I’m a huge fan of sport sedans. They’re do-anything cars with luxury appointments and capable powertrains, especially with AWD, which makes them all-season warriors.
That said, I miss volume of naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines that used to be commonplace in this segment. It’s rare to find a V6/AWD pairing in a sedan these days, and we racked our brains and the raided the automaker fleets to find cars that have the picture perfect combination we were looking for. That left us with the new 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD and the Lexus IS 350 AWD.
The two cars might not seem like exact competitors, however, because they both follow different sport sedan formulas, but it’s exciting to see which path leads to the better car.
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The Old Guard
Let’s start with the statesman of this duo, the 2018 Lexus IS 350 AWD. It arrived on the scene back in 2014 and very little has changed since then. Fortunately, the styling still looks pretty good and the IS is a striking car from almost every angle. Some might lament the wild grille, but it’s been a few years and it’s grown on us.
Size wise, the car looks large, but in reality, the footprint is a bit smaller than it appears. The car was designed back when things like sharp handling and a balanced weight distribution were emphasized over space and luxury.
The interior is where you realize this is a focused vehicle. The driver seat is wrapped nicely around you like you’re in a sports car and the rear seats aren’t at all worth stepping into. The front seats are superbly bolstered and feel comfortable and thoroughly supportive.
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The seats and dash are well appointed with nice leather and wonderful stitching, but the layout and ergonomics aren’t modern at all. Not only is the touchpad-operated Remote Touch infotainment system frustrating and cumbersome to use, but there’s a mess of buttons to handle HVAC and entertainment functions that are a complete eyesore. The infotainment system looks and feels ancient.
The gear selector is angled like it’s pretending to be a stick-shift, and there’s a drive mode dial just next to it. Three drive modes are available: Sport, Eco and Normal as well as a dedicated snow mode. All-wheel-drive sports sedans are designed to handle all weather, and it’s nice to see a snow mode to help provide confidence to those thinking that a sedan won’t cut it.
A 3.5-liter V6 that makes 311 horsepower and 277 lb-ft torque gives this car a pulse. It does that without any help from turbos and it’s a smooth sweetheart that revs out the redline with ease. It sounds great but is mated to a transmission with just six gear ratios compared to the Acura’s nine, so it can get loud and uses more fuel. Still, the transmission is well sorted out and smooth. It changes gears quickly, even in the manual mode that is operated via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The Lexus also comes with a number of driver assistance features, but they don’t feel as buttoned down or refined as other vehicles. The adaptive cruise control takes a bit too long to respond to adapt, and the lane keeping assistance feature feels a bit clumsy and slow too.
This is a car that’s good for a driver, even if you don’t get the F-Sport model, which is more expensive and stiffer. It feels snug and lower to the ground. It’s responsive and engaging. Sadly, it’s also out of touch in terms of what people really use their cars for.
|Vehicle||2018 Lexus IS 350 AWD||Advantage||2018 Acura TLX A-Spec SH-AWD V6|
|Engine||3.5-liter V6||-||3.5-Liter V6|
|Power||311 hp, 277 lb-ft||Lexus IS 350||290 hp, 277 lb-ft|
|Transmission||six-speed auto||-||nine-speed auto|
|Fuel Economy (MPG)||19 city, 26 highway, 19 Combined||Acura TLX||20 City, 29 Highway, 23 Combined|
|Fuel Economy (l/100kms)||12.3 city, 9.1 highway, 10.9 combined||Acura TLX||12.0 city, 8.2 highway, 10.3 combined|
|Weight||3,737 lbs.||Lexus IS||3,838 lbs.|
|Trunk Space||10.8 cubic feet||Acura TLX||14.3 cubic feet|
|Front Head Room (inches)||38.2||Lexus IS||37.2|
|Rear Head Room||36.9||Lexus IS||36.7|
|Front Leg Room||44.8||Lexus IS||42.6|
|Rear Leg Room||32.2||Acura TLX||34.5|
|Price As Tested (USD)||$48,855||Acura TLX||$45,765|
|Price As Tested (CAD)||$55,302.50||Acura TLX||$49,562.50|
Acura of all Trades
The Acura TLX, on the other hand, gives up very little in terms of its driving feel while delivering an overall more well-rounded vehicle. It does give up a few things off the bat in terms of raw power, however. The 3.5-liter V6 engine is less powerful than the Lexus’ but it makes 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, but it never feels significantly slower. Throttle response is good and the sound this engine makes is smile-inducing.
Notably, there are three more gears fitted to this automatic transmission, and it works really well. The gears help the car find a solution for stomping on the go-pedal very quickly. It doesn’t do a lot of gear hunting. The only complaint I have about the powertrain is how the start-stop system is a bit slow. Despite being down on power and having three more gears, the TLX earns 23 mpg combined, which is just 1 mpg more than the Lexus, which isn’t enough to make it the only reason to buy the car over the Lexus.
But the TLX has been so much more improved and edited in its latest revision. This A-Spec trim is the best version of the TLX yet. It comes with a number of changes that enhance the sportiness of this sedan. For example, the steering ratio has been adjusted in this all-wheel-drive model so that it is quicker and feels agile. To improve the handling and body control, Acura has given it stiffer spring rates and a rear stabilizer bar, so the car feels surprisingly fun to drive.
The all-wheel-drive system helps with that, too. The Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system is one of the most sophisticated in the industry. In this car, it sends up to 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels and can shift that power to the left or right with ease to help mitigate understeer and help the car feel as natural and balanced as possible.
To dial up the fun, there are two degrees of sports modes that make the throttle even more sensitive but also triggers downshifts as soon as you let off the gas pedal. The steering is also well weighted and the chassis makes the car handle really well.
The TLX also lives up to its aggressive style. The new grille fits the design of this car more than that weird shield-beak thing from before. You’ll also find dark chrome trim around that grille and a slightly darker tint to the jewel eye headlights and LED taillights. Around back, there’s a contrasting black spoiler, a crazy-looking diffuser, and nice, big exhaust tips. The 19 inch wheels are nice, too.
The A-Spec goodies continue inside with sporty red trim pieces and ambient lighting. You clearly get more breathing room in the cabin when compared to the Lexus. The design is much more conservative and less wild looking than what you see in the IS 350, except for the weird shift buttons, which take some getting used to.
The seats are far less bolstered and supportive and some of the materials don’t feel as fancy as they do in the Lexus, but overall, it’s a more hospitable place with more legroom in the back. There’s also much more cargo space in the trunk, a total of 14.3 cubic feet back there, which is almost 4 more than the Lexus.
The infotainment system is easier to figure out and there is also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, which is always a helpful feature.
Other luxury features that you’ll come to enjoy in this car are heated and vented seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The TLX also has safety features that are newer and more advanced than the Lexus. The adaptive cruise control can stop the car in traffic and continue again with ease, while the lane keeping assist system uses both steering torque and the application of brakes to keep the car safe. There’s a multi-angle rear-view camera that helps when parking the car and a surround view camera that’s a huge asset too.
The Verdict: 2018 Lexus IS vs Acura TLX
It’s not the sportier option, but the TLX is the better-rounded one that is still fun to drive. Although its down on power, it’s the cheaper option, too. As equipped with the Technology Package and the A-Spec trim level, it rings in at $45,765 including destination, while the Lexus came in at $48,855. You get more everyday usability and better features in the Acura.