By Steve & Tamami Laser; with Nahoko Osuka reporting from Japan
Twenty years ago, Lexus invited us to Austin, Texas, for a press preview of the all-new 2001 IS 300. After driving the new model around Hill Country, we wrote our review and said, “During the past decade, Lexus has managed to brilliantly deliver on the promises of luxury, sophistication and technology while rewriting the book on customer satisfaction. Yet there exists a place – or a state of mind – that the automaker has yet to reach. Lexus hasn’t set the hearts of younger buyers racing with desire – until now. The IS 300 sport sedan is here, and the face of Lexus has changed forever.”
Aiming at the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Lexus endowed the IS 300 (above) with an inline 6-cylinder DOHC engine, rated at 215 horsepower and 218 lb.-ft. of torque, driving the rear wheels. The powerplant was shared with the GS 300 sedan and SC 300 coupe of the era. Suggested MSRPs started at $30,000, which made the IS 300 a bargain.
As the years flew by, new generations of the IS series were introduced, never losing sight of the mission of the original. Today, with more than 1 million units sold globally, Lexus presented the 2021 IS series during an online reveal.
The revamped IS remains an important model for Lexus, with sales planed for 40 countries across the globe. Lexus says U.S. models are expected to go on sale in the late fall of this year. The new IS becomes the first to debut the “Lexus Driving Signature,” designed to become the development standard for all of its future models. It’s defined by linear vehicle operation, faithful to a driver’s intentions, providing seamless transition from braking, to steering, and acceleration through a corner.
The new IS was developed in harsh environments, including the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama, located in a mountainous area between the cities of Toyota and Okazaki in Japan. The first section of a test track that opened last year features a 5.3-km country road course. Based on experience testing vehicles at Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife, famed for its grueling driving conditions, Toyota designed a test course to take advantage of local topography, featuring a roughly 75-meter change in elevation along with a range of curves and corners. By 2023, additional sections of the track are planned to open, including a high-speed course.
“What we had foremost in mind in developing the new IS was to make it a car that excelled in communicating with the driver and, as a car with wide latitude for providing such, would never fail in doing so, regardless of the road conditions or driving status,” said Naoki Kobayashi (above), Lexus International Chief Engineer. “Toward achieving this, we retained the compact body that had been well received, and, with our team united, we endeavored to bring such to maturity by developing the new IS on a new test course.”
In this video from the Lexus YouTube channel, Chief Engineer Kobayashi explains how the new IS creates a greater bond between the driver and the vehicle. (video: Lexus)
“We aimed to make the new IS a Lexus compact sports sedan that provides high-quality riding comfort while offering a high level of vehicle control,” Kobayashi said. “We wanted it to be a car that enables people to make new discoveries, such as the discovery that the longer the new IS is driven, the more one can experience the fun of driving. And we wanted it to be a car that enables people to feel the aspirations of those who created it.”
Going forward, Lexus says that the efforts of the chief engineer will be focused on elevating the vehicles to a new standard of performance and handling as developed by Lexus International President, Koji Sato, and Chief Branding Officer, Akio Toyoda. The ultimate goal is to deliver a new generation of vehicles that is more balanced, refined in control, and confident than before. Linear steering, brake responses, and optimized handling with exceptional ride quality is the result of heightened focus on tuning of the chassis and its interactions with the control surfaces through diligent evaluation.
Among the changes, the new IS gains enhanced body rigidity to help reduce noise and vibration, improve ride comfort and driving performance. Details include reinforcing radiator side supports, increasing the number of front side-member weld points, and optimizing structures from the C-pillars to the roof.
New 19-inch wheels are offered on F Sport models with hub bolts employed as fasteners. This results in increased fastening strength, reduced mass, with improved handling and braking.
The refined suspension helps to reduce unsprung weight with lighter springs, new forged alloy A-arms, and a new stabilizer bar. Newly designed swing-valve shocks with ultra-low velocity valves in their pistons manage oil flow for excellent response on different road surfaces.
A Dynamic Handling Package, available on F Sport models, adds an Adaptive Variable Suspension system, matte black 19-inch BBS wheels, unique carbon-fiber rear spoiler and outside mirror caps, a center console knee pad, plus a Lexus Card Key. On rear-drive F Sports, the package includes a Torsen® limited-slip differential for improved stability and handling when cornering.
Three powertrain options are on tap for U.S. models. The rear-drive IS 300 is motivated by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. The IS 300 AWD features a 3.5-liter V6 with 260 hp and 236 lb.-ft. While the IS 350, with rear or AWD, has a V6 with 311 hp and 280 lb.-ft.
In the styling department, the IS delivers a more aggressive stance with lower and wider proportions along with larger fenders to house the available 19-inch wheels. Up front is a new spindle grille with a three-dimensional polyhedral structure, while F Sport models have a mesh-pattern grille and unique bumper. Compact headlights with available triple-beam LEDs include L-shaped daytime running lights.
The sporty look continues at the side with muscular shoulders, and new rocker panels that kick up at the rear. Lexus employs a stamping technology, called press-in-mold construction, that allows uniquely shaped panels, like the three-dimensional form of the rear deck. The new L-shaped blade-style rear lightbar is likely to attract attention on the road.
Inside, the IS features power driver and front passenger seats trimmed with NuLuxe®, dual-zone auto climate control, and an optional power moonroof. F Sport models offer a new Circuit Red interior color, while the door panels gain a graphic pattern with embossed intersecting lines that’s described as a new style of Lexus decorative expression and Takumi craftsmanship.
Multimedia system include a standard 8.0-inch display, and an available 10.3-inch version with navigation. Both are positioned closer to the driver and include touchscreen convenience. Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ compatibility is included and so is Amazon Alexa integration. The optional Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound system is enhanced, going from 15 speakers with 835 watts of power to a new 17-speaker system with an amazing 1,800 watts.
The expanded Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 offers a wide array of driver assist systems for the new model year. The list includes Pre-Collision System with Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Pedestrian and Bicyclist Detection, Emergency Steering Assist, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, Lane Tracing Assist, Intelligent High Beams, Road Sign Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Note: Prototype vehicles shown. Features, specifications, and launch timing for future U.S. market models is subject to change without notice.
News source, photos and video courtesy of the Lexus Division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., Lexus International, and Toyota Motor Corp.
Story (text commentary) © 2020 CarNichiWa.com