Buyer's Guide

2021 Lexus Is
Select a Different Model (4 Available): 300 AWD Sedan
Fuel Economy $ 19 / 26 mpg
Horsepower 260@6,600
Torque 236@2,000
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  • Bolder (and polarizing) styling
  • Updated infotainment system
  • Strong expected reliability


  • Cramped back seat
  • Aging powertrains

Targeted at European compact sports sedans including the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, the Lexus IS returns to the segment thoroughly revised. It's not an all-new car, but extensive updates to exterior styling, interior features, and under-the-skin hardware distinguish the 2021 IS from its predecessors.

What's New

The Lexus IS receives a major overhaul for 2021, with updates including:

  • Stiffer, sportier chassis tuning
  • Restyled exterior design
  • More luxurious interior
  • Improved infotainment system
  • Enhanced driver-assist features

What We Think

Introduced for 2001, the IS showed a new side of Lexus—its fun side. After a year with that car in our long-term test fleet, we posited that IS stands for "instant success." Fast forward to 2014, when we assessed several variants of the IS over a year. Again, we praised its comfortable composure, sporty handling, and faultless reliability. Since then, the segment has surpassed the IS dynamically, so we're eager to experience the redesigned 2021 Lexus IS.

Lexus' current focus is on crossovers; cancellation of the slow-selling GS sedan demonstrates this. Not wanting to invest too heavily into a lower-sales-volume sedan could explain why the 2021 IS is built on its existing New N platform, instead of the latest TNGA-L architecture.

However, the 2021 IS isn't just a simple refresh—it's a major overhaul. Lexus engineers made numerous changes to the chassis and tuning to ensure it drives better than before. All-new body panels, redesigned lighting, and a relatively subdued spindle grille set its styling apart from the prior model. The theme continues inside with a new dashboard layout and much-needed infotainment upgrade.

Drivetrain choices carry over. That means a turbo-four and eight-speed automatic in the RWD IS 300. Perplexingly, the AWD IS 300 uses a V-6 and a somewhat archaic six-speed automatic. The sportier IS 350 gets a more powerful tune of the V-6, with an eight-speed auto on RWD cars, but a six-speed on AWD versions.

We expect the 2021 Lexus IS to continue the legacy set by its predecessors. Declining sedan sales might not make it the instant success it once was, but it should provide sport sedan enthusiasts with the performance, amenities, and reliability the IS is known for.

Performance and Fuel Economy

As before, the 2021 Lexus IS offers RWD as standard, with AWD optional. The updated IS will continue to use the drivetrains offered on the previous model, which means RWD cars have an eight-speed automatic, and AWD versions are stuck with a six-speed auto.

The engine in the entry-level RWD IS 300 is a 2.0-liter turbo-four producing 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Based on previous MotorTrend testing, 0-60 mph acceleration should take about 7.0 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated at 21/30 mpg city/highway.

The IS 300 AWD features a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 260 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, which should enable 0-60 mph times of about 6.0 seconds. Expect fuel economy to be around 20/28 mpg.

The IS 350 features an uprated version of the V-6 engine, good for 311 hp and 277 lb-ft. That will cut the 0-60 mph time to about 5.5 seconds, and fuel economy to about 18/24 mpg.

Although a V-8-powered IS F isn't likely, Lexus is considering an line-topping IS 500 model that would borrow the LS 500's twin-turbo V-6 and a power rating well above 400 hp.


The 2021 Lexus IS should maintain or improve the prior model's strong safety scores. The 2020 model earned a five-star (out of five) overall safety rating from the NHTSA, which factored five-star side crash and rollover scores with a four-star frontal crash score. From the IIHS, it got the highest Good score in all crashworthiness evaluations, plus the highest Superior score in vehicle-to-vehicle front-crash prevention.

Lexus has enhanced its active safety tech suite of features for the 2021 IS. The new model gets forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.

Cargo Space and Interior Room

Measurements and capacities in the 2021 IS should be similar to the 2020 model that was never known to be spacious—even in the compact luxury sport sedan segment. That means a trunk measuring about 10.8 cubic feet, with split-folding second-row seats to improve cargo space.

The 2020 model offered a generous 44.8 inches of front-seat legroom but only 32.2 inches for rear-seat passengers.


Lexus has given its infotainment system a much-needed update. The 2021 IS's system can be controlled by a touchpad on the center console, or now by tapping the central touchscreen, which measures 8.0 inches as standard or 10.3 inches optionally. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and Bluetooth streaming are among its standard features. Several USB ports are distributed throughout the cabin. There's also a reconfigurable information display in the gauge cluster. A 15-speaker audio system is standard, and Lexus offers a 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system as an upgrade.

Key Competitors

Engine Name
Engine: V6 3.5 Liter
Transmission Name
Transmission, ECT-i 6 Speed Automatic Mode Select with Manual Mode (A760H)
300 AWD Sedan
Premium Compact Passenger Car
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Unleaded Premium
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Amount Description Expiry Date
$0 1.9% Financing for a maximum term of 72 Months - Lexus announces special APR financing on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.] 02-01-2021
$2000 Lexus announces a Retail Cash on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.] 02-01-2021
$1500 Lexus announces a Bonus Cash on select models for eligible current owners. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.] 02-01-2021
$0 0.9% Financing available for varying term lengths : 36, 48, 60 Months - Lexus announces special APR financing on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.] 02-01-2021
$2500 Lexus announces a Lease Cash on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.] 02-01-2021