First Drive

First Drive Review: Refreshed 2021 Lexus IS delivers desirable performance, looks sleek

Lexus has given its IS 350 new fascia and performance chops for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Lexus

The Lexus IS models of the last few years have lacked a certain something. They were perfectly drivable, good looking, and reasonably comfortable. Those are great points if you're talking about the Toyota Corolla.

But for Lexus, the push to design a better performing IS came from the top down. And that push has made the IS better. It's not a perfect car, but the drive dynamics are a surefooted step in the right direction.

As tested, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport sported a bright, glossy red Infrared paint job and 19-inch staggered width BBS wheels. Its unique front and rear bumper, grille surround, rear lip spoiler, and rocker molding help set it apart from the two other IS grades making it appear fiercer to oncoming traffic than it truly is. The overall look is sleek and stylish without being too much like, or too far from, what you'll find on other Lexus cars.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Infrared The tester car came with F Sport design details including these dark wheels.Photo courtesy of Lexus

Its 311-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine sits under the hood. The power plant achieves 280 pound-feet of torque, which helps it get off the line in a jiffy, though the IS 350 F Sport is clearly worlds away from, in terms of performance chops, the BMW M3.

Still, it sticks to the road with ease, with the biggest enhancements to its improved drive dynamics best shown on rural winding roads where it's easy to creep up over the speed limit and pavement is generally smooth. Steering the IS is easy as well with the car delivering the type of connected drive generally associated with Lexus performance-focused products.

The car's eight-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth shifts and putting the car into the Sport+ drive mode that comes only with the IS 350 F Sport model provides the advertised high-revving shift effect that makes low-end torque a priority.

With all that good in place, it's hard to not now be annoyed with the fact that the interior of the IS has not changed much over the last four years. Sure, the plastic surfaces have received an upgrade and the screen is higher quality, but the overall styling remains unchanged and causing the front passenger and driver areas to not be as spacious as what you'll find in the IS's competitors.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Infrared The interior of the IS is relatively unchanged.Photo courtesy of Lexus

Lexus hasn't totally abandoned its touch pad for the infotainment system, but the finger space has gotten better, slowing but surely. Granted, it's still and not ideal setup, but it's less of a hassle and is no longer a reason to completely shy away from a Lexus.

The back seats of the IS are not as cramped as some of the offerings in its competition (looking at you Alfa Romeo Giulia), but one never forgets that it's a compact car. As far as front seats go, it's hard to find a more comfortable sport-style seat. This one doesn't squeeze you in place like the ones the German cars install, and for daily driver duties, it makes the sporty IS 350 F Sport more palatable.

The IS has seen its list of standard and available safety and driver assist features extended for the new model year. In addition to its forward collision mitigation system and rear cross-traffic alert, the car has lane tracing and centering technology, all-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and road sign assist. These technologies put the car's safety system on par with what is offered by its competition.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Infrared IS 350 F Sport models get a Sport+ drive mode that is chosen using the dial shown here.Photo courtesy of Lexus

However, Lexus most has its work cut out for it. As Americans increasingly turn away from sedans, the Acura TLX's redo has given buyers a reason to cross-shop it with the IS, and they're not too dissimilar flavors. Add in the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes models, and the landscape makes it harder for the IS to break through.

But, with this freshened design, comfortable seats, traditionally good reliability record, and an engaging drive, the $40,000+ IS makes its case for buyer dollars, and it's a strong argument.

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New luxury full-size SUV

All-new 2022 Lexus LX 600 will be here soon

The new LX will go on sale in early 2022.

Lexus

The Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX are among the most revered off-road vehicles of all time. Even so, Toyota is cutting the Land Cruiser in the U.S. after the 2021 model year due to slow sales. We will see its twin, however, as the 2022 Lexus LX was just announced. The full-size SUV will go on sale in the first quarter of 2022 and will bring all two new trims, more intuitive tech, and updated but familiar exterior styling.

2022 Lexus LX The new LX gets a twin-turbo V6 instead of a big V8, and its new platform shaves weight while improving rigidity.Lexus

The 2022 Lexus LX 600 comes in five trims: Standard, Premium, Luxury, F Sport, and Ultra Luxury. The new Ultra Luxury trim cuts the number of seats to four by replacing the rear bench with a pair of plush reclining captain's chairs. A rear entertainment system and large rear center console complete the top-level trim. Also new for 2022 is the LX F Sport, which brings Lexus' sharp appearance package to the LX for the first time. The F Sport gets exclusive 22-inch wheels, aggressive exterior styling, and sport seats with unique color schemes.

The LX is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that produces 409 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a ten-speed automatic transmission. The body-on-frame SUV rides on an all-new GA-F platform that Lexus says is 20 percent more rigid than that of the previous model. Lexus also carved 441 pounds out of the previous LX's platform weight.

2022 Lexus LX The LX is available in five trims, including a new top Premium Luxury model. Lexus

A new Active Height Control (AHC) system and adaptive suspension provide stability and a comfortable ride while retaining the LX's off-road capabilities. AHC allows the driver to select from three ride heights depending on the situation, and a low setting is available for entering and exiting the vehicle. Three wheel sizes are available, and the F Sport trim comes with a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Lexus updated the LX's cabin for 2022 with new infotainment system and a cleaner, more upscale design. A new dual-screen infotainment system is standard. The top 12.3-inch touchscreen handles audio and infotainment duties, while the lower 7.0-inch touchscreen is used for climate controls and related settings. The LX also gets Lexus' new infotainment software, which promises to be more intuitive and simpler than previous systems. Over-the-air updates will bring new features and update existing functionality, while voice controls can command audio, navigation, phone, and other vehicle settings.

2022 Lexus LX Ultra Luxury trim reduces seating capacity to four but makes the LX's cabin seriously plush.Lexus

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New compact luxury SUV

2022 Lexus NX gets new tech and PHEV drivetrain

The NX is all-new for 2022.

Lexus

The NX may not be Lexus' most popular SUV – that title goes to the RX – but it's got a lot to offer in a compact package. Lexus redesigned the NX for 2022, and the big stories are its new PHEV powertrain, updated tech, and improved safety features.

The 2022 NX 450h+ is Lexus' first plug-in hybrid vehicle. It's expected to deliver 36 miles all-electric range, 84 MPGe combined, a 0-60 mph time of six seconds. It's joined in the NX lineup by the NX 350h hybrid, which uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two high-torque motor-generators that produce a combined output of 239 horsepower. The NX 350h is capable of returning 39 mpg combined and a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds.

2022 Lexus NX New tech and updated safety features are headline changes for 2022.Lexus

A turbocharged gas engine rounds out the NX powertrain selection. It's a 2.4-liter unit that makes 203 horsepower and 184 horsepower. Surprisingly, it's weaker than both of the hybrid powertrains, and is only capable of a 0-60 mph time of 8.2 seconds with front-wheel drive. Fuel economy lands at 28 mpg combined.

The new NX comes standard with a 9.8-inch touchscreen that employs a new Lexus interface to make interactions smoother and easier. A 14-inch touchscreen is optional, and includes a three-year trial for a bundle of connected services. Lexus offers a new connected smartphone feature that allows drivers to store their vehicle profiles in the cloud and take them to other Lexus vehicles equipped with the tech.

2022 Lexus NX The NX gets a PHEV powertrain option for the first time.Lexus

The Lexus Interface also offers advanced voice controls and a new voice assistant feature. The automaker says that it was designed to recognize natural speech, and uses two microphones with noise cancellation, seat detection, and speaker location capabilities. Drivers can ask for the weather, traffic situations, control the audio system, and more with their voice.

The NX's safety features got a boost for 2022 as well. Standard features now include risk avoidance emergency steer assist, left-turn oncoming vehicle detection and braking, right/left turn oncoming pedestrian detection and braking, and dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed management.

2022 Lexus NX F Sport models get sporty interior finishes.Lexus

The 2022 Lexus NX should begin arriving on dealers' lots in December 2021. Pricing for the NX 250 FWD starts at $39,025, which includes a $1,075 destination fee. The range-topping NX 450h+ starts at $56,635.

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