Does the sea of crossovers have you yearning to break the mold and buy a sports car?

If your answer is YES, there are more questions to answer.  Is it the look or the performance you’re after?  Do you want both luxury and sport?  What’s the budget?  We recently drove and compared the sports variants of three distinctly different vehicles classified as compact executive cars.

With its NSX, Acura proves its ability to stand up on a track against any of the racers who might wish to challenge it, and the Acura TLX (starting at under $39,000) takes a lot of styling cues from its superstar cousin that starts well into in the six-figure price range.  When your ultimate dream is an NSX, opting for the A-Spec package is worth the $2,750 upgrade for adding more than just a sporty appearance package inside and out. The performance specs are competitive against rivals which would include the Audi A4, BMW 330i and Mercedes-Benz C300. Every TLX sedan comes out of the gate well equipped and powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Adding the SH-AWD system (a $2,000 upgrade over the base model) adds the ability to move power between the wheels seamlessly for superior traction.  Couple that with the double-wishbone chassis (new to the 2021 model) and the multilink rear suspension, and TLX SH-AWD A-Spec is more than ready to hold its own on a twisty mountain roadway.   Our 2021 TLX SH-AWD A-Spec tester was priced just a little more than $47,000

We had the pleasure of comparing the TLX to the 2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport.  The Lexus tester started at $45,700 and with extras was getting close to $54,000.  It’s Lexus, so we knew we’d be getting a comfortable upscale interior and could count on nice ride quality, great safety ratings and excellent resale value.  The F Sport trim gets a sportier look inside and out, no doubt, and the suspension tuning on the F Sport is more performance oriented getting somewhat closer to the handling needed by a peddle-to-the-metal driver.  The F sport version has the 3.5 L V6 engine paired to an eight-speed automatic—same as the other upper trim level ES 350s.  Front-wheel-drive is the only choice available on ES.  Lexus’ V6 does deliver 302 hp and 267 lb ft of torque for a decent zero to sixty rating, but the comparison in performance stops there with the TLX tuning and AWD delivering far better steering and agility on the twists and turns that a true sport car enthusiast would test it on.   Those Lexus loyalists that are mainly just looking for sportier aesthetics will like the F sport; those seeking real sports car performance have plenty of other choices in the Lexus line-up that are more closely kin to the Lexus vehicles achieving motorsport milestones.

When you’re comparing vehicles that start in the mid $40s range, a BMW 3 Series sedan might be in the mix, but if the budget allows it and you’re daring enough to go for a coupe or convertible, despite having fewer doors, the 2021 BMW 4 Series is also considered a compact executive car.  It’s a bit longer and larger overall compared to the 3 Series with similar interior space and with four seats. The exciting M440i convertible is a blend of head-turning good looks, luxury appointments and performance that was once limited only to BMW’s highest end vehicles.  The option of a drop-top convertible, BMW’s first soft top in the segment since 2006, is compelling and boasts an interior sound rating that’s quieter than the last folding-hard-top 4-series that BMW made.  You’ll want to put the top down to appreciate the sounds of the engine it shares with the Toyota Supra—the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six.  Spitting out 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission, the M440i sprints to 60 in 4.1 seconds with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph.  Our test car had an MSRP of $64,000, and loaded up with Dynamic Handling Package, Parking Assist Package and Executive Package, its final sticker price was $74,670.

While all of the above fall into the same vehicle class, each was a very different vehicle designed and targeted toward very different drivers.