Japanese luxury brand Lexus this morning unveiled the new 2021 IS four-door sedan. A development of the current third-generation IS, the heavily refreshed sports sedan will keep this brand’s smallest saloon relevant while the marque readies an all-new version in the coming years.
The heavy update to the IS comes at a time when SUVs are continuing to consume market share that previously belonged to sportier, lower passenger cars – but Lexus Australia say they’re committed to this traditional segment.
“The IS…joins the successful ES to reinforce the Lexus commitment to the passenger vehicle segment, providing customers with the luxury of choice,” said Lexus Australia chief executive Scott Thompson. The IS is the brand’s best-selling passenger car in our market.
The 2021 Lexus IS, which Chasing Cars expects to be released in Australia before the end of 2020, sports a bold new visage that represents a significant departure from the outgoing vehicle. The front end tones down the brand’s ‘spindle grille’ concept to some degree, while a full-width LED strip accentuates the new car’s tail.
Chief designer Kenichi Hirai shared that his intention was to evoke the “proportions of a four-door coupe that has a low centre of gravity [and] an explicit form.”
The changes to the exterior design are so significant that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an all-new car – but taking a step inside confirms that the 2021 IS represents the most significant facelift yet for the current IS, which was released in 2013. Several elements from the existing car carry over, including the steering wheel and basic hard points.
That said, new cabin elements bring the IS up to speed with key rivals, including the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. These include the new 10.3-inch screen, which reintroduces touch capacity to the IS in a substantial leap forward for usability, while the IS picks up wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time.
New colours and trims also help to lift the cabin of the 2021 IS. Lexus says ‘chromatic colours’ will be available to add a contrast to the upper instrument panel, in either ochre tan, or red as an exclusive for the F Sport grade. The secondary trims can be specified in open-pore black ash wood as well as a variety of metallic accents on sportier grades. The full-side air vents now wear a rotary, aviator-style design.
Under the skin, the 2021 IS retains the existing New N platform of the current vehicle – with considerable enhancements in the form of increased body rigidity. Lexus says the number of weld points on the front-side-member have grown in number, while several parts of the body structure, including the rear quarter pillars and the roof sides, have been ‘optimised’.
Handling, which was a strong suit of the outgoing shape, should be enhanced further given the 2021 IS makes use of a significantly wider track. When running on available 18-inch wheels, this rear-drive sedan’s track is now 45 millimetres wider in the front, and 50 millimetres wider in the rear.
Lexus have confirmed that the three petrol engines utilised in the current-generation IS will carry over. These units are badged as the IS 300 – a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that currently produces 180kW/350Nm (reviewed here); the IS 300h hybrid, which pairs a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder with an electric motor and battery to produce a combined 164kW; and the 3.5-litre V6 IS 350, which 232kW/380Nm. We expect these numbers, as well as fuel consumption figures, to be improved when specifications are confirmed later in 2020.
A number of safety technologies are added into the 2021 IS with this update, including a lane tracing function for the lane keep assist feature, along with emergency steering and stop assistance, enhanced intersection functionality in the pre-collision safety system, and throttle misapplication detection.
Speculation was rampant in recent weeks about whether Lexus would reveal a heavily updated iteration of the current car or an all-new vehicle based on a new-generation Toyota platform. Today’s news confirms that the 2021 Lexus IS, which adopts a stiffer, more sophisticated version of the current vehicle’s New N platform, represents a deep refresh rather than all-new metal.
The move solidifies rumours that Lexus and Toyota are collaborating with fellow Japanese manufacturer Mazda on the development of a new rear-wheel-drive platform that will support inline six-cylinder engines as well as varying degrees of electrification. That platform, which Chasing Cars understands will underpin new-generation Mazda CX-9 and Mazda 6 products, will be prime candidate to serve as the underpinnings for the next Lexus IS, expected for release in 2022 or 2023.
Further details on local specification for the 2021 Lexus IS is expected in the coming months.
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