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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The new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is coming soon to a LEGO store near you.

Photo courtesy of LEGO

The Jeep Wrangler has fans the world over. For those fans whose extracurricular activities include LEGO building along with Jeeping, there's a new LEGO Technic model they'll want to take a look at. The LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the first LEGO model of a Jeep SUV.

Ask any Jeep Wrangler owner and they'll tell you that their vehicle is just a bigger version of this new LEGO set," said Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design. "The design of the Jeep Wrangler allows them to take it apart, top off, doors off, reconfigure it, add new pieces from our Mopar team, and then put it back together again. This LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler should bring a new level of joy to our Jeep enthusiasts and help inspire future designers to the brand."

LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Photo courtesy of LEGO

The 665-piece model features all the classic Jeep hallmarks - a performance 4x4 system, rugged tires, fold-down rear seats, and a seven-slot grille. It features a button operated front steering system and axle-articulation suspension. It has a yellow-and-black color scheme.

"The Jeep Wrangler is an icon in the off-road world" says Lars Thygesen, Designer, LEGO Technic. "The Rubicon has a lot of the iconic details loved by 4x4 fans the world over, so it was important to me to pack as many of the authentic, powerful features of the real vehicle into the LEGO Technic replica. I hope LEGO fans and vehicle lovers enjoy all aspects including the suspension, winch and open air design that we developed alongside the talented Jeep design team."

The LEGO Technic Jeep Wrangler is designed for Jeep and LEGO fans alike, aged 9 and above. It will be available from January 1st 2021 from LEGO.com, LEGO stores and other retailers globally, priced at [49.99€/49.99$/£44.99].

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Audi is only making the car for U.S. customers.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The 2021 Audi R8 Panther special edition is one of the rarer gifts you can get for your garage this holiday season. With a limited run of 30 coupes in the works, the R8 Panther edition models are the first available units in the R8 rear-wheel-drive model line and available only for U.S. customers.

If the name sounds familiar to you, that's because it should. The R8 Panther edition joins the 2019 RS 5 Panther edition, which was also a limited run and featured the same paint color and interior upholstery.

2021 Audi R8 Panther The hallmarks of the model include its black paint job and red-edged wheels.Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The unique 2021 R8 Panther comes covered in an Audi-exclusive Panther Black crystal effect paint job with carbon exterior mirror housings. Its badging has been coated in black. The model rides on 20-inch five-double-spoke dynamic design wheels that have been milled cut, finished in matte black with red trim, and wrapped in summer performance tires.

Your neighbors will hear you leaving the cul-de-sac thanks to the car's sport exhaust system, which amplifies the sound of the V10 engine. LED headlights and LED taillights, with dynamic turn signals will help their eyes follow your path on the way out as they peer out their windows.

The R8 Panther is powered by a naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V1 engine that produces 532 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque, and sprints from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. It has a top track speed of 201 mph.

The chassis of the R8 Panther edition has been specifically adapted for rear-wheel drive, including using solid rear axles as opposed to hollow, a stiffer front anti-roll bar, and an increase in rear negative camber.

2021 Audi R8 Panther

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The model has a full black leather interior with Crimson red stitching. Its racing shells seats are covered in red Nappa leather and have power height and manual fore/art seat adjustment. The car's gear selector and parcel shelf are covered in Alcantara, and the headliner features a diamond-stitched Alcantara. Audi has given the model a brand-exclusive steering wheel with leather/Alcantara and 12 o'clock marker as well as exclusive R8 floor mats with Crimson red leather edging.

Audi virtual cockpit, Audi smartphone interface, Audi phone box with signal booster, navigation, a 13-speaker Bang & Olufson sound system, and illuminated door sill inlays are included.

A carbon exterior package adds carbon fiber to the engine compartment and carbon sigma sideblades while the carbon interior package adds carbon fiber high-gloss surrounds for both the virtual cockpit and the air vents, as well as the center console.

The 2021 R8 Panther edition will be available in select dealerships this month with an MSRP of $183,300. There is an additional $1,495 destination charge, $1,700 gas guzzler tax, sales taxes, title, options, and dealer charges.

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