2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport review

Coupe charisma in a born sport sedan

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport in bold blue.

With its 2021 mild redesign, Lexus appears to have positioned the compact-midsize IS sedan as a style-conscious choice. (Lexus)

 

BY MARK MAYNARD

Don’t expect to drive anywhere incognito in an Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0  2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. The mild refresh of this sport sedan has gone all-in to turn heads with coupe-charisma styling.

Maybe it was the searing blue paint or the slashing, swept-back body lines, but young men along street corners turned to give it an approving jaw-jut nod.

It’s a tough design job these days to lure drivers from their SUVs. Many of those high-riding vehicles have credible performance attributes concealed in a glorified family vehicle.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport driver area

The driver area is hands-on, compact but orderly.

With its 2021 redesign, Lexus has positioned the compact-midsize IS sedan as a style-conscious choice. It’s a born sport sedan. If the Lexus loyalist wants a more traditional sedan, there is the midsize ES and it is one of the top-selling sedans in the luxury segment and the brand’s top-selling four-door.

The midsize luxury segment is dominated by the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with which the IS is most commonly compared. Those slightly larger competitors have taken the more formal styling direction for family function. And while those competitors also have fearsome performance models they also have fearsome pricing to create the badass family car.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport infotainment screen.

An expansive new 10.3-inch touch screen is part of the Mark Levinson navigation package.

The IS is more of an alternate ego sedan — right-sized and contemporary.

For 2021, the lineup doesn’t rise to the peak performance levels of some competitors, but neither does its pricing. However, a more wicked variant is set to debut a new line of performance models this fall. The upcoming IS 500 F Performance will be gratuitously powered by a naturally aspirated 472-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine. With peak torque of 395 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm, Lexus claims 0-60 acceleration in 4.5 seconds.

Lexus IS pricing

A side view of the Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Seemingly insignificant design elements for the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport reinforce long-term ownership.

The current IS has three model choices, in rear- or all-wheel drive, with three power choices.

The entry rear-wheel-drive IS 300 has a 241-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Its pricing starts at $41,525, including the $1,025 freight charge from Kyushu, Japan. The 2.0-liter engine was updated for 2021 with an adaptive transmission control that helps determine the most appropriate gear for each driving situation based on driver input.

The IS 300 AWD, powered by a 260-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, starts at $42,500.

The IS 350 F Sport is powered by a 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $43,975 for rear-drive or $45,974 for AWD.

Today’s tester, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport, was $55,220. Among its options were the Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint ($595) and Dynamic Handling Package ($4,200).

Other options added up quickly, such as the power moonroof ($1,100), triple beam LED headlights with automatic dimming ($1,250) and navigation system with Mark Levinson audio ($2,750). And intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection, and panoramic view monitor added $1,400.

How does the F Sport drive?

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport engine

The 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6.

The force of the V-6 just feels right in this car. The engine is not rabid in its bite, but it digs in with satisfying force. With 280 foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,800 rpm, there is quick uptake of launch power. Lexus cites acceleration to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, which is competitive with the standard-model competitors.

The eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters provides timely shift points, but punch up Sport-plus and let the V-6 do the talking. There is a satisfying sense of tightness between steering input, braking, and absolute roll-on of throttle.

Close quarters 

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport red interior

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport red interior is only available with the F Sport dynamic handling package, $4,200.

The IS cabin has the close-quarters feel of a performance coupe. The front seat area is accommodating for the tall driver with 38.2 inches of headroom and a very long 44.8 inches of legroom.

It’s a hands-on experience for accessing switches and other controls — meaning that the area is compact and orderly. But there is not a lot of storage space for small items. The shift console, for example, is packed with the shifter, a touchpad to access the upper touch screen and a controller dial for performance modes, and a pair of cup holders. Oddly, there is no wireless phone charging.

Sightlines are open across the fenders at the front windshield corners and side mirrors, which are offset from the body. Over-the-shoulder views are more complicated with the fastback wrap of the rear glass, but it’s workable for lane changes.

The rearview camera, with its 360-degree view, is an asset in tight parking situations. And the turning circle of 34.2 feet is unbelievably tight for any four-door car.

With a trim curb weight of 3,748 pounds, the fuel economy ratings are competitive at 20/28/23 mpg city, highway and combined, using the required premium fuel. In a week of driving, my average fuel economy ranged from 23.4 to 25.7 mpg, with more highway driving. Its large, 17.4-gallon fuel tank helps extend the cruising range.

Performance of the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport tire and wheel.

The rear-drive F Sport has 19-inch staggered-width alloy wheels with summer tires; AWD models get all-season rubber.

As a sport sedan, the cabin is well soundproofed but the staggered-size,19-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) are ultra-high performance. At highway speeds, the tires will spin up noise and even wander a bit on rain-grooved concrete interstate highways. The super-sticky treadwear rating (UTQG) of 140 is among the lowest I’ve tested on any performance car. Do not expect high mileage — and as Bridgestone advises, these tires are not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice.

The electronic adaptive variable suspension can get very busy on some stretches of concrete highway that feels like bobbling. But on blacktop and most other non-concrete roads, the F-Sport-tuned ride is a honed carving knife.

Safety

The stars shine brightly for the IS in NHTSA’s crash-test ratings. It earned the government agency’s top five-star overall rating with four stars for driver and front passenger; five stars in the side barrier and pole test for front and rear seats; and five stars for low rollover risk.

A-D-A-S

The Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 allows Level 2 semi-autonomous driving while keeping both hands on the wheel. The system integrates enhanced all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian alert.

The taillights in the 2021 IS 350 F Sport

The F Sport styling treatment includes unique front and rear bumpers, grille surround, rear spoiler and exhaust tips.

The driver-assist system capably keeps the car centered in the lane, but like most systems, it will randomly shut off. Sometimes the system gets confused by light-colored road-surface conditions and highway lines that are broken up and uneven. The safety system will be beneficial for those drivers who have daily commutes in heavy traffic. It is an extra six eyes on the road to watch for less-attentive drivers.

The safety system includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control.

Back seat

The back seats in the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

As a five-seater, the back-seat legroom is tight at 32.2 inches, with a tall exhaust-AWD tunnel that compromises center-position footroom.

The smaller size of the IS is felt in the back seat. The area is quite compact with just 32.2 inches of a knees-up and butt-down legroom, divided by a tall exhaust-AWD tunnel.

At 10.8 cubic feet, trunk space is a couple of cubic feet smaller than the competition. But space is still very usable for travel getaways, and the back seat folds 60/40.

Why buy the Lexus IS 350 F Sport?

For those not needing to wedge a family into the back seats, the IS 350 F Sport is a flag of don’t-tread-on-me independent thinking.

And here is my review of the Lexus LS 500 F Sport

SPECIFICATIONS

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport RWD

Body style: compact, 5-seat, 4-door sedan with rear- or AWD

Engine: 311 hp, direct-injected 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6; 280 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds

Fuel economy: 20/28/23 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel required

SPECIFICATIONS

Fuel tank: 17.4 gal.

Trunk space: 10.8 cu. ft.

Front head/leg room: 38.2/44.8 in.

Rear head/leg room: 36.9/32.2 in.

Length/wheelbase: 185.4/110.2 in.

Curb weight: 3,748 lbs.

Turning circle: 34.2 ft.

Safety features include: 10 air bags, traction and stability controls, brake-force distribution, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert

Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control  and intelligent high beams

PRICING
Base price: $43,925, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $55,220

Options on test vehicle: Power moonroof $1,100; triple beam LED headlight with automatic dimming $1,250; navigation with Mark Levinson audio $2,750; intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection and panoramic view monitor $1,400; Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint $595; Dynamic Handling Package, $4,200

Where assembled: Kyushu, Japan

Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles basic with roadside assistance with free 1st and 2nd scheduled maintenance services and lodging for emergency breakdowns 100 miles from home; and 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain

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2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport Review

The updated Lexus LS 500 F Sport is almost worth its weight in carats, but in reality it is among the less-expensive choices

The 2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport exterior.

The Lexus LS 500 F Sport is largely about added performance features without added horsepower. Pricing starts at $80,625. (Photos courtesy of Lexus)

BY MARK MAYNARD

The Lexus LS 500 F Sport is the diamond-class among full-size luxury sedans. There is brilliance in its engineering that has been its benchmark since the first generation debuted as a 1990.

Since then, trendier diamond hues have debuted, but most of these are laboratory creations and they lack the credibility and value of a natural stone. While there are true colored diamonds, the best have exotic pricing.

The driver area in the LS F Sport.

I like the cabin architecture that provides unobstructed sightlines at the windshield-pillar corners and over the shoulder. (Lexus)

Lexus LS 500 F Sport Pricing

The updated Lexus LS 500 F Sport is almost worth its weight in carats, but in reality it is among the less-expensive choices in this high-end class.

Sold in rear- or all-wheel drive with one powertrain, there are three trim choices for the 2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport. Pricing starts at $77,025 for the entry LS. The rear-drive F-Sport, today’s tester, starts at $80,625 (add $3,250 for AWD) and the LS 500h Hybrid, the quickest LS model, at $91,525. All MSRPs include the $1,025 freight charge from Tahara, Japan.

An updated 2022 LS 500h Hybrid will go on sale this fall with a showcase of advanced technologies. All-wheel drive models will debut the new Lexus Teammate systems for Advanced Drive and Advanced Park. Pricing will be announced later.

The front seats in the F Sport.

With the optional panoramic roof, headroom is 36.8 inches, which is far more accommodating to tall drivers than would appear by the dimensions. (Lexus)

Lexus LS 500 F Sport Comparos

For pricing comparisons among the LS competitors, the entry Mercedes-Benz S-Class (with 3.0-liter biturbo V-6) starts at $95,245, including the $995 freight charge. Upgrading to the AMG-line of styling features and driver assistance systems will push the price to more than $107,000.

BMW’s 740i (with its biturbo incline six-cylinder) would cost more than $103,000 when equipped comparably to the F-Sport tester. But the BMW does include free scheduled maintenance for the duration of the warranty.

And there are option groups to further personalize or elevate, including the $12,710 Luxury package, the Executive at $17,630 or the Executive with handcrafted Kiriko glass trim elements, $23,630.

Find pricing offers here.

The F Sport steering wheel.

The heated, three-spoke F Sport wheel with red stitching. (Lexus)

 

 

F Sport Features

The Lexus LS 500 F Sport is largely about added performance features without added horsepower.

The package includes unique trim on the bumper, grille, lower door trims, and rear diffuser. 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels have a Dark Vapor Chrome finish. Inside there is a performance-themed instrument cluster with sliding gauge bezel, F Sport perforated leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, Ultrasuede headliner, 28-way adjustable sport seats, passenger seat power cushion adjuster and aluminum pedals.

Performance hardware upgrades include:
• 6-piston front brake calipers with 15.7-inch ventilated discs, 4-piston rear brake calipers with 14.1-inch ventilated discs;
• F Sport adaptive variable suspension;
• Dynamic Handling Package ($7,800 RWD only) adds variable gear ratio steering, active rear steering and active stabilizer bars.

The tire and wheel package for the LS 500 F Sport

Bridgestone Turanza runflat summer performance tires have staggered, 20-inch sizes.  (Lexus)

2021 LS Updates

Subtle updates for 2021 emphasize interior quietness and comfort with a smoother, more comfortable ride. There were technological refinements with the Lexus Driving Signature to set a new standard for vehicle development and refinement.

The F Sport's ultra-compact LED headlights.

Triple-projector ultra-compact LED headlamps with cornering lamps. (Lexus)

LS F Sport Suspension

The standard steel suspension has revised spring and damper rates for improved damping performance.  And the front and rear anti-roll bars were “optimized” to better control body roll in turns. Larger front and rear liquid-filled bushings help create an even plusher ride, Lexus says.

The vehicle engineers modified the Adaptive Variable Suspension ($1,400) for “suppleness” and handling while the ride-height-adjustable air suspension is quicker to respond.

F Sport Powertrain 

Revisions to the 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 include a lip shape on the piston top for quicker activation to curb emissions and quiet operation when the engine is cold.

The 416-horsepower, direct-injected engine has 442 foot-pounds of torque, starting from a 1,600 rpm and rising steady to 4,800 rpm.

The 416-horsepower, V-6 engine in the LS 500 F Sport

The 416-horsepower, direct-injected V-6 is capable of 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

The shift logic of the 10-speed automatic transmission was recalibrated to help keep the engine in a more responsive area of its power band.

The acceleration has V-8 thrust off the line and in Sport-plus mode is capable of 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

While most LS drivers will rein in the force and feel comfortable in Normal, Comfort or Sport drive modes, there is a direct horse-and-rider communication in Sport-plus that gives almost intuitive upshifts and downshifts.

And when using Sport-plus the main gauge bezel slides right for a red-themed performance mode.

Fuel economy ratings are 18 mpg city, 29 highway and 22 mpg combined, on the required premium fuel. In my week of more than 200 miles the best combined average I achieved was 17 mpg. But with the 21.7-gallon tank, even that mileage would allow more than 368 miles of cruising range.

Interior Upgrades

The LS cabin is a statement of impeccable Takumi craftsmanship, which is all about meticulous attention to detail and hospitality, Lexus says. Among the interior upgrades is a new Palomino Leather interior with new trim materials, including Black Laser Special and Open Pore Black.

The LS 500 infotainment touch screen.

The wide touch screen is simple to use, but there also are actual buttons to make adjustments for fan speed, temperature and vents.

On Executive models, the available Kiriko Glass ornamentation and hand-folded pleats on the door trim illustrate the Japanese craftsmanship of Kiriko glassware, and unique in a production vehicle. The hand-cut glass is polished to a soft glow.

Credit the cabin air-filter recirculation for a stink-free environment. While on a long highway descent, the semi-truck next to me was sending billows of brake smoke as the lanes of traffic slowed for road construction. Usually, it is difficult to filter out that type of acrid pollutant, but I felt quite smug among the lingering aroma of Lexus leather.

The Kiriki glass interior upgrade.

An example of handcrafted Kiriko glass in the top Executive package, $23,630.

The new 12.3-inch multimedia touch screen integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility with iPhone or Android interface. And the new Amazon Alexa allows users to control smart home devices such as lighting, thermostat and security systems — or sync to the navigation system for on-the-go recommendations.

The wide touch screen is simple to use, but there also are actual buttons to make finger-reach adjustments for fan speed, temperature, vents.

I like the cabin architecture that provides unobstructed sightlines at the corners of the windshield pillars and over the shoulder.

The digital rearview mirror, $200, features a larger high-resolution display for improved visibility of the area behind the vehicle. It can be handy when chauffeuring passengers and heads get in the way of rearward views. But because I wear glasses, my eyes struggle to focus quicky enough, so I just flip it to manual mode.

With the optional panoramic roof, headroom is 36.8 inches, which is far more accommodating to tall drivers than would appear by the dimensions. However, the lower roofline will make the cabin seem smaller than it is, however, compensates in width, with 58.8 inches of shoulder room.

Missing from the tech features was wireless charging. And I wished for space on the shift console to lay a phone, though there are USBs and secure space in the armrest console.

Back seat space has the limo stretch of legroom, 38.9 inches, but the tall center tunnel for AWD and exhaust, makes the LS a better four-seater. And a simple jacket or coat hook on the back seat B-pillar or overhead hand grip would be considerate.

Trunk space is wide and low with nearly 17 cubic feet of space, but the entry opening is a little short for loading big-box items.

Ride and Handling

The ride is quite smooth and free of harshness transferred from varying road surfaces. And the LS includes such soundproofing enhancements as active sound control and active noise cancellation.

The back seats in the F Sport.

 Back seat space has the limo stretch of legroom, 38.9 inches, but the tall center tunnel for AWD and exhaust, makes the LS a better four-seater.

The optional air suspension ($1,400) has a new rapid rise system that also gives rapid adjustment in cornering to transfer weight without unsettling responses, though there can be an occasional jolt that gets past the system.

I expect I was also enjoying the F Sport dynamic package ($7,800), which added variable gear-ratio steering, active rear steering and active stabilizer bars. The turning circle is trimmer than most midsize sedans at 36.8 feet.

Because this generation LS has a lower roofline for aerodynamics (benefitting corporate average fuel economy) the air suspension automatically raises the vehicle to make it easier to step into or get out when the doors are unlocked.

The 20-inch Bridgestone Turanza runflats on the tester were almost surprising in their supple ride quality when Bridgestones often can feel hard and somewhat noisy.

LS Safety Features

Lexus has long been a pioneer of safety technologies and the LS has such advanced features as the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. It is comprised of a pre-collision system with low-light pedestrian detection and daytime bicyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beam dimming, all-speed adaptive cruise control with road-sign assist and lane tracing assist.

The optional Lexus safety system, $3,000, allows Level 2 semi-autonomous driving, while keeping both hands on the wheel. The system integrates enhanced all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert and pedestrian alert.

The driver-assist system capably keeps the car centered in the lane, but like most systems it will randomly shut off. Sometimes the system gets confused by light colored road-surface conditions and highway lines that are broken up and uneven.

For those drivers who have daily commutes in heavy traffic, this safety-assist system could be a lifesaver. It is an extra six eyes on the road to watch for less-attentive drivers.

An exterior rear view of the Lexus LS.

The updated 2021 LS is almost worth its weight in carats, but it also is among the less-expensive choices in this high-end class. (Lexus)

Why Buy the Lexus LS 500 F Sport?

This big sedan is for the risk-averse buyer. It is a trusted nameplate with exemplary dealer treatment during the sale and then for service. The F Sport is the alter ego, with the grip-and-grin attitude of a charged grand tourer.

The LS raises the satisfaction level with the Lexus-Toyota business plan: Do it right the first time. And then make subtle updates for clarity and shine.

Here is my review of the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport.

SPECIFICATIONS

2021 Lexus LS 500 F Sport

Body style: large, 5-seat, 4-door RWD sedan

Engine: 416-hp, twin-turbo, with electrical and D-4ST direct injected. 3.5-liter V-6; 442 lb.-ft. from 1,600-4,800 rpm

Transmission: 10-speed direct-shift automatic with paddle shifters; w/ Drive Mode Select with Sport S+ and Custom modes

Fuel economy: 18/29/22 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel required

0-60 mph acceleration: 4.6 seconds

Coefficient of drag: 0.28; (*0.30 AWD)

BY THE NUMBERS

Fuel tank: 21.7 gal.

Trunk space: 16.9 cu. ft.

Front head/leg room: 36.8*/42 in. (37.3 in. w/o pane roof)

Rear head/leg room: 36.4*/38.9 in. (*37.4 in. (w/o pano roof)

Length/wheelbase: 206.1/123 in.

Curb weight: 4,740 lbs.* (4,696 lbs. with standard coil springs)

Turning circle: 36.8 ft.

FEATURES

Standard equipment includes: Smart key entry/locking with push-button ignition, rearview camera, power moonroof, quilted-stitch perforated semi-aniline leather interior trim, 16-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, 28-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with multifunction massage, power-adjustable front headrests, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, Ultrasuede headliner and sun visors, wood- and semi-aniline leather-trimmed center console, semi-aniline leather-trimmed door armrests, heated rear seats, power rear sunshade, navigation system with 12.3-inch touchscreen and 3 years of free Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation, Lexus 12-speaker premium audio system, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto with Alexa+Lexus compatibility, intuitive parking assist with auto-braking, active sound control and active noise cancellation, remote touch pad, triple-projector ultra-compact LED headlamps with cornering lamps, LED taillamps and turn signals, electrochromic (auto-dimming) inside and outside mirrors with puddle lamps, hands-free power open-close trunk, auto door closers, 19-inch alloy wheels

F Sport Package, includes: Unique exterior trim on the bumper, grille, lower door trims, rear diffuser; 20-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels with Dark Vapor Chrome finish;  6-piston front brake calipers with 15.7-inch ventilated discs and 4-piston rear brake calipers with 14.1-inch ventilated discs; adaptive variable suspension; performance-themed instrument with sliding bezel;; perforated leather interior (with heated steering wheel and shifter knob) with Ultrasuede headliner; 28-way adjustable sport seats; passenger seat power cushion adjuster; aluminum pedals and interior trim elements; Dynamic Handling Package (RWD only, includes F Sport Package features plus variable gear ratio steering, active rear steering, active stabilizer bars

Safety features, include: 10 air bags, Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 standard, includes Pre-Collision System with low-light pedestrian detection and daytime bicyclist detection; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist; Intelligent High Beam; all-speed adaptive cruise control; road sign assist, lane tracing assist

PRICING

Lexus LS 500 F Sport: $80,625, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $98,990
Options on test vehicle: Lexus safety system, $3,000, includes enhanced all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, pedestrian alert;
• Adaptive variable air suspension with rapid height function $1,400;
• Mark Levinson 23-speaker, 2,400-watt surround sound audio $1,940;
• Panorama glass roof $1,000;
• 24-inch head-up display $1,220;
• Panoramic view monitor $800;
• Rear bumper appliqué $95;
• Door-edge guards $155;
• Trunk mat package $305, includes key glove, cargo mat and wheel locks;
• F Sport Dynamic Handling Package, $7,800, includes variable gear ratio steering, active rear steering and active stabilizers

Where assembled: Tahara, Aichi, Japan
Warranty: 4-years/50,000 miles basic with roadside assistance, free 1st and 2nd scheduled maintenance services and lodging for emergency breakdowns 100 miles from home; 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain

MarkMaynard@cox.net

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