Lexus has resisted the urge to increase the size of their entry-level sports sedan.
This is the all-new 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD. Since its launch in the late 1990s, the Lexus IS has been a staple in the luxury sports sedan segment. It offers buyers a combination of good looks and a refined driving experience. It notably has kept its naturally aspirated V6 engine long after the Europeans chose to use turbochargers. Lexus has also kept the model cycle for the last generation IS longer than its peers, though we most recently IS 350 F Sport AWD that it was still relevant with great refinement and a silky smooth powertrain.
Fortunately for driving enthusiasts, those characteristics have remained as Lexus decided to take an evolutionary approach with this latest fourth-generation IS, and they handed us the keys to the all-new IS 300 AWD Ultra Luxury for testing.
Unlike many automakers, Lexus has resisted the urge to increase the size of their entry-level sports sedan. In fact, due to clever body sculpting, the 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD looks sleeker than the previous two generations and brought back the agile looks of the first-generation Lexus IS. Pictures do not do the IS 300 justice but subtle changes such as the redesigned lights and the wider, lower proportions give the new IS a more aggressive and sportier look. The striking Grecian Water paint on our tester offers a splash of youthfulness, but the pairing of the Glazed Caramel interior is questionable.
The interior of the IS 300 has seen a subtle rework and will be familiar to those coming from the last generation. Materials and craftsmanship are great, and the layout is quite intuitive though we found ourselves wishing that the shortcut keys were a bit bigger. The heated and ventilated front seats are comfortable and the cabin feels airy thanks to the size of the windows. Head and legroom are about average up front, but there is a massive hump in the driver side footwell intruding on legroom. Rear passengers will notice the low roof and find accommodations tight.
One of the more significant changes to the interior is one that looks rather subtle. The 10.3-inch display now sits closer forward than the previous generation and accepts touch command. One of our biggest gripes with Lexus products has long been their finnicky joystick or touchpad so we are happy to see a step in the right direction with a touchscreen to supplement the touchpad.
Another welcomed change is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility allowing the its drivers to stay connected without distractions. Music quality is excellent with the 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system as part of the Ultra Luxury Package equipped on our tester.
Unlike the rear-drive IS 300 that comes with a 241-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, the 2021 IS 300 AWD is powered by a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 that produces 260 horsepower at 6,600 RPM. The decision to label two IS models with totally different powertrains with the same nomenclature is rather confusing and the fact that the IS 300 AWD actually has the same V6 engine as the 311-horsepower IS 350 AWD makes the whole naming convention even more of a head-scratcher.
Looking past the labelling logic though, the 3.5-litre V6 is a real gem and the creamy power delivery that comes with it is a rarity in the luxury sports sedan segment. We would not call the IS 300 AWD fast by any measure but it has no issue getting up to speed in traffic. The real advantage here is that the IS 300 AWD carries a level of refinement not found in any of its peers.
Lexus engineers have increased the body rigidity on the 2021 Lexus IS in hopes of enhancing its corner responsiveness as well as reducing unwanted noise, harshness, and vibrations. During our road test, we observed good stability in corners. There is understeer and body roll at higher speeds but it is well controlled and the all-wheel drive system is quick to put power where traction is needed.
There is good steering weight from the electrically assisted power steering system to overcome the vague on-center feel, and overall the IS 300 AWD feels nimble and joyful to toss around town. Ride comfort is excellent despite the firm suspension tuning and overall the cabin is quiet except for some road noise transmitted through the winter tires.
Lexus estimates that the IS 300 AWD will consume about 12.2L/100km in the city and 9.0L/100km on the highway, which matches our observed fuel economy for the week. Buyers who are emphasizing fuel efficiency should consider other luxury sport sedans with modern turbocharged four-cylinder engines, but we feel that those who long for a linear power delivery would happily pay the premium for the Lexus’ V6 powerplant. Premium fuel is required for its 66-litre fuel tank.
All 2021 Lexus IS models come with a full suite of Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 driver assistance features, including Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Automatic High Beam, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Bicycle Detection, Lane Tracing Assist, and Radar Cruise Control systems. The optional Ultra Luxury Package on our tester adds Adaptive Front Lighting, Intelligent Clearance Sonar, and Panoramic View Monitor systems.
Pricing of the 2021 Lexus IS 300 starts at $42,950 for the rear-wheel drive model with the 2.0-liter engine, and our IS 300 AWD has a slightly higher starting price of $43,400. Add $7,600 for the Ultra Luxury Package and we arrive at an as-tested sticker of $51,000. The IS finds itself in the range of the redesigned 2021 Acura TLX and they both significantly undercut the German sports sedans like the BMW 330i xDrive. The IS 300 AWD is the least sporty but most the refined of the cluster and is ideal for those looking for a comfortable and stylish sports sedan.
By staying conservative when redesigning the all-new 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD and strategically improving few of its key drawbacks from the previous generation, Lexus is offering buyers who prefer refinement over athleticism a solid option. The cherry on top is its unbeatable long-term reliability rating that comes with every Lexus product and the Lexus IS 300 AWD becomes the top choice for anyone looking to own it long term.