The new 2021 Lexus IS continues its world tour, arriving in Japan where sales kicked off last week. The latest compact executive sedan is heavily based on the third-generation model but receives a comprehensive makeover both on the outside and under the skin.

Design-wise, the dramatically styled IS wears the latest Lexus design language, sporting a ginormous spindle grille with a polyhedral mesh and a wider lower section, plus slim headlights that now sit under the arrow-shaped daytime running lights as a single unit. The side profile has also been completely revised with a gentler rear windscreen slope that allows for a more pronounced C-pillar kink.

Lexus has also lowered the shoulder line and drawn in the flanks, exaggerating the flared wheel arches and wider fenders. The glasshouse tapers into a boot lid that stands proud of the full-width L-shaped taillights and the larger black rear bumper insert. Despite the carryover underpinnings, virtually every exterior panel is new, and the IS is 30 mm longer, 30 mm wider and five millimetres lower than before.

While the outside may be completely revised, the interior will be familiar to those who own the previous model, with an almost identical steering wheel, dashboard and centre console. There are new circular corner air vents, repositioned cupholders, two-tone colour schemes and a 10.3-inch touchscreen (thankfully) with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, but not much else.

The IS also features an upgraded Lexus Safety System +, now with oncoming traffic detection, daytime cyclist detection and nighttime pedestrian detection for autonomous emergency braking. Also added are pedal misapplication control and emergency steering assist – the latter helps the driver make an evasive manoeuvre by adding steering torque.

You’ll also find adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centring assist, traffic sign recognition and automatic high beam, along with emergency stop assist that will stop the car and call in emergency services if it detects an incapacitated driver.

Developed at the new Toyota Technical Centre Shimoyama, the IS receives several chassis tweaks designed to increase body rigidity and improve handling. Lexus has added spot welds to front side members, optimised the C-pillar and roof structure and reinforced the side radiator supports, resulting in better steering response and reduced noise and vibration. The wheels also now measure up to 19 inches in diameter.

The suspension has also been revamped with new swing valve dampers that absorb minute surface imperfections and come with non-seated valves. Cars with the F Sport package instead come with adaptive dampers that adjust the damping force depending on navigation data, as well as specially tuned steering and staggered tyre sizes for the front and rear. New hub bolts replace wheel nuts, saving on unsprung weight.

Engine options continue unchanged. The IS 300 gets an 8AR-FTS 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 245 PS from 5,200 to 5,800 rpm and 350 Nm between 1,650 and 4,400 rpm. The 2GR-FSE 3.5 litre naturally-aspirated V6 soldiers on in the IS 350 and produces 318 PS at 6,600 rpm and 380 Nm at 4,800 rpm.

In Japan, both come exclusively with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and rear-wheel drive; the IS 300 gains improved transmission shift tuning. There’s also the IS 300h hybrid that utilises a 178 PS/221 Nm 2AR-FSE 2.5 litre naturally-aspirated engine and a 143 PS/300 Nm electric motor to deliver a total system output of 220 PS. This powertrain option comes with increased throttle response and an all-wheel-drive option.

Aside from the standard and F Sport models, the IS is also being offered in a special F Sport Mode Black specification, equipped with 19-inch matte black BBS forged alloys, black door mirrors, open-pore ash interior trim with a silver finish and a Torsen limited-slip differential.