Lexus has unveiled its evolutionary new BMW 3 Series fighter, set to touch down in Australia late in 2020.
The 2021 IS doesn’t mess with the formula laid down by its seven-year-old predecessor too much. Unlike the larger ES sedan and smaller UX SUV, the new IS doesn’t ride on a new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) chassis.
Lexus says it has stiffened the body and widened the track by 45mm at the front and 50mm at the rear compared to the outgoing model, and there are new ‘swing-valve’ shock absorbers on hand to deliver a smoother ride over smaller imperfections.
Lexus promises the updated IS will continue in the “finest handling-led tradition” of its mid-sized predecessors, debuting the driving character it plans to pack into its next-generation cars.
It was developed at the new Toyota proving ground in Shimoyama, Japan, on a country road course designed to emulate the Nurburgring.
Along with its revised chassis, the new IS will debut an updated set of active safety features for Lexus. A new Lane Trace Assist system, designed to more smoothly follow lane markings, is backed by a Driver Emergency Stop Assist function capable of braking and pulling the car over if it believes the driver is incapacitated.
The updated Autonomous Emergency Braking system can now detect pedestrians or vehicles running parallel to the car when you’re turning into a side street, and a new Low Speed Acceleration Control is on board to prevent wrong pedal accidents.
The evolutionary nature of the new IS is most evident inside, where Lexus has barely changed the basic layout.
There’s a new 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mounted high on the dashboard, but the digital instrument binnacle, steering wheel, and basic centre console appear largely the same as before.
Externally, the F Sport car pictured in Lexus’s press shots has a more aggressive stance than the car it replaces. The headlights are more in keeping with those of the UX SUV, as are the new taillights, which are linked by an LED strip across the boot lid.
Three models will be offered in Australia at launch: an IS300, the IS300h, and the IS350.
The IS300 will be powered a revised 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, while the IS300h has been retuned to deliver sharper throttle response from its combination of a four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor.
The range-topping IS350 is powered by a naturally-aspirated petrol V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Lexus says the transmission has been retuned to deliver sharper response.
Although its recent growth has been driven by SUVs, the IS sedan remains the best-selling Lexus passenger car in Australia.
A total of 208 have been sold in Australia in 2020, putting it narrowly behind the Audi A4 and A5 Sportback in the sales race – and well behind the class-leading BMW 3 Series, which has found 1312 homes this year.