Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Lexus IS

Lexus IS 350 a beautiful and classy sleeper that makes Bangle Butt beautiful

By Jim Bray
August 26, 2021

Lexus' IS series sports a new set of clothes for 2021 as well as some tweaks the company thinks should make this sporty sedan an even more compelling choice for folks shopping in this market niche.

Arguably Lexus' sportiest sedan, especially in the V-8-powered IS F trim level that appears occasionally, the IS has been around for some 20 years now and through at least three generations. My son has had a first generation IS 300 for many years now and still loves to drive it. He'd love it more were it equipped with a manual transmission, but such is the case with any IS today anyway – a stick is not available at all. And that's shame.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

It means you're stuck with an automatic transmission, and depending upon the IS model you get it could have six or eight speeds. Six is best, for driving enjoyment though perhaps not for fuel mileage, and the subject of this particular rant – the IS 350 AWD F Sport – comes with the six speed. And, unlike what you don't get with the stock eight speed, it comes with paddles behind the steering wheel that give you back some of the control an automatic takes away.

So that's good. What's also good is the beautiful 3.5 litre V6 that comes in it, as well as in the IS 300 AWD (though it's not as powerful in that version: 260 horses versus 311 – with 280 torquey thingies – for the IS 350). This is a silky and smooth engine with lots of oomph and a lovely voice when you press it.

A two-litre turbo four is available on the base IS and it puts out 241 horses.

What's also good is the exterior makeover Lexus gave the IS for the 2021 model year. This exterior, to me, is the best for the IS since the second generation. Naturally, beauty is in the eye of the keyholder, so your mileage may vary. But I really like it and think it's now one of the most handsome luxury sports sedans on the market. It's handsome, kind of aggressive, and they've even stuck a version of that stupid spindle grille on it that actually looks great. I haven't had a lot of good things to say about that grille in the past (well, none, actually), but here it works. I may get struck by lightning for saying that.

I even like the raised trunk lid, which kind of hearkens back to the Chris Bangle BMW era, especially the 5 series. The Bum sucked on the BMW's, but it works here.

The IS is a bit wider than before, with more muscular fenders from which attractive 19-inch wheels peek, and that extra width also makes the car appear to be slung lower than before.

They've done a nice job on the smoothness quotient, too, thanks apparently to extensive track time on various road surfaces and conditions, as Lexus says, "to identify ways to increase responsiveness and reduce unnecessary movement from unsprung mass. One of the first things engineers targeted was enhancing body rigidity. The increased rigidity not only helps reduce unwanted noise and vibration, but it also helps improve riding comfort and driving performance with enhanced response to steering input."

Fair enough. And it is a very nice car to drive. But it sure pales in driving fun compared to some competitors, such as the last BMW 3 series I drove (though it's been a couple of years since I drove it).

Helping to improve the sportiness is an adaptive suspension and a selection of driving modes including Sport Plus, as well as some tweaks you can do to enhance any catlike tendencies the IS is allowed to display.

I kept it in as tight and sporty a configuration as I could, and drove nearly exclusively in Sport Plus mode. It helps, but there's no way you'll confuse the IS with a 3 series or even with my 17-year-old A4 Sportwagon, both of which are more fun to drive aggressively.

Still, judging by the number of IS's I see around here, people seem to be quite happy with the way Lexus has delivered the vehicle. I guess not everyone wants to be Helio Castroneves. And that's probably just as well because otherwise more police would have to be taken from their duties chasing down the unmasked and the racists and spend their time sitting on the roadside with radar guns, shooting fish in a barrel in the name of "safety."

New for 2021, Lexus has moved the dash-mounted touchscreen closer to the driver for easier access to the controls (though it didn't help me, thanks to my diminutive stature). A new, 10.3-inch touchscreen is available and the new and not particularly improved multimedia system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility as standard equipment.

Lexus' sample was the top line AWD F SPORT Series 3 model, ($58,650 including the $5,350 F Sport Series 3 option package). It also includes the not as dynamic as I'd like Dynamic Handling Package, which gets you the 19-inch forged BBS wheels, the Adaptive Variable Suspension with SPORT+ mode, a carbon fibre spoiler and carbon fibre mirror covers, silver wood interior accents and cool triple LED headlamps.

The interior, other than that awful trackpad Lexus (and now Acura) inflicts upon its audience, is high tech, comfortable, and quite lovely. The front seats are first rate (and powered, of course) and even the rear seats are pretty fine.

The audio system is also top notch and for once I found a vehicle that plays my high-resolution audio discs, both SACD's and DVD-Audios. I'm not convinced it played them in high resolution, but at least the IS let me bring my best discs with me, especially in an era where audio disc players of any type are getting hard to find.

It's hard to fault the IS for its design and construction, other than the trackpad, but it's easy to fault it for its mere sporting pretensions. I mean, it's a fine car to drive, it goes where you point it and its handling is more than adequate. Where it falls down is with the nannies.

I've complained about this with many cars, so it isn't specifically an IS thing, or even a Lexus thing. But the IS' lane departure "assist" and that kind of thing cannot be turned off completely (well, I couldn't figure it out). So, what would happen is that I'd find a lovely piece of two lane back road with some nice, typical Southern Alberta twists and turns and hills, and I'd apex a couple of curves reasonably aggressively – but the car would fight me if I weren't driving it the way it thought I should be driving.

What the hell kind of a sports sedan bitches at you and fights you for the sin of driving it as if it's a sports sedan? It's stupid, and it's insulting. And if it were my money being spent, I'd be pretty angry.

There might be a way to have these annoyances turned off completely – it may even be something that can be programmed at the dealer for all I know – but that raises the question of why the heck you have to pay for all this stuff if you're just going to disable it.

Shouldn't manufacturers offer choices, such as a "nanny free package" or something? I know Canada is a small market and that limits manufacturers' options for offering things, but come on!

And while you're at it, lets bring back wagons and manual transmissions!

Yes, I do indeed live in a fantasy world.

But if I'm spending the as-tested price of $58,650 for this lovely Lexus, I want to control the car, not have it the other way around.

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray

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