2020 Lexus IS: Nice car, needs update soon

2020 Lexus IS: Nice car, needs update soon
Even though the Lexus IS was last redesigned back in 2014, it still looks contemporary with the rest of the Lexus lineup. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The Lexus IS enters the 2020 model year virtually unchanged, which has plusses and minuses. Some of the technology I don’t like (#trackpad) hasn’t filtered in yet, but some necessary items (IMHO) like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are absent.

I like how it looks and drives, but the technology is what will make anyone who’s looking at this vehicle love it or hate it. 

The Hits

I’ve always liked the small size of the Lexus IS, and even though it was last completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, this littlest sedan for Lexus still looks like it belongs in the Lexus lineup with its pinched-nose grille and hard lines.

The interior is more classic than edgy, so it too seems more modern than it is. The seats are comfortable, and I had an excellent driving position. I felt like the cockpit was made just for me — which actually could be a problem for someone bigger and taller than I am. Which is pretty much everyone.

My husband and I were both thankful for the dual-zone climate control as well as the heated-and-cooled seats. I set my heat to 78 and turned on the heated seats; he set the A/C to 68 and turned on the cooled seats. I often call these features marriage savers because they allow us to coexist in the same car without killing each other. 

2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD

The 2020 Lexus IS has a timeless interior design that has aged well. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Because the IS is on the smaller side of the spectrum, it is nimble and fun to drive. The test vehicle had the mid-level power option, equipped with the V-6. But as an IS 300 model, it was detuned over what the IS 350 with the same engine gets. 

While I’m sure I would certainly enjoy the IS 350 more, I liked the power equation in the IS 300 just fine. It’s right-sized for this vehicle and combined with the overall maneuverability of the IS, the test car was relatively fun to drive. It’s stable at highway speeds and can dip in and out of traffic with finesse.

The Misses

The Lexus IS is in serious need of an update. Not in terms of design exactly. But definitely, in terms of technology. I like this car so much, but not having Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is starting to be a dealbreaker in today’s world. 

I’m sure there will be some luddites out there who don’t need it or want it, but for the younger set, it’s a must have. Especially since the navigation system in the IS is a bit clunky.

And some of that clunkiness has to do with the available “Remote Touch,” which is a mouse-like joystick that controls the infotainment system. That’s right, this is not a touch screen system. But the mouse is better than what replaced it: the trackpad. 

While the Lexus Safety System is standard on the IS, it’s the 1.0 version, and 2.0 has been rolling out on new and refreshed vehicles. I’ll never turn down standard automatic emergency braking, but because this doesn’t have Lexus’ latest safety suite, the IS fell of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick list. So, if safety is a priority, you’ll probably want to look at its slightly bigger brother the ES, which is a Top Safety Pick+.

The Trims

The trim lineup has two engines, but unlike previous generations the engine displacement does not line up with the trim designation. I find this weird, especially since both the IS 300 AWD and IS 350 have the same engine, whereas the IS 300 RWD and IS 300 AWD do not. 

  • IS 300 RWD: $39,585
  • IS 300 F Sport RWD: $42,780
  • IS 300 AWD: $42,035
  • IS 300 F Sport AWD: $44,980
  • IS 350 RWD: $43,205
  • IS 350 RWD F Sport: $46,400
  • IS 350 AWD: $45,370
  • IS 350 AWD F Sport: $47,735
2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD

The 2020 Lexus IS has the signature pinched-nose grille. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The Chicago Factor

The Lexus IS is a luxury vehicle, so it ain’t cheap. If you live in the city proper and park on the street, maybe you’ll want to look at the Toyota Corolla instead. But if you have a garage and are looking at luxury, the IS has a lot going for it in terms of parkability and fun-to-drive dynamics. 

Not to mention the fact that you can get standard safety features and AWD for about $42K. When you’re talking luxury, that’s a pretty good deal. Add that to a fairly high reliability rating, and the IS would make a decent Chicago vehicle — if you can deal with the technology shortfalls.

2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD

2020 Lexus IS 300 AWD (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The Specs
Engine: 2.0L turbo, 4-cyl (300 RWD), 3.5L V-6 (300 AWD, 350)
Horsepower: 241 (300 RWD), 260 (300 AWD) 311 (350)
Torque: 258 lb-ft (300 RWD),236 lb-ft (300 AWD), 280 lb-ft (350)
Fuel economy (combined): 24 mpg (300 RWD), 21 mpg (300, 350 AWD), 23 mpg (350 RWD)
Drivetrain: RWD, AWD (avail)
Height: 56.3 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Length: 184.3 inches
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Seating capacity: 5
Cargo capacity (behind rear seats): 10.8 cu-ft
Base price: $39,585
Price as tested: $47,125


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  • This isn't a Toyota Corolla, which is FWD. It was claimed to be a BMW 2 or 3 series competitor. I remember when I told my sister's father-in-law that Car and Driver said his IS was a hot car, but he's been dead for about 6 years, which reinforces that it might be getting out of date.

    But maybe this is why Toyota is investing in the Mazda6, as you described in the prior post.

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