Lexus IS350 F Sport — Outstanding curb appeal photo

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

After living with an "Infrared" copy for a week we came to the conclusion that the compact 2021 IS350 F Sport is the best looking and most well-proportioned vehicle in the Lexus lineup. Granted, the RC is pretty darn hot, and the high-dollar LC luxury sports coupe has some legitimate bragging rights for modern design. But for instant curb appeal our vote is for the IS350 Sport — particularly in this outstanding shade of red.

The IS isn't new, it lives in the same basic skin it's had since 2014, but it has been refreshed a couple of times including for 2021 with some exterior and interior styling tweaks as well as some unseen improvements. It's a head turner from any angle, but we think the best look comes from a rear-side angle where its attractive full-width taillight design and slightly bulging rear hunches seal the deal. photo

For 2021, designers went to work on the sheetmetal with a smoothed-out profile, squinty headlights, and an even larger spindle grille. The new taillights that are tied together with a light bar across the trunk are the perfect touch. Our F Sport model was especially handsome with blacked-out trim to complement the striking Infrared paint.

While a pleasing design is essential, performance is also paramount in the compact luxury sedan segment and it is here that the IS350 shows its age and has fallen behind such competitors as the BMW 3-Series, the Genesis G70 and the Cadillac CT4-V. The IS350 F Sport carries on with the same 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 with 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That's good for a 5.6-second 0-to-60 time with a quarter-mile time of 14.2 seconds at 100 mph.

While that was a healthy engine for the segment back in mid-decade, it has fallen behind the newer turbocharged entries from the Europeans. The Lexus numbers now fall more in line with competitor's base 4-liter turbocharged engines, but not with the premium engines from such brands as Alfa Romeo and Audi. The IS could immensely benefit from a turbocharged version of 3.5-liter V-6 or such in-house engines as the Toyota Supra turbocharged inline 3.0-liter straight six making 382 horsepower — if it could be fitted under the IS hood.

Editor's note: Since this review was written, Lexus has announced a special eition IS500 F Sport for North America with a 5.0-liter V-8 making 472 horsepower and 396 pound-feet of torque. Lexus has not set a price for the new edition, but said it would arrive in the fall of 2021.

What the IS350 F Sport has in spades is an overall feel of being one with the road, an excellent handling machine — more so for 2021 because Lexus has retuned the chassis. Additional welds have been used in the unibody to strengthen the structure, springs and anti-roll bars have been lightened, and aluminum control arms have replaced steel ones.

We were happy with our test car's handling abilities on our usual rural road "test track." Select the Sport S+ mode and the car gains slot-car like traits with the suspension doing a good job of controlling body roll, combined with the eight-speed transmission that held gears slightly longer, upshifting and downshifting quickly with a blip of the accelerator.

We found the cabin attractive and well designed with the big news the inclusion of touchscreen functionality to the standard 8.0-inch or optional 10.3-inch screens. The screen is mounted about six inches closer than before, making it easier to reach and touch. Gone is the very distracting on-screen cursor that made the system very driver distracting. But Lexus continues to cling to the touchpad to operate infotainment icons. On the plus side, Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay are standard.

Supple leather and wood trim dress up the revised dashboard. The seating position is excellent and the bucket seats proved comfortable. The IS has always been a bit short on rear-seat legroom and that continues to be the case, but two average-sized adults can reside there.  Luggage space in the trunk is also a bit on the short side at 10.8 cubic feet.

The IS350 F Sport comes with a full range of standard safety features including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, dynamic cruise control, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert, and intelligent high beam.

The IS can be purchased in three configurations. The IS300 RWD with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4 making 241-horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque paired to an eight-speed automatic starts at $40,025 including destination charge. The IS300 AWD gets a 3.5-liter V-6 tuned to 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque starting at $42,095. The IS350 RWD with the 311 horsepower V-6 starts at $43,925 and the IS350 AWD begins at $45,925. The good news for IS350 buyers is that its $43,925 starting price is $2,475 less than last year's IS350 F Sport.

Our IS350 F Sport with RWD carried a bottom line of $49,395.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport


Base price: $43,925; as driven, $49,395
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 311 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 280 pound-feet @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-peed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 185.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,880 pounds
Turning circle: 34.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 10 city, 28 highway, 23 combined
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Genesis G70, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class

The Good
• Stunning good looks
• Tasteful interior
• Excellent handling

The Bad
• Tight rear seat for adults

The Ugly
• V-6 engine needs a turbocharger