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Comparison: 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD vs. 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD

Which of these redesigned-for-2021 compact premium sports sedans is the better buy?


2021 Acura TLX 

Starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $44,605

•    Excellent power and fuel economy ratings
•    Generous room for rear passengers and capacious rear trunk
•    Excellent AWD system offered on all trims

•    Only one powertrain choice
•    Front headroom limited
•    Still-front-wheel-drive based platform


2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD Highlights


The 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD is all new and marks the second generation of the compact all-wheel-drive (AWD) sedan from Honda's luxury division. With its revamp, the TLX SH-AWD replaces its former base 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine and optional V6 with a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. With 271 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, the Acura's new engine outshines the 260-hp/236 lb-ft ratings from the 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD's V6. The Acura scores better fuel economy ratings too; 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres combined city and highway, versus the Lexus' 10.8. A quartet of TLX SH-AWD trim levels starts at $44,605 CDN and finishes with the topline $52,305 CDN Elite.

The former twin-screen stacked infotainment displays are gone inside the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD’s 5-passenger cabin space. In their place is a 10.2-inch high-definition display in the center of the dash. Functions are controlled via a console-mounted touchpad. Rear passengers will find more leg- and shoulder room compared to the Lexus. A nice touch is the small fixed windows behind the B-pillar. They make the rear seat feel more open and also aid driver visibility. Rated at 382 litres, the TLX SH-AWD offers 76 litres more trunk space than the IS 300 AWD.

Pushed hard on a twisty road, the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD rarely betrays its front-drive roots. Appreciated is the TLX’s ability to send up to 70% of its power to the rear wheels and then shift that power via a torque-vectoring system to the left or right wheel, depending on where grip is needed most.


2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD

Starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $43,400 CDN

•    Smooth V6 engine
•    Rear-biased all-wheel-drive system
•    Front passengers enjoy plenty of room

•    Rear passenger space lacking
•    Relatively small trunk room
•    Could use more power


2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD Highlights


For 2021, the Lexus IS gets a refresh that helps it remain competitive in a class of standout compact sports sedans. In addition to an updated exterior and interior design, the Lexus IS gains Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration. The IS is, again, offered in three flavours. The base, rear-wheel-drive $42,950 CDN IS 300 RWD gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder with 241 horsepower and 8-speed automatic transmission. The $53,300 CDN topline IS 350 AWD receives a 311-horsepower 3.5-litre 6-cylinder and a 6-speed automatic. Our $43,400 CDN mid-line IS 300 AWD—the best trim that aligns with the base TLX—uses the same powertrain as the IS 350 AWD but with only 260-horsepower.

The updated 2021 Lexus IS retains the basic design of its 5-passenger cabin, with most of the updates focused upfront where technology is concerned. The IS now comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen display that displaces the previous 7-inch version. Optional is a 10.3-inch widescreen display. The screen sits nearly 3 inches closer to the driver for easier access. We’ve long found the Lexus’ seats among the most comfortable in the business, and its front head and shoulder room are more generous than found in the Acura.

The 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD's lighter curb weight (2,130 kilograms versus the Acura's 2,270 rating) gives it a more athletic feel on the road. Its V6 is super smooth, and the Lexus' suspension, though slightly firm, blends all-day comfort with excellent chassis control. Though a little heavier than you might expect, the IS' steering is accurate. And given the sports sedan's rear-biased AWD powertrain, it's entertaining to power out of corners.


Final Recommendation


With new vehicle showrooms jammed with trucks and SUVs, it’s a pleasant surprise to find a pair of relatively affordable and entertaining to drive compact sports sedans. And with traction at all four wheels to deal with unpredictable Canadian driving conditions, both the 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD and 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD are four-season fun machines.

The 2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD impressed us with its agility and comfort for its front seat occupants, smooth V6 engine, and rear-biased AWD system. But overall, we think the Acura has a few advantages.

For starters, the 2021 Acura TLX SH_-AWD’s powertrain offers the unique combination of more power and better fuel economy. On top of that, the TLX’s roomier rear seat and trunk allow it to be practical to live with on a day-to-day basis.



2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD


2021 Lexus IS 300 AWD




2.0-litre Turbocharged I4

3.5-litre V6


271 hp @ 6,500 rpm


260 hp @ 5,800 rpm


280 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm


236 @ 2,000-4,800 rpm


10-speed automatic

8-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (L/100 km)

11.2 city, 8.0 hwy, 9.8 combined


12.2 city, 9.0 hwy, 10.8 combined





Max Seating Capacity



Curb Weight

2,270 kgs

2,130 kgs


2,870 mm

2,800 mm

Overall Length

4,942 mm

4,710 mm


1,909 mm

1,840 mm


1,432 mm

1,435 mm

Headroom, Front

945 mm

970 mm

Headroom, Rear

922 mm

937 mm

Legroom, Front

1,077 mm

1,138 mm

Legroom, Rear

887 mm

818 mm

Shoulder Room, Front

1,478 mm

1,420 mm

Shoulder Room, Rear

1,397 mm

1,356 mm

Cargo Volume

382 L

306 L



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