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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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service

The long process to design, engineer, and award a contract for the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) next-generation mail delivery vehicle (NGDV) has finally come to an end. The government has awarded Oshkosh Defense a contract to produce the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle for service. Oshkosh Defense is a a wholly owned subsidiary of Oshkosh Corporation (NYSE: OSK).

The NGDV project is the USPS's first large-scale fleet procurement in three decades. Over the next 10 years, the contract allows for the delivery of between 50,000 and 165,000 new vehicles.

"Oshkosh operates with unparalleled commitment to those who depend on our products and services to build, protect and serve communities around the world. We are honored to have been selected by the USPS to support their important work by manufacturing American-made Next Generation Delivery Vehicles that will connect every home and business across the United States for decades to come," said John Pfeifer, President & Chief Operating Officer, Oshkosh Corporation.

U.S. Postal Service's Next-Generation Mail Delivery Vehicle

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service

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The new mail trucks will have multiple powertrain options, just like many passenger vehicles on the road today. There will be a battery electric vehicle (BEV) version that runs exclusively on electric power and a fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE) variant.

Under the contract awarded today, USPS has committed to paying Oshkosh Defense $482 million as a first step toward the new vehicles' production. The money will be used to finalize the production vehicle design and complete factory build-out, all of which is necessary before production gets underway. The process is similar to ones mass market vehicle manufacturers use.

"Our century-long history of delivering products to customers, operating in some of the most demanding and severe conditions on the planet, uniquely positions us to bring exceptional reliability, safety, and maintainability to USPS's Next Generation Delivery Vehicles," said John Bryant, Executive Vice President, Oshkosh Corporation, and President, Oshkosh Defense. "Partnering with trusted suppliers, we have developed a purpose-built solution to support the current and future needs of the USPS," Bryant concluded.

In addition to a new exterior and powertrain options, the NGTV also gets modern features and amenities like a rearview camera, walk-in cargo area, air condition, telematics, and a sliding cargo door. There's also a host of safety technology and equipment including airbags, automatic front and rear braking, blind spot warning, a 360-degree camera, and forward collision warning.

Production of the next generation delivery vehicle is expected to begin in 2023.

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The 2022 Kia Carnival was designed to look more like an SUV than a minivan.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

When is a minivan not a minivan? When Kia's marketing department decides its not. Apparently. The 2022 Kia Carnival replaces the Sedona minivan in the company's lineup and instead of being called a minivan, Kia has decided that it's a 'multi-purpose vehicle' or MPV for short.

Kia says that the new Carnival stakes a claim on the "unoccupied space between SUV and family hauler". It's not the first model in that territory. The Ford Carousel may be considered the first modern model to occupy the space, but it was just a prototype.

The Carnival was designed at Kia's California design studio. It's bold and boxy rather than sleek and function-forward, like the bodies of the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna. The Odyssey and Pacifica were both refreshed for the 2021 model year while the Sienna was redesigned.

2022 Kia Carnival: Exterior

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

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Kia carries over many of the design elements of the Telluride, Sorento, and Seltos into the new Carnival. It has the company's new tiger nose grille and integrated LED headlights. At its sides are substantial wheel catches while two-tone mirrors and and cutlines run the length of the vehicle. At the rear, geometric trail lamps, a rear skid plate garnish, and reflectors are positioned to make the vehicle look like an SUV. The model rides on 17- and 19-inch wheels, which are available in gloss black.

The Carnival is a three-row van that seats seven or eight, depending on the buyer's preference. The vehicle uniquely features Side-Flex seating in its eight-passenger variant that allows for multiple configurations. Kia describes it as including "a sliding second row center seat which, when in the forward-most position, allows the front passenger easy access the baby or child riding in it. This seat also converts into a functional table."

Heated and ventilated second row 'VIP Lounge Seating' with power controls, wing-out headrests, and leg extensions is available for seven-passengers Carnivals.

2022 Kia Carnival: Interior

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

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Kia will offer the model in four trim levels: LX, EX, SX< and SX-Prestige.

Kia has given the U.S.-bound version of the Carnival a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers best-in-class 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The powertrain is completed by an eight-speed automatic transmission and provides 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.

The van's dimensions offer best-in-class passenger room (168.2 cubic feet) and best-in-class cargo room (145.1 cubic feet behind the front row in LX, EX, and SX grades). Removable second-row seats and fold-in-floor third-row seats help the model achieve its best-in-class cargo room (second row seats not removable in SX-Prestige) title.

Kia will offer the model in three interior color schemes.

The list of standard features includes hands-free opening power sliding doors with Smart Key, and 8-inch infotainment touch screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

2022 Kia Carnival: Details

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

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A hands-free power lift gate with auto close, Smart Key with one-button open/close functionality for rear sliding doors and liftgate, passenger voice recognition (allows second row occupants to control numerous in-vehicle functions through voice commands by pushing a button mounted on the ceiling), the Passenger Talk intercom system, Rear Passenger View in-cabin camera, dual-screen entertainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android screen mirroring, wireless smartphone charging, navigation, full digital instrument cluster, multi-Bluetooth, up to nine USB ports, a Bose premium audio system, and UVO link telematics are available.

The long list of standard advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on the Carnival includes: forward collision warning with collision avoidance assist, blind spot monitoring with collision avoidance assist, rear cross traffic warning with collision avoidance assist, rear park assist, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, automatic high beam headlights, and driver attention monitor.

Buyers can add to the safety technology in the Carnival to include the new 'Kia Drive Wise' ADAS, which includes: Blind-Spot View Monitor, a technology that projects live video view of adjacent lanes in the instrument cluster and activated via the turn signal; speed limit adjustment; navigation-based adaptive cruise control; park assist; and surround-view monitor.

It's the first vehicle Kia is selling in the U.S. with the company's new logo displayed on it. It will go on sale in the second quarter of 2021. Pricing is expected to be made public in the coming months.

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