The 2016 Lexus IS sedan comes in three distinct models -- the all-new IS 200t and IS 300, as well as the carryover IS 350. The IS 200t is available only with rear-wheel drive, while the IS 300 AWD comes only with all-wheel drive. The IS 350, meanwhile, can be ordered with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Exciting new powertrain options are packed into the new models. The IS 200t is powered by a 2.0L twin-scroll turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder that produces 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a Sport Direct-Shift 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The IS 300 AWD features a 3.5L V6 making 255 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. It is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters. Finally, the IS 350 benefits from a more potent 3.5L V6 that delivers 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It is puts power to the rear wheels through a Sport Direct-Shift 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Both transmissions feature Sport, Normal and Eco modes, and will match engine revolutions during downshifts when set in Sport mode.
All engines feature variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to help boost economy and efficiency. As a result, the IS 200t offers 33 mpg on the highway, while the IS 300 AWD returns an estimated 26 mpg on the highway, and the IS 350 is rated at 28 mpg.
Suspension across the lineup is fully independent, courtesy of double wishbones up front and a multilink setup in the rear. The IS 200t and IS 300 AWD ride on 17-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, while the IS 350 RWD sits on 18-inch alloys.
All IS sedans come nicely equipped with standard features like HID headlights, LED daytime lights, dual-zone climate control, a next-generation Remote Touch Interface and 4.2-inch color display, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power moonroof, HomeLink universal transceiver, a 60/40 split-fold rear seat, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and satellite radio. Additionally, each IS benefits from a suite of 10 airbags.
All IS sedans can also be given the F Sport treatment, which improves handling with unique 18-inch wheels, high-friction brakes and aggressive suspension tuning. Exterior and interior design elements are also upgraded, including special instrumentation and F Sport heated front seats. On IS 300 AWD and IS 350 F Sport models, the intake sound is more aggressive, which creates a more sporting engine note.
Other optional equipment on the IS lineup includes a navigation system, a backup monitor, power rear sunshade and intuitive park assist, which aids in parallel parking the IS. The Premium Package includes heated front seats, twin projector LED headlights, and a backup camera. The Premium Plus Package includes power tilt and telescopic steering and rain-sensing intermittent wipers, while the Luxury Package boasts a blind spot monitor, special leather and wood trim, headlamp washers, a heated steering wheel, parking assist and more.
Despite the company's focus on crossovers and SUVs, Lexus does still make sport sedans. Bypass the brand's family-haulers and you'll find the compact IS, a sweetly styled four-door that's been heavily refreshed for 2021.
I say "heavily refreshed" because, while the IS' underpinnings and engine options are mostly the same as before, the sheetmetal gets a fantastic makeover. In short, the IS looks awesome. The Grecian Water blue of my IS 300 tester is gorgeous, and the redesigned spindle grille neatly tucks between the new headlights. I never thought I'd end up liking Lexus' huge grille, but it really works on the IS. There's a nice little kick toward the rear when you view the car in profile, which emphasizes the wider hips. The fact that the LED running lights span the width of the trunk help with that wide stance, too.
The IS' platform might be the same, but Lexus' engineers made a number of tweaks to the suspension components and increased body rigidity for better overall handling. It works, too -- the steering quickly responds to my inputs and is nice and heavy. This car feels nimble in a way that past IS models haven't.
The Good ~ Responsive chassis ~ Extremely quiet cabin ~ Racy looks
The Bad ~ Infotainment remains lackluster ~ No interior storage ~ Aging transmission stymies performance
The Bottom Line The 2021 Lexus IS 300 is still one step behind its competitors.
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