The Lexus IS range has been on sale in Australia since the late 1990s and has been a consistent seller for the Japanese premium brand throughout that time.

Originally a conventional mid-sized sedan, since the release of the current (3rd generation) in 2013, it has gradually evolved into a sports sedan with sleek coupe-like lines.

With the launch of the MY2021 IS in September 2020 that trend has continued with a major makeover that included a lower and wider body, new bolder grille, larger wheels and a technology update.

Five variants are offered: IS 300 Luxury and F Sport; IS 300h Luxury and F Sport and IS 350 F Sport.

Compared with the previous IS its body is 30 mm wider thanks to bolder wheelarch flares while the front and rear tracks are 45mm and 50mm wider respectively.

The bonnet is more sharply raked towards its leading edge and the slimmer headlamps are positioned 43 mm lower. The new rear roofline is 15mm lower and the boot-line is 31mm lower.

These changes combine to give the MY21 LS a much squatter and more muscular appearance than before.

The front grille finishes vary within the range with the IS F Sport standing out with its interwoven mesh pattern. Among other enhancements the F Sport also gets enhanced LED headlights, Sport bodykit and spoiler, piano-black rear lip spoiler and diffuser and unique dual-exhaust tips.

IS 300 Luxury models now get 18-inch alloys as standard, up on the previous 17-inch alloy wheels while the F Sport has exclusive 19-inch wheels.

Three drivelines are offered. The IS 300 Luxury and IS 300 F Sport are powered by a 180kW / 350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is now Euro 6 emissions compliant.

The petrol/electric hybrid IS300h Luxury and F Sport combine a 164kW / 221Nm 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and 300Nm electric motor.

The range topping IS 350 F Sport provides extra performance through the well-established Lexus 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol engine with 232kW and 380Nm.

The petrol variants come with an eight-speed automatic transmission; the hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission.

Fuel consumption ranges from 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres from the hybrid IS 300h, through 8.2 L/100 km for the petrol-only IS300 to 9.5 L/100 for the V6 IS 350.

Using the ‘if it ain’t brokeā€¦’ philosophy the overall interior of the new IS looks much the same as it has since the gen three arrived in 2013. Obviously, the technology within the front console has expanded significantly with each upgrade.

All the controls are of a good size and well positioned for easy access.

The front seats are heated with 8-way power adjustment and there is dual-zone climate control.

Rear seat space is marginal and will prove a little cramped for anyone over average height both in terms of leg and headroom. While it is nominally a five-seater the centre rear passenger won’t enjoy having their legs being straddled over the transmission tunnel.

Storage space in the front is limited with only the two drink holders available for small items such as keys. The spare space at the bottom of the front console which is available in most other vehicles, for keeping things like wallets and phones, is closed off in the IS leaving the centre console storage box as the only real alternative. Not such a bad thing actually when you think about it.

Boot space is 480 litres in the petrol models and 450 litres in the hybrid. Space-saver spare wheels are used in all models.

One of the biggest improvements in the MY2021 IS is some additional safety features including intersection turning assist; emergency steering assist; and — a first for Lexus in Australia – the Lexus Connected Services system which provides automated collision notification, SOS call and stolen vehicle tracking.

These come on top of an already excellent safety suite with 10 airbags; automatic emergency braking; active cruise control; lane departure warning and lane keeping assist; a pre-collision system featuring pedestrian and cyclist detection; revering camera; road sign assist; blind-spot monitor; parking support brake; rear cross-traffic alert and braking; automatic high-beam headlights; and IsoFix child seat anchor points.

We’re beginning to sound like a broken record with our criticism of the annoying and potentially dangerous trackpad controller for the 10.3-inch infotainment screen. While it’s still there in the centre of the central console the screen is now of the touch variety and has now been moved 15cm forward for easier access.

There’s a 10-speaker audio, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates and voice control.

Additional options are available in all IS variants through two Enhancement Packs which add between $2000 and $5500 depending on the model.

Our test car was the entry level IS 300 Luxury. The lower profile does make entry a little awkward for the less supple and we found ourselves having to set the driver’s seat to the lowest level to provide comfortable headroom.

One of the first, and best, improvements that we noticed was that the previous foot-activated parking brake has now been replaced by a push-button electric brake.

The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine is quiet and refined. Without being a sensation off the mark, it used its 350 Nm of torque put down through the rear wheels to good advantage from a low 1650 rpm, and cruising effortlessly and quietly from just 1650 revs.

It’s capable enough around town and on the motorway but anyone looking for real sporty performance will need to step up to the V6 IS 350.

The wider track and suspensions tweaks provide excellent handling balance and it’s more than happy to change direction part way through corners.

The adaptable suspension lets you chose the amount of comfort you want and was really appreciated when we encountered harsh surfaces. Steering is reasonably direct.

We averaged just under 10 litres per 100 km during our test.

While it struggles to compete with its German rivals in sales numbers the Lexus IS range offers a good looking, comfortable, well-equipped and affordable alternative.

IS 300 Luxury 2.0-litre turbo-petrol: $61,500
IS 300 Luxury 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with Enhancement Pack 1: $63,500
IS 300 Luxury 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with Enhancement Pack 2: $67,000
IS 300 F Sport: 70,000
IS 300 F Sport with Enhancement Pack 1: $73,000
IS 300h Luxury: $64,500
IS 300h Luxury with Enhancement Pack 1: 66,500
IS 300h Luxury with Enhancement Pack 2: $70,000
IS 300h F Sport: $73,000
IS 300h F Sport with Enhancement Pack: $76,100
IS 350 F Sport 3.5-litre V6: $75,000
IS 350 F Sport 3.5-litre V6 with Enhancement Pack: $78,100
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Lexus dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Lexus IS 300 Luxury 2.0-litre turbo-petrol five-door hatch)

Capacity: 1.998 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 180 kW @ 5800 rpm
Maximum Torque: 350 Nm @ 1605 rpm
Fuel Type: Premium unleaded
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 8.2 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 191 g/km

DRIVELINE: Eight-speed automatic

Length: 4710 mm
Wheelbase: 2800 mm
Width: 1840 mm
Height: 1435 mm
Turning Circle: 10.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 1660 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 66 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc

Four years / 100,000 kilometres

About Alistair Kennedy

Alistair Kennedy is Automotive News Service and Marque Publishing's business manager and the company's jack-of-all-trades. An accountant by profession, he designs the Marque range of motoring book titles, operates the company's motoring bookshop on the NSW Central Coast and the associated web site, as well as its huge digital and hard copy database. Whenever we can escape from the office he does so to cover new vehicle releases and contributes news stories. Alistair's other interests include cricket and family history on which he has written three books.
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