2021 Lexus IS is first of more performance-oriented Lexus to come

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There’s a sea change of performance occurring over at Lexus these days. At least, that’s what the Japanese luxury automaker claims. Lexus has made plenty of excellent performance cars in its past, but the brand has never been known for performance. Instead, Lexus has produced some of the most comfortable, reliable and serene automobiles to ever come out of Japan, and it’s found success in doing so. The brand has a clear identity, but it’s looking to massage that identity.

“Moving forward, the efforts of the CE (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,” Lexus said in a statement. “The ultimate goal is to deliver a new generation of Lexus vehicles that is more balanced, refined in control, and confident than ever before.”

A new “standard of performance and handling” has definitely raised our eyebrows, and we’re curious to know what that looks and feels like. Toyota has already shown clear signs of upping its performance gains with the GR brand and additional TRD models. It’s only the beginning, and it looks like Lexus is going to follow the parent brand into this performance space. The construction of a new testing facility in Japan was instrumental in this fight for more performance, according to Lexus. We wrote about the mini Nürburgring replica before. It’s called Shimoyama, and Lexus will be developing its vehicles at this facility for the foreseeable future.

“More than merely a new test facility, this asphalt track signals a change in Lexus’ product development course and speaks to the brand’s commitment to its human-centered nature,” Lexus says.

What does that entail for the cars? Lexus has an answer there, too: “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 at a test facility unlike any other.”

The new 2021 IS is meant to be the first of many vehicles that exemplify Lexus’ new performance philosophy. This “cultural shift” is meant to build on what Lexus has already done with F-branded cars, in addition to the wonderful LC.

“What we had foremost in mind in developing the new IS was to make it a car that excelled in communicating with the driver regardless of the road conditions or driving situation,” said chief engineer Naoki Kobayashi. “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.”

You can read all the details on the new IS here, but on the surface, it does appear that Lexus has taken steps to make the IS more engaging to drive. The lack of powertrain change is concerning, though. All the Germans in this segment have come to the table with more power and more advanced powertrain technology in general. We’ll reserve final judgment until we get some seat time, but the direction Lexus is pointed in now is an optimistic one for those who love driving.

“By establishing a uniform Lexus Driving Signature across the entire lineup, the hope is to continue propelling the brand’s evolution and reinforce its identity in the luxury space,” Lexus says. “The latest IS represents the first step down a path that has evolved into a uniquely Lexus tarmac testbed that will affect the trajectory of every Lexus product that comes next.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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