CHATHAM, Mass. – Luckily, the snowstorm came on the last day I had the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD so I was able to enjoy the buttoned-down, exhilarating character of this luxury compact sport sedan without worrying about slick or unpassable roads.
And the IS was a blast!
The pieces which enable the IS to stop and go
The 311-horsepower (280 pounds-feet of torque) 3.5-liter V6 engine not only produced plenty of power when I wanted and needed it (like merging onto a crowded highway), it made great sounds while doing so. The seat-of-the-pants feeling is real as the 3,880-pound all-wheel drive (AWD) four-door can go from 0-60 miles per hour in less than six seconds.
The power gets to the AWD system through a six-speed automatic transmission which responds, like the motor, rapidly to the driver’s desires. The AWD combines with a track-honed suspension system to provide sure-footed handling along with superb traction even with less-than-ideal road-surface conditions. The system monitors all driving situations to instantaneously distribute engine power to whichever end of the car needs it.
Lexus ES350 Evolves into Solid Luxury Sedan
A lot of power in a car which begs to be driven hard might lead one to expect poor fuel-economy numbers, but my results were surprising. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the Lexus IS 350 F Sport AWD at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway and 22 in combined driving. The number I observed was much better – 25.1 mpg in a week of spirited driving!
The suspension system includes a double-wishbone setup with high-mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers and stabilizer bar in the front and a multi-link configuration with coil springs, gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bar at the rear.
Slowing and stopping the IS are four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes integrated with Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management system (VDIM) and anti-lock system (ABS) featuring 13.2-inch ventilated rotors in the front and 11.7-inch ventilated rotors at the rear.
The staggered-width (8.5 inches in front, 9.5 in the rear) 19-inch alloy wheels are shod with all-season 235/40R19 tires up front and 265/40R19 ones at the rear.
Lexus tunes the F Sport on the test track with a nod to sharpening its handling characteristics which translates into a car that is a lot of fun to navigate hilly curves and power through a highway on ramp but rides a bit stiffer than a typical luxury sedan. Stiff but not harsh, except over very rough surfaces or objects on the road.
This is a luxury sport sedan which means it does not float over the road like some luxury sedans nor it is an all-out sports car pounding its occupants while going about its business. Lexus makes it all work with the F Sport leaning more to the sports side of the equation. Choose an F Sport variant of any Lexus and this is the compromise concerning ride versus handling.
An interior filled with the right amenities
Lexus makes sure you know the IS 350 F Sport is a luxury sport sedan as soon as you sit in the bolstered, perforated-leather heated and ventilated power-assisted seats. The heating and leather even extend to the steering wheel of the F Sport model.
The interior surfaces are soft to the touch, rich looking and very well assembled. Controls, instrumentation and amenities are well thought out, well integrated and intuitive. As a sport sedan, the IS is engineered to be a driver’s car – the screens and controls are all within easy reach.
The optional Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package brings a 10.3-inch color multi-media display on the top of the dash providing both the interior’s central focal point and the center of the infotainment system. You can operate both the infotainment system and vehicle settings with your finger on the touchscreen display or your finger on the Lexus-signature console-mounted touchpad (just like the one on your laptop computer). Supplementing these controls are steering-wheel buttons which also control the information meter within the driver instrumentation pod.
The Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound audio system pumps 1,800-Watts of sound from any of the infotainment sources (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) through 17 speakers.
Advanced driver-assist systems
The standard Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+) found on the IS receives additions for 2021 in the form of the new LSS+ 2.5. A number of key features that are part of the Lexus Safety System+ have been enhanced, along with the addition of a few new features.
The Pre-Collision System (PCS), which include Frontal Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Pedestrian Detection and Bicyclist Detection can help detect not only the vehicle ahead but also a preceding bicyclist in daytime and even a preceding pedestrian in daytime and low-light conditions. At intersections, the system has improved recognition of an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian when performing a left-hand turn and is designed to activate typical PCS functions if needed. Additional PCS functions include Emergency Steering Assist (ESA), which is designed to assist steering within the vehicle’s lane as cued by the driver.
Other LSS+ 2.5 features include:
- All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
- Land Departure Alert
- Intelligent High Beams
- Road-Sign Assist
Additional advanced driver-assist (ADAS) features include:
- Blind-Spot Monitor
- Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
The review model added an optional ($1,400) suite of ADAS combining:
- Intuitive Parking Assist with auto braking
- Rear Pedestrian Detection
- Panoramic-View Monitor (supplementing the standard rearview camera)
All told, one of the more comprehensive compilations of ADAS I have come across in the last year of sampling vehicles and they all worked as advertised without being overly intrusive or annoying (so I never considered turning off any of them).
In summary, a solid, fun, safe, satisfying sedan
The 2021 IS 350 F Sport AWD is one of the best iterations of a compact luxury sport sedan. This model carries a MSRP of $44,900 including most of the features and equipment discussed above. Adding in key options like the ADAS package, Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio, moonroof and triple-beam LED headlamps, as well as the $1,025 delivery, processing and handling charge, brought the as-tested price to $52,850. Not an insignificant price, but a lot of (compact) car for the money. Add in Lexus quality and reliability ups the value even further.
In the market for a luxury compact sport sedan? Lexus may just have your number – IS 350 F Sport AWD.