The crowded compact luxury sedan segment is filled with recently updated models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo. Unlike its fresher rivals, the Lexus IS soldiers on with aging design, powertrains, architecture, and interior. The 2021 model year won’t bring the full redesign we hoped for, but we still expect to see major changes.
Driving the current IS for a week reminded us how the sedan has fallen behind the curve. Here are five things the 2021 Lexus IS can learn from its predecessor, plus a few things Lexus has already mastered.
Maximize interior space
Let’s hope the updated sedan feels more spacious than the current model. Not only does the cabin feel narrow, but trunk space is smaller than competitors at a paltry 10.8 cubic feet.
Carving out little storage compartments inside the cabin would greatly improve its utility. Many new cars have plenty of cubbies to store your phone and other items. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the IS, which has no storage solutions in its bulky center stack other than a tiny center console box. The cupholders are also quite small, and they’re positioned too far back for the driver to comfortably reach.
Want to be sporty? Then go all the way.
The IS 350 F Sport is billed as an athletic sedan, complete with special suspension tuning, a limited-slip rear differential, and sporty seats (with not enough padding). Our tester’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces a sonorous growl and a healthy 311 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. RWD models feature an eight-speed automatic, while AWD models stick with a six-speed automatic.
Unfortunately, the ride and handling don’t live up to the model’s sporty intentions. The car bounces over big bumps in the road, lacking the control you’d expect. Steering lacks the feedback it should have as an athletic sedan, even in the sharpest Sport S+ mode.
We’ve been told Lexus will update the chassis and suspension, and hopefully these changes address some of our gripes. The engines should carry over from the current model, however.
Ditch the mouse multimedia controller for a touchscreen
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The finnicky mouse-like infotainment controller has got to go. Newer Lexus vehicles have upgraded to a touchpad similar to the one on your laptop, but it’s still not easy to use. The automaker is finally starting to embrace touchscreens with the new RX, and we can only hope the IS follows suit. Some new Lexuses have busy interiors with a cluttered array of controls, so we’re crossing our fingers that Lexus keeps things simple on the new interior.
Advanced tech is key
Smartphone connectivity is a make-or-break consideration for many car shoppers. Unfortunately, the Lexus IS offers neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto. Needless to say, the sedan has some catching up to do with its competitors.
Instead of smartphone connectivity, the Lexus IS has … a CD player. And an analog clock.
Need for a more streamlined design
We hope Lexus takes inspiration from its new vehicles to create a more streamlined look on the IS.
Lexus has long been criticized for its spindle grille. Love it or hate it, the gaping maw is the brand’s signature design feature, and isn’t going away anytime soon. New Lexus vehicles have a wider grille, but subtler design details around it so onlookers aren’t overwhelmed.
Take the Lexus RX as an example. It integrates its daytime running lights into the headlamps, providing a more cohesive look than the split-light design on the IS. As exhibited in our recent rendering, a front end with integrated headlights and less prominent vents would improve the overall look. We also hope the IS will lose its droopy rear end design and adopt the sleek body lines and slim taillights of the ES.
What we don’t want to change
The available four-cylinder engine is a bit underpowered, but we enjoy the smooth V-6 engine on our IS tester. It provides good power for all driving situations, from merging on the freeway to switching lanes. It might not be the most efficient engine, but we’re glad there’s a potent option in the lineup. We also appreciate that the car is nimble enough to maneuver into parking spots with ease and perform clean three-point turns. Driving around crowded cities is a breeze.
The Lexus IS already boasts great safety scores and plenty of safety technologies. All versions come standard with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, high-speed adaptive cruise control, and intelligent high beams. Other available safety features in the lineup include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, park assist, and adaptive front lights.
|2020 Lexus IS 300/350|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINES||2.0L/241-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 ; 3.5L/260-311-hp/236-277-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,600-3,750 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||184.3 x 71.3 x 56.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.0-7.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18-21/24-30/21-24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||160-187/112-140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80-0.96 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|
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