Review update: 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport stands out from the turbocharged crowd

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That seems to be the mantra Lexus took with the latest IS sport sedan.

The Japanese automaker addressed some of what was broken, but left the bits of goodness that made the IS stand out from the competition. It even doubled down on some of those characteristics like the stiff platform and simple powertrain.

The 2021 Lexus IS is refreshed but not new, and that’s just fine. It didn’t need to be. It needed some of its more confounding issues addressed. Lexus addressed some but not all of those issues.

I spent a week with the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport hauling the kids around town, tearing around clover leafs, and putting the small sport sedan to the Dad life test to see where it hits and misses.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Hit: No snails

In an era when everything seems to be turbocharged this or mild hybrid that my IS 350 F Sport tester’s naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 was a breath of fresh air. With 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, there’s something special about the way a naturally aspirated engine revs. The drama and power build as the revs climb and the IS launchs from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The soundtrack is a nasally snarl that rises in pitch with the revs. It’s the only naturally aspirated V-6 in the class and it reminds me why I liked them. Enjoy it now because this is the end.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Hit: Good bones made better

This generation of the IS, which debuted in 2014, has always had a stiff structure and a well sorted suspension. It’s only better with the 2021 enhancements, which include reinforced radiator side supports, more weld points on the front frame rails, and new reinforcement points where the C-pillars meet the roof. The result of these small, yet key, changes is a stiff platform that exhibits very little twist even when pulling in or out of a rising driveway. My F Sport tester’s $3,800 Dynamic Handling package added adaptive dampers that made the ride firm and controlled but never jarring over broken Midwest pavement despite the low-profile 235/40 front and 265/35 rear Bridgestone Turanza all-season tires on 19-inch BBS wheels. The latest IS F Sport doesn’t ride like your Father’s Lexus, and that’s not a bad thing.

Miss: Mediocre infotainment system

Lexus has had one of the market’s worst infotainment systems for years due to a wonky touchpad controller and the lack of touchscreen. Part of that issue has been solved. The center console touchpad and menu button remain, but the new 10.3-inch infotainment screen, part of my tester’s $2,750 Navigation and Mark Levinson Audio package, is now a touchscreen. The new screen makes the system usable, but it wasn’t designed for a touchscreen. Drivers still have to rely on the menu button next to the touchpad to switch system functions in this mediocre interface. The touchscreen is a Band-Aid on the issue that only gets us halfway there.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Hit: Good steering

In an era of fake heft and little feedback the IS’s steering surprises with great weight, direct responses, and some indication as to what’s going on at the tires. Unlike some other vehicles (looking at you, Kia), the drive modes don’t change the steering weight.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Miss: Packaging hasn’t changed

Given the IS isn’t new it’s not a huge surprise the packaging didn’t change. It still has a large hump in the floor just ahead of the driver seat. This is where the half shafts connect to the differential for the all-wheel-drive system. It’s annoying and weird, and it’s been there since 2014 even though it should have never existed.

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2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Hit: Proper sized sports sedan

The BMW 3-Series is now about the size of an old 5-Series, but the IS remains a proper small sport sedan. It’s sized more in line with the Genesis G70 and Alfa Romeo Giulia than it is with the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. The smaller size is welcome for those who miss the days of the E46 3-Series from the early 2000s and doesn’t need to have a 6-footer sit behind a 6-footer. My kids fit just fine in the rear seat in their car seats, and at 5’10”, I could sit behind myself comfortably.

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Miss: Not everything needs to be touch based

Lexus had the opportunity to change the touch-sensitive temperature control sliders but didn’t. They aren’t easy to use while driving. Even my passengers were frustrated with them. These also date back to 2014, which gave Lexus plenty of time to realize they don’t work well.

The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport stands out in a sea of turbocharged sport sedans with truly compact dimensions, proven reliability, and a wonderful naturally aspirated V-6. For some, those strengths are enough to offset its mediocre infotainment system and controls.

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2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
Base price: $40,025
Price as tested: $58,040
EPA fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg
The hits: Naturally aspirated V-6, stiff chassis, proper size, nicely weighted steering
The misses: Mediocre infotainment system, touch-based climate controls, compromised packaging

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