It’s certainly a good time for fans of Japanese performance vehicles, and no, we aren’t talking about the Civic Type R, upcoming Nissan Z, Supra or rumors of a high performance Toyota Corolla GR. Those might have been some the nameplates we lusted over in the 1990s, but Lexus and Acura have both recently released very grown up sport sedans that are tugging at the heartstrings — and wallets – of fans of those iconic models.
With that in mind, something of a crosstown rivalry has been brewing over the last few months with rumors of Lexus launching another fire-breathing, V8 IS… and then they did it in the form of the 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance. In 2018, Acura teased the return of the “Type S” name, released the all-new TLX for 2021, and has finally followed it up with the performance-oriented TLX Type S which packs an all-new turbocharged V6 engine and Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). While these vehicles are different in execution, both have the same competitive set: The Audi S4, BMW M340i, Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing and Mercedes-AMG C43 to name a few.
The Type S moniker took something of a hiatus for 13 years, and in that time, Lexus’ F performance line has expanded across the RC and GS models, though the GS is now gone. When introducing the IS 500 F SPORT Performance, Lexus added a third, middle tier to their performance portfolio with “F SPORT Performance” slotting in between F SPORT packages and full blown F vehicles.
Enthusiasts and media alike began looking at specs of both sedans to see how they might compare, reigniting so many of the great debates for fans of Japanese performance cars: turbos or natural aspiration? Rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive? VTEC or VVT-i? Ok, the TLX Type S actually doesn’t offer VTEC, but you know what we mean.
To help shape this debate, we decided to compare the 2021 Acura TLX Type S and 2022 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Performance on paper, but with a few important notes:
Acura has not published official performance numbers for the TLX Type S, but was quoted as saying “5 second range” for the car’s 0-60 time. That is how we came to the 5.0 second number in our performance chart, but no 1/4 mile time was quoted.
While we know most of the details about the IS 500 F SPORT Performance, there are still we don’t: price, weight distribution, and also 1/4 mile time, just like the TLX. For this purpose, we took educated guesses where possible and put “TBD – To Be Determined” where we were less sure.
There are a few other nuances to compare between these two vehicles: The Lexus ES is probably the more natural competitor for the TLX in terms of size and price, so the Acura is a bit longer and wider than the IS: it’s 9.2 inches longer and almost 3 inches wider. The TLX is, by definition, a midsize car while the IS is a compact sedan. In performance guise, the TLX Type S and IS 500 F SPORT Performance are more squarely matched than any version of the ES. With that said, let’s take a look at the specs:
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so this one is impossible to quantify. The 2021 IS has been praised as one of Lexus’ best designs, and while it is a restyling of what is technically an older vehicle underneath, the revised spindle with bulging fenders, wide rear end with stacked quad exhaust, and athletic side profile look absolutely gorgeous. The right mix of modern and menacing make the IS 500 F SPORT Performance arguably the best looking vehicle in this segment.
The TLX Type S is no slouch though. Acura’s “diamond pentagon” grill seems to have as many haters as Lexus’ spindle in its early days, but the rest of the car looks great: A long hood that helps hide its FWD underpinnings, swept back greenhouse, and short rear decklid give the appearance of a sporty sedan without a doubt. The Type S upgrades the proportions with dedicated front and rear bumpers, plus a quad exhaust, that all make the Type S seem special. When packaged with the optional split five-spoke wheels, the Type S certainly looks the part and is quite menacing.
While the IS 500 F SPORT Performance sharpened up its exterior with a dramatic change from the 2014-2020 model, the interior didn’t see quite as much evolution. Lexus fans are aware of the updates, so no need to rehash the details. The biggest upgrade was a 10.3″ touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the rest of it follows the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mantra.” We’re ok with that, especially for a purpose-built performance sedan.
Whereas the IS uses a tried and true formula, the TLX Type S benefits from being an all-new design. Notable features include ambient lighting with multiple presets, ELS Studio 3D audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 10.2″ screen without touchscreen capability, and a design that just seems more fresh and updated than the IS. Whether you like the more set back screen, material choices and True Touchpad Interface are matters of preference, but we give a slight edge to the Acura here.
We’ll go ahead and say it plainly: The IS 500 F SPORT Performance seems to have the specs and firepower to put the TLX Type S squarely in its rear view mirror: A 117 horsepower advantage, 41 more lb-ft of torque and 330 fewer pounds. Those numbers seem hard for the Acura to overcome, even with a turbo and the trick SH-AWD system. While purists while likely favor Lexus’ naturally aspirated V8, many others might be just as interested in Acura’s all-new turbo V6.
For us, the Acura V6 is an interesting proposition. The lower end of the segment, including Acura’s own standard TLX, tends to offer 250 to 300hp generally from a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder engine. The upper realm, occupied by vehicles like the Audi S4, BMW M340i, Mercedes-AMG C43 and CT4-V Blackwing produce more in the realm of 375-475 horsepower, so the Type S just barely bests the Audi, but is well behind the others. Considering how strong Honda’s own 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder has proven to be in products like the Civic Type R (153 hp/L!), we would have liked to see the TLX Type S closer to 400 horsepower. In addition, the weight penalty over the IS 500 and many competitors means the Acura could definitely use the extra power – and not just for spec comparisons.
Whether you prefer rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive will likely factor into a possible purchase decision because it does drastically change how these vehicles behave. Again, purists will probably gravitate towards the IS 500 F SPORT Performance’s rear-wheel drive layout with Torsen limited-slip differential, especially since rear-wheel drive V8 sedans seem to be a dying breed. Acura has built a strong name for itself with the SH-AWD system, so those looking for more grip or all weather traction might instead spring for the TLX Type S.
Comparing horsepower, torque, drivetrain layout, weight and engines begins to tell the story of who these two sedans really are: The IS 500 F SPORT Performance is a more raw performance machine, while with the TLX Type S, Acura has put together a compelling all around package that’s just not quite as aggressive.
Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for final pricing information from Lexus for the IS 500 F SPORT Performance, but we keep hearing the rumor of “Close to $60,000.” If Lexus can bring their performance sedan to market with a $6,000-8,000 premium over the TLX Type S, we think it’s money well spent. At a base price of just over $53,000, the Acura does offer solid performance in do-it-all package that is appealing at that price point.
The question becomes, “How much more will the IS 500 F SPORT Performance cost?” On paper, the Lexus is more car and a premium seems justified, but the Acura does make a compelling case for a versatile, flexible family sedan for just more than $53,000.
Winner: Acura for now, but too soon to tell.
All of the vehicles in this class offer impressive performance and ingenuity while being somewhat attainable in the realm of $50,000 – $60,000, and each one offers a unique personality that reflects its maker. The M340i asks if you really need an M3, since it does 80% of the same things for 25% less. The new CT4-V Blackwing brings an impressive spec sheet to the fight that makes us remember when Cadillac dropped the hammer on the M5 and E63 with the 640 horsepower 2016 CTS-V. The S4, while getting long in the tooth now, takes everything you like about the A4 and turns up the dial with more sure-footed performance. The C43, much like the M340i, makes a strong case for whether or not you need to move any further up the model line to get performance that will put a grin on your face. And now, lucky for us, Acura and Lexus have arrived.
So, that brings us to these two newcomers: The TLX Type S and IS 500 F SPORT Performance. While we’re partial to Lexus, we say that more performance cars are better, and it’s good for Lexus to have competition from Acura. The TLX Type S reminds us of the days when “Type S” surprised and delighted with incremental improvements over a base car: nimble handling, extra power and strong value packed into an attractive package. Acura seems to have done that here again, though we wish there was more power — mostly because we know Acura could have done it, and on paper, it’s short on oomph compared to the others.
While we await pricing information and a few more details about the IS 500 F SPORT Performance, it’s hard to deny its charm. Lexus might be late to the turbocharging trend in performance cars, but the classic combination of a meaty, naturally aspirated V8 and rear wheel drive is just too good to turn down. It does have a significant performance advantage over the Type S, which helps to overshadow the Acura’s slightly nicer cabin… but at what cost? Even if the IS 500 F SPORT Performance does ring in at or slightly over $60,000, you’ll be paying more, but also getting more.
Which would you purchase and why? Let us know in the comments.