The Lexus IS a powerful performer with its standard turbocharged engine. But if that is not enough, you can go for the power boost on the IS 350 F Sport's V6. You get several good options here, so the 2021 line-up should not leave you feeling disappointed in terms of engine options.
Actually, there is a lot to like about this line-up, and it is all worth talking about. This year marks some serious changes to the IS. Starting with the base 300, you will see revisions that include a new grille, revised headlights and taillights, tweaks to improve how the IS handles, and revised interfaces for tech like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and the touchscreen itself. Also, the F Sport package is no longer available for the 300. The new IS 350 F Sport gains all of this plus the Dynamic Handling package, which is exclusive for this model.
These small luxury sedans cost less than their German rivals, but Lexus manages to pack in even more standard tech and more powerful mechanical elements. The revised exterior looks chic and much more in-line with what luxury sedan-makers are doing with aerodynamics. That is why handling is becoming better on the IS and its competitors. These changes make the outgoing IS's problems go along with it despite the rest of the car basically being the same beneath the redesigned body.
Is the 2021 Lexus IS a vehicle that will meet your needs? For some buyers, it will be a smash hit. For others, perhaps not so much. But knowing whether you should get the 300 (as a rear- or all-wheel drive) or 350 F Sport can make a huge difference since they cater to slightly different crowds (and that is perfectly okay). Either way, the IS aims to be a people-pleaser that will get more customers to stop and look at Lexus models once again.
Compare the 2021 Lexus IS 300 vs 300 AWD. What is the difference?
Let us start things off by comparing the base 2021 Lexus IS 300 (the rear-wheel drive variant) with the 300 AWD (all-wheel drive). The 300 comes with a 2.0-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission comes right along with it. While the IS will not be winning any drag races, the 300 does get a substantial amount of power to give it good acceleration.
The 300 AWD swaps the turbo engine out for a non-turbo V6 that creates a power output of 260 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The 8-speed also gets swapped out, getting changed to a sportier 6-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration remains about the same, but there is a noticeable drop in the IS 350 F Sport's fuel economy. While the 300 gets an EPA estimated 24 mpg combined, that number drops down to 21 mpg combined on the 300 AWD. Other AWD variants drop by 1-2 mpg combined, so dropping by at least 3 is not so great of a showing here.
There are welds to both vehicles that provide an added layer of stability, which is something that drivers of the 2020 IS would have liked. More welds and reinforcements have essentially nullified complaints stemming from the 2020 Lexus IS. Unsprung mass also gets lessened thanks to a re-tuned suspension. This should create a smoother, more comfortable ride quality in all IS models.
Of course, we are here to compare styles, so we cannot ignore the standard features and how they differ between the trims. Aside from some AWD-oriented traction and stability control features on the 300 AWD, not much differs. That being said, let us look at everything these two variants have in common.
For starters, they both come with dual-zone climate control. This heats and cools the cabin to the temperature you desire without you having to fiddle with a bunch of knobs and buttons. The 300s also have an electronic parking brake, interior trim done in NuLuxe material, push button start/stop with Smart Access, an illuminated entry system, and the option for heated and ventilated front seats. Both front seats are 8-way power adjustable, and the rear seat is a 60/40-split folding bench.
You can also opt for a heated steering wheel adorned in leather trim. Interior trim in black metallic comes standard, but a geometric black pattern trim is optional. A power tilting and sliding moon-roof can also be added on if you would like it.
The restyled front fascia is lit up by bi-LED headlights with daytime running lights. There are also LED taillights that are new, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and 18-inch slit-five-spoke alloy wheels. An option exists for premium triple-beam LED headlights.
Technology features are abundant, as you should expect to find in a luxury vehicle. The IS 300 comes with an 8-inch color display with the Lexus Multimedia System. A larger 10.3-inch high-resolution touchscreen display can be swapped in. Other features include standard Lexus app functions (such as service scheduling, engine start, and vehicle health alerts), Lexus Infofrm WiFi (with a three-month 4GB trial subscription), smartphone app integration, Bluetooth and USB smartphone connectivity, and a 3-moth SiriusXM All Access trial with SiriusXM Satellite Radio. On top of that, you also get two USB ports, a remote touchpad, voice command, and Lexus Enform Remote (which can be accessed through the Lexus app and is compatible with both Hey Google and Amazon Alexa).
Options exist for a 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system, control knobs done in machined aluminum, dynamic voice command, Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation, Lexus Enform Destination Assist, and a regular navigation system.
Of course, plenty of safety features come along with the 300 and 300 AWD. As part of the Lexus Safety System+ 2.5, you get driver aids like a pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, steer assist with the lane departure warning, road sign assist, all speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beam assist. Other standard safety features include a direct tire pressure monitoring system, traction control, brake assist, electronic power steering, Lexus Enform Safety Connect (free for the first three years that you own the vehicle), Lexus Enform Service Connect (also free for the first three years), blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and dynamic guidelines for the rear-view camera. Options include Intuitive Parking Assist with an automatic braking function and an upgraded version of this that includes a 360-degree surround-view camera system and rear pedestrian detection.
Compare the 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD vs IS 350 F Sport Trim. - What is the Difference?
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport is in a league of its own. It builds upon the 300 but is massively more sport-oriented. Its 3.5-L V6 engine musters up a solid 311 hp and 280 hp, making it quite a bit more powerful than the 300 AWD. It can get from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, which is oddly slow for a sport luxury sedan. However, the engine and transmission provide quick responses to the driver's input and have a smooth power delivery to the wheels. The brakes have a firm enough feel under your foot, letting you know they can modulate well in even a panic stop. The optional Dynamic Handling package really amps up the F Sport's performance, giving it a sportier and all-around more precise handling experience. You can opt for standard rear-wheel drive or get an AWD variant.
Also, take note that there is a lot of extra side bolstering inside of the F Sport. It might feel somewhat confining to drivers unaccustomed to the way sport seats tend to get bolstered, but they will definitely keep you secure while rounding through quick turns. Heated and ventilated front seats are standard on the F Sport, as is a 10-way power adjustable driver seat. The head rests are 4-way adjustable, and the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel comes standard. There is, however, an option for a chic F SPORT ash wood–trimmed steering wheel with a heating function as well as matching trim. There is inner door trim that is embossed, a rear arm rest complete with cupholders, and sport medals forged from aluminum.
The F Sport's exterior has some styling differences that set it apart from the 300 models. This trim level comes with front and rear bumpers that are F Sport specific, rocker moldings, a grille surround, a rear valance, and a lip spoiler. Of course, the wheels get upgraded to a sportier version. The F SPORT 19-in split-five-spoke alloy wheels are completed with a sheer Dark Metallic finish, but you can opt for this size in forged alloy Matte Black BBS instead. A carbon fiber rear spoiler option opens up, and the premium triple-beam LED headlights are still left as an option.
Technological features remain somewhat the same with a few exceptions. The 10.3-inch touchscreen display remains optional (although we think it should be standardized in order to better compete with line-topping rival trims). Added standard features are limited to just Active Sound Control. Literally everything else that comes as part of an optional stand-alone or package on the 300 trims are also optional on the 350 F Sport models.
Oh, and the same can be said for the list of safety features. At least that list is insanely long and only leaves the two Intuitive Parking Assist suites as options. They are not really necessary since the driver gets a fairly commanding outward view with just the naked eye, and the side mirrors and rear-view camera are already there to lend a hand when you need it.
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Which Trim to Choose?
Well, there you have it. The 2021 Lexus IS has two trim levels that come as either rear- or all-wheel drive. For most drivers, RWD will do just fine, but those who live in climates where road conditions are often slick will like the additional traction and stability provided by the AWD system. The key here is picking between a powerful-yet-fuel-efficient(ish) 4-cylinder or V6 and a more powerful but even less fuel-efficient V6 on the F Sport. The IS 300 will provide you with the best possible fuel economy while the IS 350 F Sport AWD will present you with the worst. In an already pricey vehicle, that could make a difference on what you choose to buy. Plus there are hybrid luxury vehicles out there with equally powerful powertrain options. Even Lexus alone has six strong hybrid luxury sedans to choose from.
That being said, we recommend sticking with the IS 300. You get a bounty of standard features and a turbo 4-cylinder engine that, while it won't win you any races, will get you up to speed and able to pass others on the highway. Not all luxury buyers demand a sporty performance, and the IS 300 delivers a cozy, practical, and tech-friendly overall performance.
• Compare the 2020 Lexus IS Trim Levels