Tuesday, February 7, 2023
First Reviews 2021 Lexus IS First Drive Review: Comfort Comes First

2021 Lexus IS First Drive Review: Comfort Comes First

It feels like the good ol’ Lexus IS, for better and worst

2021 Lexus IS Pros

  • Better than average comfort for the segment
  • Unwavering reliability
  • Advanced safety standard
  • Stylish interior

2021 Lexus IS Cons

  • Cramped interior
  • Engine performance is so-so
  • Complicated centre console

There’s a lot of talk about improved performance, but in the end the new 2021 Lexus IS provides comfort first and foremost.

Luxury compact sedans aren’t as popular as they once were, but they aren’t going anywhere and there’s still significant consumer interest. With that in mind Lexus has refreshed its IS for 2021, focusing on performance and promising improved driving dynamics, better handling, and a sharper personality.

2021 Lexus IS
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Lexus went all out in their quest to bring back a sporty IS, developing a new test track in Shimoyama, Japan that mimics the famed Nürburgring in Germany. There, Lexus engineers focused on improving body rigidity to enhance comfort and steering response. The goal for Lexus was to make the IS sportier, in essence to bring back some of the characteristics of the much-loved first-generation Lexus IS.

That car was and remains a favorite of enthusiasts. It wasn’t all that fast, but it could handle with the best of them. As the IS was redesigned over the years, it lost some of that pure sportiness and replaced it with added features and comfort. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the IS has become more of a tourer and isn’t anywhere as fun and engaging as the IS of yore.

So, did they succeed? To a certain extent yes, but the 2021 Lexus IS isn’t a revolution and if the current one didn’t quite do it for you, this one probably won’t either.

2021 Lexus IS
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

More engaging, but still has some power issues

 Lexus found an amazing road to test the 2021 Lexus IS about 20 minutes from Kingston, Ontario. Almost deserted, the road had a series of sharp turns and changes in elevation that made it the perfect spot to test the new IS’ improved dynamics.

The first thing you notice is that the steering has been improved over the outgoing model. Heavier, more direct and providing more feel, the handling on the 2021 Lexus IS is sharper and immediately gives the driver confidence. The car handles the tightest turns with surprising agility and with very little body movements.

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Is it as sharp as a German compact luxury sedan? It can’t rival the BMW 3 Series or the Audi A4 just yet, but it’s gotten closer and strictly in terms of handling, it’s near the top of the segment this time.

However, the 2021 Lexus IS is still plagued by its engines. I tested the 3.5-litre V6 that delivers 311 horsepower and that comes standard in the IS 350 AWD, and like in the previous IS I was left wanting more. Straight accelerations aren’t an issue, but the engine has an odd power delivery that slows down its reaction time, especially when you step on the throttle coming out of a sharp turn or going up a hill which this particular road had plenty of.

It takes time for the engine to respond to your input and it doesn’t blow you away once it gets going. It’s a better powertrain for power than the entry-level turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 241 horsepower, but it just doesn’t feel like it has over 300 ponies.

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

I get that for most people this probably won’t be an issue. A journalist’s definition of a quick car is skewed, but what I can tell you is that an IS isn’t as quick as a 3 Series, an A4, a C-Class or a Genesis G70. The Infiniti Q50 has it beat and so does the new Acura TLX. At least, that’s how it feels behind the wheel.

The 2021 Lexus IS still puts comfort first

Ultimately, comfort remains the area where the 2021 Lexus IS shines most. It’s quiet and the seats keep you comfortably in place.

The suspension isn’t too harsh and even opting for the larger wheels and tires of the F Sport package won’t hinder the ride. Here, it has its major rivals beat and the only car in the segment that comes close to the 2021 Lexus IS is the Volvo S60 where refinement and comfort is involved.

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The impressive safety that comes standard on the 2021 Lexus IS is also worth noting. The new sedan gets the Lexus Safety System+2.5 standard which has received even more driver assistance technologies for 2021.

The Pre-Collision System is enhanced to detect not only other cars, but bicyclists and pedestrians in low-light conditions. The system can also detect a pedestrian or oncoming vehicle when making a left turn. These features join Emergency Steering Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, and more.

One area where Lexus didn’t improve is interior space. The Lexus IS has always been on the smaller side in the segment and the new IS doesn’t fare any better.

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The front seats are a little tight, there’s a lot going on around the driver and the rear seats have limited space for your legs and head. The trunk is fine, but it’s not any larger than its competition. This can’t be your only vehicle if you have two teenagers.

Conclusion on the 2021 Lexus IS

The 2021 Lexus IS doesn’t have as much power as many would like and it would benefit from more rear leg and head room. On the other hand, with a starting price of $42,950 in Canada and $39,000 in the US, it delivers plenty of value, impressive comfort, and sharper handling.

It also offers unwavering reliability which isn’t given in this segment. For all of those reasons it is worth checking out if you can live with the engine and interior space it offers.

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme
2021 Lexus IS | Photo: Olivier Delorme


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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including EcoloAuto.com and MotorIllustrated.com as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email


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