2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD – Bottom Line Review

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: comprehensive re-wrap in continued relentless pursuit of compact luxury sport sedan perfection, from $46k. Tester = $58k

ACHIEVING ENTHUSIAST PRESTIGE: Back when the lifestyle Young Upwardly Mobile Professional was coined in the mid 1980s, it was hip to make a statement of trickle down financial success. With no premium sport activity vehicle in sight, the archetypal “Yuppie” mobile was the prestige sport sedan.

RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF ANTI- THREE SERIES: Since overshadowed by affluent Urban Active lifestylers, enthusiast yuppies still exist somewhere out there. For their sake Lexus, has relentlessly released a newly re-wrapped 2021 Lexus IS 350 sport sedan.


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WHAT: 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F-Sport Series GSE37, an extensive late cycle re-wrap of the Mk. 3 AVE30 Lexus IS series compact executive sport sedan. It is founded on the non-modular Toyota N platform along with the Lexus RC 350 coupe.

Standard Power: longitudinal 3.5L DOHC 24V DI SFI gas V-6 = 311 hp/ 280 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm + 8-spd. torque converter planetary transaxle, steering wheel shift paddles (+ available) Torsen limited slip differential; 5 Drive Modes = Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, Custom.

Optional drivetrain: 6-spd. torque converter planetary transaxle + PTU to viscous clutch differential all-wheel drive + open rear differential

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: [From first cycle Mk. 3 Mk.6 IS 350]

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: fully darkened assertive take on widened Lexus spindle grille, w. revised corner folded aero ducts

– HOUR GLASS HONEYCOMBED: Spindle grilles are dark latticed with more curved uprights; Smooth hood with side creases terminates higher forming upper border with smooth headlamp housing uppers containing inverted lateral “L” LED DRLs; Taller & thinner lower front corner folds.

Coke bottle profile bearing large wheel arches, swept back windscreen, tall belt-line to radically slopping fastback with ducktail trunk lid; Sharper belt-line creasing; New driver’s door up-flow body scoop;  Mid Row 2 lower door to more flared rear quarter panel tandem up-flow body fold; Taller C-pillar Hoffmeister kink; Prominently boomeranged rear LED light housings fully span across the trunk lid handle line; Inverted lateral “L” shaped encased directionals; Deeper lower trunk lid license plate bowl with additional lower lateral crease; Piano black clad lower rear fascia rising higher into bumper cover with corner folds; LC coupe style taller door mount wing mirror stems with prominent mid-mirror cap LED directionals.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: Bolder new rear door upswing body creasing + connecting lateral inverted “L” taillamps top styling updates

– In addition to their retained fender and trunk lower right corner badging F-Sport IS’s feature: Latticed corner folds, pseudo dark lower front splitter, dark upper trunk lid spoiler lip, lower rear diffuser, polished flared dual oval exhaust tips.

*F-Sport Dynamic Package adds matte black BBS wheels and a carbon fiber trunk-lid upper spoiler

WHY: Updated duds for a sensibly reliable alternative to prestige European sports sedans.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since winter 2020-2021

WHERE: Lexus new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

HOW ROADWORTHY: With a RC-F supplied 32 valved V-8 powered IS 500 F on the way, the un-altered IS 350 twin-cam V-6 remains plenty silky for wheeze-free daily express jaunts. Pedal travel to full throttle is impressively short and produces a stimulating burble. Open axle differential all-wheel drive models, such as the tester, feature a slightly slower shifting and shorter engine speed locking 6-speed automatic slushbox optimized for low surface traction grip. Without the rear drives snappier 8-cog unit and available Torsen locking rear differential controlled power slides are hard to come by.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: F-Sport = electromechanical sliding gauge cluster + Sport Plus drive mode

All IS-350’s are now outfitted with the F-Sport cosmetic treatment. Ticking the optional Dynamic Package box on the option sheet nets variable damping chassis control and lighter weight 19.0″ matte black BBS wheels. While shock stiffness can be set to an impressive stiffness with a correspondingly hefty weighted helm, un-altered spring stiffness won’t further reign in roll control. Furthermore AWD models continue to be equipped with all-season Bridgestone Turanzas rather than the rear drive’s summer Potenza RE 005’s. All wheel drive nominal front to rear lock is 30:70 slipping to a maximum 50:50 split, making the IS 350 AWD wholly sure-footed on light snow. Responsively linear and without knock-back describes the decently sized binder platters.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: $3800 Dynamic Pkg swaps in 19″ BBS matte black alloys + electronic variable damping, while AWD models make do with all-season rubber.

HOW FAR: 22 combined miles per gallon;

HOW BIG/ LITTLE: Having not kept up with competing sport sedans’ cabin growth is all too apparent inside the Lexus IS 350.

By Comparison:

HOW USEFUL: Trunk space = executive average; Proximity power release and close trunk lid; Cargo tie-down net; Center console mouse fur lined storage bin connectivity electronics phone bin w/ optional Qi wireless charging;

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: aft center console brings Row 2 ventilation & wireless device connectivity

Mouse fur lined glove box; Cupholders x 4, Bottle holders x 2 (front doors)

1 Shallow trunk aperture; No lower center stack mobile device shelf; No overhead sunglasses bin, Tight door pockets.

HOW SAFE: 10 airbags; IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus; Rear camera; STANDARD Lexus SafetySense 2.0 = Pedestrian and daylight bicycle detection braking; Forward collision avoidance braking; Blind spot warning; Front & Rear cross traffic detection; Lane Departure Warning w/ steering trace assist; Full adaptive cruise control w/ auto hold; Automatic high beam headlamps;

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: Safety Sense 2.0 brings Level 2 driving autonomy

ADVANCED SAFETY PKG: Sonar front & rear park assist; 360° Bird’s Eye camera view, perimeter scan; 

-1: BEWARE WINTER: That more prominently raked front end & spindle grille becomes an icy-slush cow catcher which renders adaptive cruise control “winter paralyzed.”

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY:   At first glance the 2021 IS 350 cabin retains much of the first cycle predecessor’s business premium design and features.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: New 10.25″ landscape pod infotainment meets revised steering wheel, touchpad infotainment remote, and retained electric sliding F-Sport gauge cluster

Demon in Details cabin changes from first cycle predecessor: [Optionally larger] center dash-top pod landscape LCD media display replaces embedded type; Touch pad remote media display controller, replacing mouse joystick, relocated closer to driver; Brighter round outboard dashboard vents; Bulging center climate vent analog clock housing; Steering wheel hub emphasizes horseshoe relief; Split tandem stitched passenger side middle dashboard;  Softer two-layer upper dashboard crease.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: Driver entry

Heated front, driver’s 10-way, 4-way lumbar, passenger’s 10-way, 2-way lumbar power NuLuxe leatherette seats; Easy Access driver’s seat; 4 power windows w/ full soft close up/ down express; Heated, tilt / telescoping heated leather steering wheel; 2-zone auto climate control w/ auto front seat, steering climate; Puddle lamps x 4 doors; 1-touch power moon roof;

Cool Gizmo(s): Comfort approach entry and lighting; Power sliding F-Sport gauge dial; Center stack touch panel sliding dual climate temperature adjust; Trunk load sill illuminated emblem;

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: Optional trunk sill illuminated emblems

Details Done Right: Red NuLuxe leatherette seating, lower dashboard, door panels & center console; Uniform seat & contrast soft dash-top; stitching; LED door panel, central console ambient lighting; Soft padded center console & lower dash, glovebox door; Fine grain knee and below plastic pebbling; Ash wood grain steering wheel & door switch housings; Machined aluminum audio head unit and knobs.

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Non-distinctive Ash wood veneers & power door switches; Simulated aluminum climate vent housings; Small climate control mode switches

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 10.3″ split pane touch pad remote control LCD infotainment screen; Voice recognition command hands-free communications; +1 SMS Text Messaging; 3-D SD GPS navigation; Android Auto  / Apple Car Play wireless device projection; Siri Eyes; Enform 2.0 Apps: Amazon Alexa, Doppler Weather, HD Traffic, USB x 2, 12V x 1.

2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD: wired Android Auto / Apple Car Play projection + native SMS

For All Ears: sibilant and spatial 17 speaker, 1800 Watt Mark Levinson Quantum Logic Clari-Fi 2.0 5.1 DTS HD radio audio; CD player

By Subscription: Sirius XM radio; Wi-Fi; Lexus Enform Connected Services w/ S.O.S.; Dynamic Navigation POI search & voice recognition

HOW MUCH: $58,040 = as tested 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F-Sport

WHAT’S MISSING: Low end engine torque; Physical climate control temperature controls; More accommodating rear seat; Genuine leather; Cruise control on steering spoke rather than stalk.

ANY COMPETITION: Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 440i, Cadillac CT4, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes Benz C-Class, Volvo S60 T6 .

FINAL WORD: New wrapper for Lexus’ continued relentless pursuit of Three Series alternative perfection.

Contributing Editor: P. Stamatis

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