Saturday, February 4, 2023
Reviews 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD Review: Evolutionary Update

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD Review: Evolutionary Update

The 2021 Lexus IS redefines the Lexus IS and this time, it’s for the best

  • The base price for the IS in Canada is $42,950, $39,050 in the US.

  • The IS gets a serious facelift for 2021, one of the most comprehensive ever.

  • These latest updates to the third-generation help position the IS where it belongs.

Being as heavily invested in the car world as I am, I often get emotional about new models, changes, and decisions made by automakers. One such instance where I got upset was just over 15 years ago when Lexus re-invented the IS and turned it into an old person’s car from the agile and responsive sports sedan it had been.

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The only fun I ever had with the second-generation IS was when I tried out the cheat code to fully deactivate the 2006 IS’ stability control. The era’s IS F made lovely noises and introduced the funky stacked tailpipes but an engaging competitor to the E90 BMW M3 it was not. The third-generation IS launched for the 2014 model year and we’re still in it now…

The new 2014 IS was an attempt by Lexus to visually return to the product’s sportier roots. Immediately, it seemed clear that powertrain missteps were taken, and the follow-up 2017 facelift was once more done for little more than styling, to attempt to please.

Upscale design 

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

But now, something’s happened. Skin-deep though most of the changes may be for 2021, both inside and out, somehow the clothes are making the “man.” The message delivered by Lexus is the same as always: “The bold new exterior styling of the 2021 IS not only aims for a provocative design but its athletic silhouette is also meant to signify the agile changes…” Frankly, this may apply to an F Sport-trimmed version, but I find the revised IS’ fuller shape to be more upscale and premium. Although still trying to seem like an aggressive car, there’s lots of work done to the body lines, much of it subtle. This is why I feel as though the IS is now a posher vehicle.

The tested IS 300 AWD included the Ultra Luxury package, a better suited ensemble to the somewhat pretentious F Sport groups. The former includes beautiful multi-spoke 19-inch wheels and a number of features that once more serve to elevate the IS’ standing. The main improvement to the IS’ cabin is the introduction of an actual touchscreen.

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Previously, Lexus forced users to access the screen via the horrendous remote touch system but that’s now in the past. The new 8-inch screen has been moved 80mm closer to the driver and is now touch-sensitive. The Ultra Luxury package throws in a lovely and upscale 10.3-inch display. Nearly everything else in the cabin is unchanged from the 2020 model year vehicle.

Impressively refined driver

Lexus boasts that the 2021 Lexus IS was tuned in part on the newly developed Shimoyama track in Japan. The resulting decision to increase body rigidity to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness is the most important change brought to the IS for 2021.

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

This clear improvement is what transforms the Lexus IS from an acceptable luxury sedan to a premium and refined luxury sedan. More comfortable, quieter, and more enjoyable to drive, the 2021 IS has now left the Q50 in the dust and, from a luxury perspective, is now on par or better than the Germans – praise indeed. Steering and braking power may not be as sharp as the Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series but that’s hardly a criticism.

Another that I cannot truly criticize is the IS’ powertrains which are unchanged from 2020. The IS 300 RWD carries on with the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine while the IS 350 AWD still features the 311-horsepower version of the 3.5-litre V6. The in-between and popular trim is the IS 300 AWD that retains the 3.5-litre V6’s service albeit detuned. With 260 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, it sounds as potent and revs as smoothly as the 350. Trouble is that it feels choked which is why I spent all but the entire week driving in ECO mode.

Evolutionary update

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Other than that final point, the new 2021 Lexus IS comes across as more of an evolution than a simple update of the third-generation IS. With this in mind, and considering the IS’ asking price, there’s plenty of good baked into the car. With the exception of the 2021 Audi A4 which retails for a few hundred dollars less than the IS 300 AWD, the latter is a bargain compared to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series.

The structural updates bode well for the upcoming IS 500 with Lexus’ superb 5.0-litre V8 – this one will put the S4, AMG C 43, and M340i to shame. For the first time in 15 years, I’m excited about the Lexus IS.

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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