The 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport and 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD each tackle all-wheel drive from opposite directions. The Lexus is based on a rear-wheel drive platform but can send more power to the front wheels when required. The Acura is based on a front-wheel drive platform and sends power to the rear wheels when all-wheel drive traction is called upon. The difference is very apparent when driving these two cars on snow and ice covered roads. One is much more entertaining than the other. We’ll explain.
2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport
The 2021 Lexus IS is available in three configurations in Canada, and four in the United States.
This is our video review of the 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport:
When cruising along on dry roads, the Lexus IS AWD splits its torque 70:30 rear-to-front. The sensation of a rear-wheel drive performance sedan is quite apparent, especially during the transition just before it moves into all-wheel drive mode. Once the rear-wheels start to really lose grip, power can be distributed evenly front to rear with a 50:50 torque split. The IS AWD never feels like a front wheel drive car because it doesn’t send more power to the front than the rear. This really does add to this car’s performance driving experience.
In Canada, the 2021 Acura TLX is only available with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). For buyers in the United States, who don’t want or feel that they need all-wheel drive, they can opt for a front-wheel drive TLX. SH-AWD is a $2,000 option in the US.
Canadian buyers can order their TLX SH-AWD in one of four trim levels; base, Tech, A-Spec and Platinum Elite. Each is powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Connecting the power to all four wheels is a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Unlike the rear-wheel drive biased Lexus IS, the Acura TLX SH-AWD is based on a front-wheel drive platform and sends 90% of its power to the front wheels during normal cruising conditions. Under hard acceleration in a straight line, the SH-AWD system can move up to 45% of the power to the rear wheels. But hard acceleration on a curve can result in up to 70% of the power being sent to the rear wheels. And to add to the TLX SH-AWD’s torque vectoring performance prowess, 100% of that torque can be sent to the outside wheel to improve cornering. To reduce understeer and help the car corner better, the system can make the outside rear wheel rotate up to 2.7% faster than the other wheels.
The interior of this second generation 2021 TLX feels more modern, mature and slightly more upscale than the Lexus. The materials are quite nice and the design is very unique, especially in some respects. If this is your first exposure to a new Acura, then you will have to get used to Acura’s unique gear selection process. No levers here. Instead you have to choose from four uniquely shaped buttons, some of which move in different directions. The Park button is at the top, under it is a Reverse button that you don’t push in but push down. Under that is a rectangular-ish Neutral button and at the bottom, a big round Drive/Sport button. I wouldn’t say it is intuitive but after a while, you do get used to it.
In the centre of the console is a very large Dynamic Mode selection knob. The driver can select one of four different driving modes; Comfort, Normal, Sport, or Individual. Available on the TLX is the Adaptive Damper System (ADS) which adjusts the hydraulic fluid in the dampers to progressively increase the damper stiffness as you adjust from Comfort up to Sport.
The large 10.2 inch screen is great, but it’s not a touchscreen. That means you must master the touchpad in order to manage the radio, phone, navigation, etc. As you spend more time with this car you learn to master the features of this touchpad and it starts to make sense. As an alternative you can always press the voice command button on the steering wheel and maneuver through the system that way.
Both the Acura TLX SH-AWD and Lexus IS 350 AWD offer very capable winter weather all-wheel driving experiences, they just go about it differently. Most performance car enthusiasts would argue that rear wheel-drive cars are more entertaining than front-wheel drive cars. Front-wheel drive cars typically suffer from understeer, when the front wheels are asked to deliver lots of power to the pavement, steer at the same time, and the car starts to plow away from the corner’s apex. Sending the power to the rear wheels and asking the front wheel steer typically results in better, and more entertaining cornering, especially when a little drifting is added to the mix. All of this is greatly exaggerated when performed on slippery snow and ice covers driving surfaces.
The Lexus also benefits from being smaller and lighter than the Acura, which is most noticeable when having fun in the snow. The Lexus moves from rear to all-wheel drive tossing snow up from each corner while the Acura morphs from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive.
Acura’s ILX is the more obvious comparison to the Lexus IS in terms of size, but it is only available with front-wheel drive, SH-AWD is not an option.
The 2021 Lexus IS 350 AWD F Sport is an energetic and youthful feeling performance car. The 2021 Acura TLX SH-AWD is a larger heavier car that feels like it enjoys offering a more mature driving experience, which can dip into a super handling all-wheel drive persona when asked. During our days with each car, neither had any interest in getting us stuck in the snow, which made exploring their all-wheel drive prowess that much more fun.