Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The 2021 Lexus IS350.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Most of the legends swirling around samurai swords are largely untrue. They aren’t really any stronger or sharper than a regular sword. If you drop a silk scarf on the edge of the blade, it will not simply split into two. Yes, the blade is often folded during the forging process, but the process is largely ceremonial at this point. However, it is true that feudal Japanese swordsmiths once folded and beat their blades again and again, chasing perfection. The tamahagane steel required considerable working to remove impurities and create a katana free of weak points. Lexus has attempted to do the same thing with the refreshed IS350 sport sedan.

Exterior styling elements have been polished, but much of the underpinnings of the IS remain the same. The unibody has been strengthened with additional welds, and weight has dropped slightly, thanks to components such as aluminum control arms. However, the V6 engine and the six-speed automatic transmission are both carryovers.

The reason is simple economics. In Canada this year, Lexus sold five times as many NX crossovers as it did IS sedans. The situation is much the same globally, so investing in an all-new platform for the IS was clearly not in the cards.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet this fine-tuning approach combines with a very high level of build quality to help the IS still feel competitive in its class. The chassis is sharpened by its changes, and a new wider track and wider tires means there’s a little more grip on offer. The improvements are incremental, but they add up.

What could use a bit more finesse is the steering feel and the transmission. Rear-wheel-drive models get an eight-speed automatic, but the IS range is almost entirely all-wheel drive in Canada. The six-speed could stand to shift a little more snappily, and a bit more feedback from the steering wheel would add confidence and fun. The 3.5-litre V6 produces 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque and is as smooth as silk on steel. It does not, however, provide the kind of robust low-end torque that turbocharged or electrified rivals offer. Winding this engine out on the open road is enjoyable, but it could use a bit more initial grunt for responsiveness.

The F-Sport line of visual upgrades includes available 19-inch wheels.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Happily, the improvements to the technology of the IS are more of a leap than the mechanical bits. Lexus has been sorting out its somewhat frustrating controls for some time now, and the IS gets a new 10.3-inch touch screen that’s closer to the driver. There’s still a touchpad located just by the shifter, and between the two, navigating though the infotainment system is much easier than in earlier models. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard.

The reworked controls make the interior of the IS much more livable day-to-day, although it is still smaller inside than most of its rivals. Further, some drivers will find the seats a little narrow. If you fit comfortably, the overall fit and finish here is excellent.

Add in comfortable ride quality and a relatively quiet cabin, and the reworked IS is just improved enough to be compelling in its segment. Lexus hasn’t created a new sports sedan here, but it has sharpened things up considerably. It’s sufficient, for now, but the IS will soon need reforging to give it more of an edge.

Tech specs

The IS350 is powered by a 3.5-litre V6.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price: $42,950
  • Price as tested: $58,650
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6
  • Transmission/drive: six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kms; city/hwy): 12.2 / 9.0
  • Alternatives: BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class, Tesla Model3


The sharp-looking IS350 is distinctly Japanese in design.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Somewhat controversial when it first came out, the angularity of the IS350′s design has aged well. This new version integrates the front headlights in a more cohesive look and gets accented rear bodywork. Overall, it looks great, especially with the optional 19-inch wheels, and is distinctly Japanese in design.

Story continues below advertisement


The IS350's interior has a high level of fit and finish.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

A real advantage for the IS is in the quality feel of its interior. The seats especially are well crafted, but everything from the air vents to the various knobs and buttons are well executed. Again, the cabin is a bit smaller than rivals, but assuming you fit, it’s very comfortable.


Winding out the IS350's smooth V6 on the open road feels great, though it lacks some of the low-end torque of its rivals.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Even if the IS isn’t quite the pinnacle of sedan performance, Lexus is pushing its F-Sport line of visual upgrades across most of the range. Sport-look features such as 19-inch wheels and a rear spoiler will be available as upgrades on most AWD-equipped models.


One oft-overlooked feature is the quality of a vehicle’s stereo. In the case of the Lexus, the pinnacle of audio quality can be found with the 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, which is only available in the IS range as an option on the IS300 AWD. The regular stereo in the IS is very good, but having sampled the Levinson option in other Lexus products, any audiophile should strongly consider the upgrade.


The IS350 has just under 306 litres of trunk space, which is a little lower than most of the vehicles in its class.

The verdict

Sharp-looking and finely crafted, but needs more of an edge against sport-sedan rivals.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

Story continues below advertisement

Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies