2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: Sleek and satisfying
Since when did all sport sedans also have to be muscle cars?
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport is a delightful four-door compact, beautiful to look at, extremely comfortable and a joy to drive. But some reviewers claim its 3.5-liter V6 is underpowered. They argue the IS 500 is better because its 5.0-liter V8 is more powerful.
Nonsense. I like horsepower as much as the next guy and have owned my share of V8-powered cars, wagons, trucks and SUVs, including two Pontiac Trans Ams with 455 cubic inch engines and manual transmissions. But there's also something to be said for balance and finesse, which the V6-powered version of the IS has in spades, especially when equipped with all-wheel-drive and the optional F Sport handling package.
And during a week of test driving, I never thought it lacked power. To the contrary, it was eager to exceed speed limits, race up steep hills and pass slower freeway traffic with ease. Performance was even better in the Sport S and especially Sport S+ modes, and the nine-speed automatic transmission includes both a manual shift mode and paddle shifters for drivers that want more control.
Besides, chances are if you're in the market for a sedan, that probably means you have some responsibilities, like children or clients that you need to haul around on a regular basis. How often are you really going to pretend you're Mario Andretti?
Let's look at the numbers. The base IS engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four the pumps out a very respectable 241 horsepower, which is enough to propel the rear-wheel-drive version from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.9 seconds. The optional V6 produces 311 smooth horsepower and cuts that to 5.2 seconds. Yes, with 472 horsepower, the 5.0-liter V8 in the IS 500 is even faster and I look forward to testing it. But I'm sure that I won't push it all that hard very often.
On top of that, if you're that obsessed with maximum horsepower in a sedan, Dodge has a 797-horsepower Charger Hellcat Redeye they'd be happy to sell you.
Or, for many thousands less than the Dodge, you can enjoy the additional benefits of the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport. They include drop dead gorgeous styling, a luxury interior with front bucket seats that fit like a glove, and — thanks to the chasis upgrades and the optional handling package — a ride that rewards enthusiastic driving on twisty roads and even short errands.
In fact, Lexus has gone to great lengths to improve the F Sport package this year. For the first time, the new IS is available with larger 19-inch wheels to improve cornering force and provide a greater contact patch with the road. According to the company, engineers revised the suspension layout and front pickup points to help accommodate the larger tire-and-wheel package. Overall two different 19-inch wheels are available on F Sport models, including a unique BBS wheel specific to the F Sports equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package.
Also new this year, the IS features a standard 8-inch touchscreen nearly 5.5 inches closer to the driver for easy access to the controls. An optional 10.3-inch touchscreen is 5.9 inches closer is available on vehicles equipped with navigation or Mark Levinson with navigation. The new multimedia system features Apple CarPlay® compatibility, Android Auto compatibility, and Amazon Alexa integration.
A complete package of active safety and driver assistance features is included as standard equipment across the 2021 IS line. It includes practically every available automotive safety feature.
In a week of test driving, I found the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport to be a refined and well-balanced sport sedan that competes well against everything in its class. If that's what you're looking for, put it high on your shopping list. At $56,960 for our well-equipped model, the price is very reasonable, considering the quality and ample features.
A previous Pamplin Media Group review of the 2021 IS 300 can be found here.
2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD
Base price: $44,900
Price as tested: $56,960
Type: Compact sport sedan
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (311 hp, 280 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, S Sport S+, Custom
Estimated mileage: 19/26
Overall length: 185 inches
Curb weight: 3,715 pounds
Final assembly: Kyushu, Japan
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