Eight months after our in-depth review of the 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport, I found myself at another frigid photo location on another bright winter day. For the second time this year, my lens was pointed at a Lexus IS in a metallic hue, but this one was a bit different. This IS350 F Sport is a rear-drive model, which means there are some key differences under the sedan’s shapely skin. Knowing that those changes could make a substantial difference, we wanted to experience this particular IS350 felt like behind the wheel.
Underneath the revised-yet-familiar bodywork, Lexus engineers reinforced the radiator side supports, added more weld points in the front-side members, and optimized the reinforcement structures from the C-pillars to the roof. The stiffer, revised chassis allowed engineers to make several suspension enhancements and reduce unsprung weight. The new front A-arms are lighter and feature new pickup points. The IS’s coil springs and stabilizer bar are also lighter. Going further, Lexus fitted lighter wheel hub bolts that allow a more rigid connection from the hub to the wheel. These changes can be found across the IS lineup, but this particular IS350 F Sport takes things one step further.
Rear-drive IS350 F Sport sedans, in additional to using an eight-speed automatic transmission in place of the all-wheel-drive’s six-speed, also get an optional F Sport Dynamic Handling Package for 2021. This $4,200 package fitted to our tester adds Adaptive Variable Suspension, a Torsen limited-slip rear differential and lighter 19-inch matte black forged-alloy BBS wheels. Additional ornamentation includes unique Ash interior trim and a carbon fiber rear spoiler. Opting for the DHP, as Lexus calls it, adds Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom drive modes. In Sport S+the engine and transmission mapping are changed along with the electronic power steering assist and Adaptive Variable Suspension damping force. The result is a livelier drivetrain and more feedback through the chassis and steering. Custom was my mode of choice, however, specifically the Sport S+ powertrain with Normal chassis settings.
One additional inclusion to the Dynamic Handling Package was a detriment to our winter test; high performance summer tires. The Lexus IS350 F Sport arrived wearing Bridgestone Potenza S001L run-flat tires. It takes a good 10 minutes of careful driving each December morning to get the frigid compound up to temp before you can use more than a few of the 311 hp and 280 lb-ft torque from the 3.5L V6. We did have one rainy afternoon in the upper 50s where the tires came into their own. From the driver’s seat, the net effect of the IS350’s heavy revisions and Dynamic Handling Package are subtle yet apparent. Improved steering response and feedback and less body roll let the capable IS350 shine on back roads. What was a competent chassis in 2014 is still excellent thanks to some additional tinkering by the Lexus engineers. What hasn’t aged quite so gracefully is the engine and transmission combination. What felt quick and responsive 8 years ago now feels meager in the mid-range. The transmission’s eco-minded tuning in Normal doesn’t let the naturally aspirated V6 sing or climb its long torque curve either. The first step every IS350 F Sport driver should perform once safely buckled up is to check the lower left hand dash panel and dial the Active Sound Control button down to 0. ASC is an optional fake engine noise generator that does the IS350 a disservice.
The 2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport with Dynamic Handling Package is a sporty and visually appealing yet aging sedan. The luxurious cabin still benefits from some of the best seats in the industry and the addition of a 10.3″ touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility does reduce the number of times I reached for the awful touchpad. But the V6’s lack of low and mid-range torque just can’t compete with the rest of the competition’s turbocharged engines. It’s as if Lexus knew this was the case, leading to the IS500 debut. We can’t wait to get behind the wheel of this platform with a 5.0L V8 under the hood. With more torque and an even more sonorous engine, this Lexus IS might feel young again.
|2021 Lexus IS350 F Sport||$42,900|
|F Sport Dynamic Handling Package||$4,200|
|Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package||$2,750|
|Intuitive Parking Assist w/ Auto Braking, Rear Pedestrian Detection, and Panoramic View Monitor||$1,400|
|Premium Triple-Beam LED Headlamps||$1,250|
|Power Tilt-and-Slide Moonroof||$1,100|
Check out more of our Lexus IS coverage through the years: