The TSX gets more power for 2006 and there are significant but subtle revisions to the exterior styling.
The 2.4-liter iVTEC four-cylinder engine boasts a broad torque curve and is rated at 205 horsepower for 2006. The result is immediate throttle response followed by a rapid acquisition of speed. That throttle is actually a drive-by-wire accelerator. The six-speed manual gearbox is notably sweet, smooth and quick. The alternative is a five-speed automatic with Sequential Sport Shift.
The TSX is front-wheel drive, but it's tight and fun to drive. The suspension dances to the tune of a European sports sedan. The brakes scrub off triple-digit speeds without drama and the pedals are set up well for effortless heel-and-toe braking and downshifting.
Acura TSX ($27,890)
The TSX is a four-door sports sedan. It shares most of its sheet metal with the European-market Honda Accord (which is different from the Accord sold in the U.S.). True to its intent as a sports sedan, the TSX features shorter overhangs than the Accord, featuring a relatively long wheelbase given its length. (The overhang is the part of the car that extends past the wheels.) To get a picture of the scale, the TSX is 183 inches long with a wheelbase of 105 inches; the Honda Accord is 187.6 inches long but also with a wheelbase of 105 inches. The RSX coupe is 172 inches long with a wheelbase of 101 inches.
Invisible to the eye are aerodynamic undertrays, strategic bellypans that help bring the coefficient of drag down to an impressive 0.27 for the TSX. The backlight (rear window) slopes to meet a short trunk lid, which helps air separate cleanly off the back of the car at speed.
The nine-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels complement the clean lines, and the P215/50R17 tires are low-profile but not radical. Discreet business-like chrome exhaust tips are tucked under the redesigned rear fascia at each edge and give the car attitude. Dual exhausts on a four-cylinder are cool.
The driver's eight-way power seat offers good bolstering for comfort and hard driving, and features a two-position memory. The seat fits great and there's good legroom. Your companion will also be comfortable. A four-way power front passenger seat is standard. The TSX is a technically a five-seat sedan, but it's better suited for four.
The rubber-coated pedals feel good, and there's a solid dead pedal. The 8000-rpm tachometer is as big as the 160-mph speedometer because the TSX is all about using the tach. The faces of the gauges have been revised faces for 2006. The bright red needles give it just the right neon touch. There's a tidy three-spoke steering wheel, wrapped skin-tight in perforated leather, just small enough. The shift knob is right, blending function and style with leather and polished aluminum, without compromising the function. You've got the E-brake lever at your side, a nice deep console bin, your cupholders and changeholder right there. A fingertip away is a 360-watt sound system with a six-CD player, with a new audio-in port for portable music players (think iPod). You've got a moon roof, you even have heated seats and heated outside mirrors.
Navigation systems are getting better every year and Acura's may be the best. The TSX receives an improved system for 2006, with bigger buttons, a faster processor, more voice recognition commands and a larger points of interest database. It's easy to program, and gives clear, accurate instructions visibly and audibly. The display is big and crisp. The system uses a combination of hard buttons and context-sensitive on-screen menus. Unfortunately, you have to call up a menu just to switch radio stations, but fortunately, controls on the steering wheel let you bypass this task. The system also takes voice commands. Cool blue ambient lighting illuminates the console controls at night.
That's not to say that you won't want to use the gearbox. It's a sweet, slick-shifting six speed that makes shifting a pleasure, not a chore. And the engine sounds so sweet at higher revs that you won't mind winding it out to its 7400 rpm rev limiter whenever you get the chance.
The drive-by-wire throttle helps the torque curve out, by being so responsive. The acceleration is linear from the drop of the gas pedal, without strain or surge. But smooth power delivery comes mostly from the i-VTEC engine, using Honda's latest variable valve timing and lift system.
It's a wonderfully tuned engine. It doesn't feel as if 205 horsepower has been squeezed out of the four cylinders, more like it's been pumped out. That's what 2.4 liters and twin cams can do for a four. And it's fast. Downshift to third to accelerate to pass another car on a remote two-lane, open it up, and before you know it you're doing 90.
Automotive journalists used to complain that the U.S. never got the good cars. European drivers appreciated good handing more than we did, so they got the cars with the tightest suspensions, at the least. They got more powerful engines too, often because of lower environmental standards. But nowadays that's much less true. The TSX is a superb sports sedan. Double A-arms support the front, with a multi-link system in the rear. Tender loving care has been bestowed upon the shock tuning.
The TSX makes a dancer out of you, and the suspension is your partner. It's heavy for its size, but it's delicate to handle. It's sweet, but not touchy. It makes you a better driver, not because it requires you to be one, but because it enables you to be. If you can coordinate your hands and feet, and maintain a delicate touch, the TSX will pirouette on a dime for you. It's the same with the gearbox; it doesn't like to be speed shifted or otherwise abused, but it will perform beautifully if you let it.
The TSX stops as smoothly as it goes and shifts. Its brakes will bring you down from triple digits so smoothly and quickly you would never have believed you were up there.
Despite the attitude of the tailpipes, the exhaust note is decidedly civilized. We would have liked some aural attitude commensurate with the engine's capability and the tailpipes' promise.
The suspension says no sweat to patchy roads. It swallows the worst of it with no bouncing or tipping or jolting. It usually takes a softer suspension to deliver a comfortable ride on roads like this. The suspension's combination of firm for the curves and comfortable on the street is exceptional. It can get a little twitchy on uneven surfaces at very high speeds, though. We pushed the TSX through some curves, and it came out the other end flying its colors. Understeer is minimal. The broad range of third gear again was useful, tremendous, even. Braking and downshifting was idiot-proof, thanks again partly to the drive-by-wire
The Acura TSX is an amazingly refined and sporty four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan with a powerful and responsive engine, flawless suspension, seductive shifting and a classy leather interior.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed the original report from Washington's Columbia River Valley; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.