With buyers’ never-ending tilt toward tall wagons, there are noticeably fewer sedans to be had these days, especially from domestic-based automakers.
If you prefer your car with a trunk lid instead of a fifth door at the back, there are plenty of choices at the premium end of the spectrum. In this bracket, the Lexus IS is one of the more reasonably priced and one of the most fun to drive.
The first IS arrived in North America two decades ago as a competitor to the BMW 3 series and has been on a constant path of updating ever since. The 2021 version underwent subtle (but visually enhancing) changes that included a slightly enlarged “spindle” grille, narrower headlight pods, widened fenders and more prominent rocker panels. The trunk lid was lowered and a thin light bar now connects the tail lamps.
The interior adjustments were also minor, including the tablet-style 8.0- or optional 10.3-inch touch-screen positioned closer to the edge of the dashboard for easier viewing. A console-mounted touchpad controls the infotainment system, which might not be to everyone’s liking, but the work-around is to use the touch-screen to make selections.
The car’s basic measurements — length, width and the distance between the front and rear wheels — were basically unaltered. That makes sense since the platform was mostly a carryover, although Lexus said it has made it more rigid to provide a quieter ride while improving overall drivability. A number of new suspension components are lighter, such as the control arms and front stabilizer bar.
For 2021, the IS comes in three distinct strengths. The rear-wheel-drive (RWD) IS 300 is fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine rated at 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
The all-wheel-drive (AWD) IS 300 gets a non-turbo 3.5-litre V-6 that puts out 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet.
The V-6 installed in the IS 350 has 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet. AWD is also an option with this powerplant.
Premium-grade gasoline is recommended for all.
The RWD models get eight-speed automatic transmissions, while a six-speed automatic is standard for AWD models. Torque is split evenly between the front and rear wheels in normal driving situations, but up to 70 per cent of it shifts to the rear when front slip is detected.
According to Lexus, the RWD IS 300 can accelerate to 60 mph (96 km/h) from rest in 6.9 seconds. The RWD IS 350 F Sport reduces that time to 5.6 seconds.
If that’s not quick enough, the new 2022 IS 500 has a 5.0-litre V-8 with 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. RWD and an eight-speed automatic transmission are standard.
RWD versions of the IS come with Eco, Normal and Sport S modes, with a Snow mode added when AWD is selected.
Lexus IS 300 pricing starts at $45,700, including destination charges. The car includes plenty of up-level content plus active-safety technologies such as blind-spot warning and cross-traffic backup alert, pedestrian and cyclist detection and lane-departure alert.
The IS 350 costs $44,000, but you’ll pay $4,700 extra for the F Sport dynamic-handling package that should really be considered a must-have. Included is a constantly variable adaptive suspension, limited-slip differential, 19-inch BBS-brand alloy wheels, carbon-fibre rear spoiler and wood-trimmed interior.
Other F Sport goodies include an 1,800-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson-brand sound system, navigation package and a power moonroof.
The F Sport can cover ground at a rapid pace, but perhaps without the neck-snapping thrust that turbocharged V-6 versions of the BMW 3 series, Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C class deliver.
What the F Sport might lack in off-the-line performance, it and other IS trims make up for with a smooth, secure ride, a quiet interior and comfortable, supportive seating.
In the world of upscale sedans, these attributes count for plenty.
What you should know:
Type: Rear- /all-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engines: (h.p.) 2.0-litre I-4, turbocharged (241); 3.5-litre V-6 (260/311); 5.0-litre V-8 (472)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (RWD); six-speed automatic (AWD)
Market position: The IS isn’t the most popular model in the Lexus stable, but it is the most affordable of the brand’s sedan trio and offers a range of performance options that will further expand for 2022 with strong-running V-8 power.
Points: Revised styling initiatives make a good-looking car more eye-pleasing. It’s a beautiful car. • The dashboard and gauges are well laid-out but touchpad control is not universally preferred. • Plenty dynamic-safety technologies are standard. • Standard turbo four-cylinder engine’s output is OK, but the two available V-6s steal the show.
Driver assist: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (std.); front and rear emergency braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (n.a.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian/cyclist detection (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.0/9.5 (turbo I-4)
Base price (incl. destination): $45,700
BMW 3 Series
- Base price: $47,100
- Considered the gold standard in this class. No shortage of power options.
- Base price: $45,900
- Competent sports sedan uses a turbo-I4 engine. S4’s turbo V-6 makes 349 h.p.
- Base price: $39,400
- Sedan’s engine vary from a 237-h.p. I-4 to a 472-h.p. twin-turbo V-6 Blackwing.
– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media