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 InfraredThe 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 InfraredThe 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 InfraredIS 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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Refreshed luxury crossover

2022 Lexus NX earns Top Safety Pick +

The 2022 NX earned a Top Safety Pick + award.

Lexus

The redesigned 2022 Lexus NX just got its crash test scores, and they're strong. The new crossover picked up a Top Safety Pick + award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the agency's top award. It's the NX's fourth consecutive Top Safety Pick + award, and before that the vehicle earned Top Safety Picks.

2022 Lexus NXThe NX has picked up top awards for several years in a row. Lexus

The 2022 NX picked up top scores in testing, earning a "Good" rating in all crash-test categories, a "Good" score for headlights, "Superior" scores for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention, and a "Good+" score for LATCH system ease of use. Though the 2021 model also picked up a Top Safety Pick + award, it scored lower for its car seat anchors.

Lexus offers the new NX with a whopping four propulsion options, including a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 203 horsepower, a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 275 horsepower, a 2.5-liter hybrid with 239 horsepower and a plug-in hybrid powertrain with 302 horsepower. The two gas engines come paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive, while the two hybrids both get all-wheel drive.

2022 Lexus NXLexus offers the NX with four powertrain options. Lexus

Pricing for the 2022 NX starts at $39,025 for the base NX250. Moving up the line, the NX350h starts at $42,125 and the NX450h+ starts at $56,725.

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New luxury EV

Lexus announces all-electric RZ 450e

Lexus just announced the new RZ 450e

Lexus

Lexus and Toyota have finally jumped onto the EV train, and we’ll soon see new all-electric SUVs from both. The Lexus variant, named RZ 450e, features a reasonable range, upscale interior, and neat all-wheel drive technology. We don’t have firm pricing for the Lexus, but expect it to start in the mid-to-high $40,000 range.

2023 Lexus RZRange is expected to reach 225 miles per chage. Lexus

The RZ shares a platform and much of its underlying engineering with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but will take a more upscale approach. Though its size and overall shape are similar to the others, the Lexus’ exterior styling is sharper and sportier, with functional aerodynamic bodywork. A new Lexus logo is spelled out on the rear gate, instead of the traditional “L” of previous models.

The SUV comes with a 71.4-kWh battery that should deliver a range of around 225 miles on a charge. All-wheel drive is standard, and uses the RZ’s dual electric motors to shift power between the wheels that need it most.

Inside, the RZ features a minimalist, open space with controls meant to remind drivers of a horse’s reins. Ultrasuede upholstery and woodgrain trim come standard. Lexus notes the RZ’s head-up display is controllable via steering wheel-mounted buttons that handle navigation, audio, and other functions.

2023 Lexus RZThough similar to the Toyota bZ4X inside, the Lexus IS more upscale and minimalist. Lexus

Speaking of the steering wheel, the first RZs will be available with a round wheel only, but later on, Lexus will offer a yoke-style wheel like the one seen in the Toyota bZ4X concept and Tesla’s Plaid models.

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