of providing smooth shifts, but it doesn’t seem quick or eager to kick down when you plant your foot, only adding to the more relaxed, slightly underpowered feeling the IS 350 delivers." -- Cars.com
  • "The turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides sufficient oomph to the IS 300." -- Edmunds (2020)

MPG Estimates

The Lexus IS gets unexceptional fuel economy for a luxury small car.

  • IS 300, RWD: 21/31 mpg city/highway
  • IS 300, AWD: 19/26 mpg
  • IS 350 F Sport, RWD: 20/28 mpg
  • IS 350 F Sport, AWD: 19/26 mpg

Handling and Braking

The Lexus IS has a well-tuned suspension that strikes a fine balance between ride quality and handling agility. The IS remains stable and secure on winding roads, the steering is responsive, and the suspension glides smoothly over road bumps and dips. The brakes slow down the IS confidently.

  • "There’s not much to fault with the IS 350’s handling, however. The suspension provides an excellent balance of comfort and responsiveness that really does impress with its sophisticated feel." -- Cars.com
  • "The steering is more responsive and the body feels much closer to that of Lexus' European counterparts when the going gets twisty. Yet, the IS still plays very nicely on the highway, with my tester's adaptive suspension soaking up nearly every bad bit of road and returning next to no noise." -- CNET
  • "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 (2020)
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2021 Lexus IS

MSRP: $39,000 - $44,900

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