There’s something new and different about the 2021 Lexus IS 350

When I first climbed into the 2021 Lexus IS 350, I noticed something strange. I’ve driven countless Lexus cars over the last 10 years as a writer, but I recognized a change that I’ve been wondering about since that first car test way back in 2010.

I was pouring over the tech literature, the press information, and even the normal consumer specs at the normal Lexus website for this midsize sedan. Yet, I couldn’t find out what was new. Then it hit me: Lexus has changed the display, moving it toward the driver for easier reach.

Six inches closer, to be exact.

It’s now also 10.3-inches and a touchscreen, which is a departure from what I’ve been accustomed to with the Lexus brand. Usually, there’s a touchpad within easy reach between the seats, but the touchscreen is now larger than ever, responsive, and easier to use.

Lexus even added pinch and zoom. Again, it’s surprising. I tested the IS 350 for a week and loved the handling, the sporty acceleration, and the trim and luxurious cockpit, but I kept going back to the center display and tested every Apple CarPlay option I could find.

One of my recent favorites is the Zoom app. I’ve written about it a few times, and someday expect cars to support video conferencing, but for now, it was cool to join calls for meetings with a quick tap. (I have noticed Microsoft Teams also supports CarPlay for calls.)

Immersive technology has been here for a while. Virtual reality goggles, haptics that provide light vibration sensitivity for touch displays, and even a coming age when your living room might turn into a rainforest or a driving range for golf with a click. Lexus is ready for that time because you can interact with the screen easier and — importantly — faster.

During my tests, I noticed I could reach and select options even during hectic driving situations. Sometimes, you just want to find a new route, and for that, I would often access Siri and then ask for new directions, following the route on the screen.

Luxury cars have always led the way forward on new technology, and I liked how many makes and models provide multiple ways to interact with the technology in cars. Lexus still has the touchpad of course, and that helps you keep your eyes on the road. With a touchscreen, Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto), and the built-in features in the display (those offered by Lexus) there are multiple ways to choose your directions, select audio preferences, and make phone calls.

Having all of these options will help in the coming age of automated driving. We’ll still interact with the screens in cars, perhaps even more than we do now when we don’t have to drive.

Now is the time to try new things. I like how the Lexus IS 350 provides so many options. Now, one of them is six inches closer to the driver.