2021 Lexus IS debuts with new looks, same platform

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Lexus has unveiled its revised challenger to the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Genesis G70, the 2021 IS.

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Above: IS 350 F Sport

Visually, the latest IS adopts a far more muscular appearance than its predecessor. In F Sport trim (pictured in silver), design highlights include a wide, black spindle grille up front, sculpted rear haunches and full-width LED tail-lights.

However, while its looks may be new, the 2021 IS hasn’t moved to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that underpins Lexus’ newer ES and LS sedans, and UX SUV. Instead, it rides the same ‘N’ platform as its predecessor, with increased front and rear track widths of 45mm and 50mm respectively.

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Developed at Toyota’s new, Nurburgring-inspired test facility in Shimoyama, Japan, the IS promises to provide a more engaging drive than the outgoing model. Tweaks made by Lexus to fulfil its claim include new swing-valve shock absorbers, forged aluminium A-arms, more front-side-member weld points, 20 per cent lighter coil springs, more responsive steering, and lighter wheel hub bolts that save 0.9kg of unsprung weight per corner.

Optional on F Sport models is the Dynamic Handling Package, which adds adaptive dampers, a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, carbon-fibre mirror caps and rear lip spoiler, and 19-inch forged, matte-black BBS wheels that save 1.8kg per corner.

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Above: IS 300 Luxury

The engine lineup carries over virtually unchanged from the outgoing model. Opening the range is the IS 300, powered by a 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

The sole hybrid option is the IS 300h, which mates a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine with an electric motor and CVT gearbox to send to 164kW to the rear wheels.

Sitting atop the local range is the IS 350. Under the bonnet is a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 developing 232kW of power and 380Nm of torque, forwarded again to the rear treads through an eight-speed auto.

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US buyers will also have the option of all-wheel-drive variants of the IS 300 and IS 350, both motivated by versions of the 3.5-litre V6 in different states of tune (194kW and 232kW respectively) through six-speed automatics.

Prior to reveal, a flagship IS 500 was rumoured to join the range, powered by either a detuned version of the LS 500 limousine’s 310kW/600Nm 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 or the performance-oriented RC F‘s 351kW/540Nm 5.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8.

Few updates have taken place inside the interior. The steering wheel, digital instrument cluster and centre console design have seen little to no changes, though a new 10.3-inch, tablet-style infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now features high up on the dashboard.

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The suite of available safety technologies has seen an upgrade, with new features including lane centering assist, Driver Emergency Stop Assist (capable of stopping the car if the driver becomes unconscious), autonomous emergency braking with intersection support, Low Speed Acceleration control (preventing accelerator/brake pedal mix-ups) and evasive steering assist.

The heavily-refreshed 2021 Lexus IS will land in Australia by the end of 2020. Industry speculation suggests this updated model will serve as a stop-gap model for the next few years, until a true next-generation IS arrives in 2022-23 with Mazda rear-drive underpinnings and SkyActiv-X inline-six engines.

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