The Acura TSX is available as a sedan or wagon. Both are competent near-luxury cars that are very easy to live with. The TSX Sport Wagon is a nice alternative to a small SUV or crossover. It delivers almost as much utility, better reflexes and better fuel economy than just about any SUV extant.
For 2012, a new Special Edition model joins the Acura TSX lineup. The 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition features a more aggressive front spoiler, new rear bumper fascia, unique side sills, dark grey polished aluminum wheels, and trunk badging. We drove a 2012 TSX Special Edition and really liked it. Its seats are as good as sport seats get, with perforated black suede inserts and red backing and stitching, matched by the stitching on the steering wheel and the shift knob. The headliner is black, instead of the standard TSX gray. There's red instrument lighting, overhead lighting, footwell lighting, and aluminum pedal covers.
The 2012 TSX Sport Wagon has been updated with more rear cargo space gained by replacing the spare tire with a tire repair kit, thus enlarging the storage area under the floor. There's now 66.2 cubic feet, making the TSX wagon the cargo-space leader in its class. We drove a TSX Sport Wagon and thought it was an agile alternative to a crossover SUV.
2012 Acura TSX models come standard with heated leather-trimmed seats, power everything, dual-zone climate control, a great sounding high-watt stereo, electronic stability control and a full array of airbags. The TSX scores well in government and insurance industry crash tests. The 2012 TSX competes primarily with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Lexus IS, and to a lesser extent with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9-3 and Volkswagen CC.
For 2011, the TSX sedan got a slight face lift and the TSX Sport Wagon joined the lineup. The Acura TSX was last redesigned for the 2008 model year. The TSX was based on the European Honda Accord platform and is expected to be replaced by the smaller 2013 Acura ILX, which is based on the Honda Civic.
The Acura TSX uses front-wheel drive, whereas many sports sedans including some of its competitors are rear-wheel drive. Regardless, this Acura remains one of the better-handling front-drive sedans available. We pushed it during our week-long test with a Special Edition, and it made us happy. It's grown bigger, heavier and more luxurious over the last few years, and as a result it plods a bit more than it once did, yet it's still hard to beat as an everyday driver that can be fun on a winding road.
The TSX comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 201 horsepower. This engine is smooth and loves to rev. It comes with a choice of manual or automatic transmission, and the slick-shifting 6-speed manual is the most fun TSX to drive. TSX gets good fuel economy, delivering an EPA-estimated 22/31 miles per gallon City/Highway.
A 3.5-liter V6 is available for the TSX sedan, delivering substantially more power and torque, with a 3 mpg mileage penalty. The V6 has a temperament all its own, distinct from the four-cylinder models. It's more substantial, and heavier, with character more in tune with the luxury class.
Technology has always been a big part of the TSX appeal, and this extends beyond the drivetrain and chassis. Acura's superb navigation system is the equal of anything in the class. It displays real-time traffic with congestion re-routing and local and national weather. An airlines display lets you track a flight's progress across the country. The top-line audio system sets a standard for the class, too, with superbly crisp surround sound. Like the other features, voice command and hands-free Bluetooth cell phone architecture are cleanly integrated with the car's electronics.
The TSX delivers Acura's hallmark traits of smooth mechanicals, a clean stylish cabin, and distinctive design. If it isn't a true sports sedan because of its size and front-wheel drive, it's very good being what it is: a stylish, efficient premium compact sedan with a sporty tilt. If passengers aren't too tall, the TSX is also a comfortable commuter car, as long as the freeway isn't too rough.
The TSX applies what Acura calls its Keen Edge design theme, with hard creases and prominent bulges. There is a consistency to Acura's styling that ties its current models together, starting with the prominent, stylized caliper logo, and there is no mistaking the TSX as anything other than a model from Honda's luxury brand.
Introduced as a 2008 model, the current-generation TSX has been with us for awhile and is expected to be replaced by the 2013 Acura ILX.
The TSX sedan is one of the largest cars in its class. It's more than seven inches longer than a BMW 3 Series, and five inches longer than a Lexus IF, and it's wider than both. The wagon is about four inches longer than the sedan, sharing the same 106.4-inch wheelbase, with a large rear hatch and bulging rear bumper that create a big rear end.
There are underbody panels intended to improve aerodynamics. These plastic sheets enclose some mechanical components, smoothing airflow underneath the car and minimizing the aural disturbance it creates. In its quest to reduce noise inside the TSX, the windshield has a sheet of sound-deadening acoustic laminate between layers of glass, and the side windows are thicker than average.
The TSX's front end blends elements from Acura's other two sedans, the sporty TL and the more sedate RL, and from the MDX sport utility. Its side view departs a bit more from the Acura family look, but keeps just enough of the cues to stay true to Keen Edge design. The rear angle is rather busy, and unfortunately suggests a Toyota Camry. The rear bumper cups the trunk opening with unflattering bulk, which makes the hot rod dual exhaust tips look a lame.
The five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels have a beveled lip, giving them a little more visual depth. Split five-spoke 18-inch wheels identify the TSX V6. The six-cylinder is also distinguished by a V6 badge on the trunk and slightly larger lower grille inlets.
Outward visibility is excellent from the driver's seat, especially forward and to the sides. The rear view is slightly hindered by rear headrests, a problem not unique to the TSX. The larger wheels and lower profile tires on the V6 add almost nothing to the minimal road noise that finds its way into the cabin. Wind noise is better muted than ever at highway speeds, and the most prominent noise inside the TSX is the mostly pleasant sound of the engines spinning at high revs. Noise, vibration and harshness control in the TSX surpasses the class standard.
It's easy to like the handsome TSX interior. The cabin is comfortable without being plush, and sporty without being sparse. Communication between driver and car is easy and unabridged.
The trim is titanium-colored high-quality plastic, and everything else inside the both the Sport Wagon and Special Edition that we tested was black, except for the trim around the main gauges and a couple of buttons. Some might find the effect dark and dense, others might find it classy. The center console flows elegantly, up into a clean center stack and out over the driver's and passenger's knees. Its trim has the look of brushed aluminum, and the door handles are L-shaped, tidy and delicate and functional. The L shape is for a reason, either horizontal or vertical levers.
There's a traditional key, rare in this class of sedans, but we like its convenience. The center-console box is cooled by the air conditioning, keeping snacks or a soft drink cool. The optional navigation system has a full VGA monitor with good resolution.
The standard front seats are supportive, with enough bolstering for rambunctious motoring on twisty roads. The bottom cushion could be deeper, and shorter drivers may have a hard time getting the lumbar support perfect, while the front passenger gets no height adjustment.
However in our Special Edition, with the perforated suede inserts and leather edges, we found the seats to be as good as they get. Leather seating surfaces aren't needed one bit. The suede seats are especially grippy for hard cornering, and they're heated.
One thing we didn't like was the HVAC programming. On a cold day, we started out with the heat at full blast; then when we realized it was 80 degrees in the cabin, we backed it down to 72. What did the system do? It blasted us with icy air, to bring the temp down to 72 as quickly as possible. Other cars do this. We wonder what they're thinking. So we turned it off.
The TSX has less front headroom than most competitors, but more rear legroom than some, and parity just about everywhere else.
The gauges are trimmed with chrome, and tell their tales with simple graphics and floating needles. The paddles for the 5-speed manual automatic transmission are mounted on the steering wheel rather than the column, so they turn with the driver's hands. The wheel sports pushbuttons and toggles for more than a dozen functions, not counting the horn, good for those who fantasize about mixing it up with other Top Guns.
With the optional Technology Package, the TSX presents one of the more intuitively arranged switch packages we've seen, with large, finger-friendly buttons and a relatively easy multi-function knob for the multi-layered information/map screen. There's a hard button for all climate and audio functions, so you don't have to use the joystick to change a radio station or air-flow direction. The standard CD slot is easy to access, unlike too many others.
A Grammy winner helped tune the optional sound system for Acura. It doesn't blast you, using a modest 415 watts of amplification (460 in the wagon), 10 speakers and DVD-audio capability to deliver beautiful detailed sound. It also features Song by Voice audio selection. The easy-to-load hard drive will store 15 gigabytes of music, or about 3,500 songs. With this system owners can leave their CDs at home.
The navigation system is tops. Its graphics are outstanding and it works quickly. The Real-Time Weather feature (requires satellite radio subscription) provides forecasts that even show the local storm radar.
Interior storage is adequate. Door pockets have good bins with a shaped space for a water bottle. There's also a bin in the front footwells on each side of what once was called the transmission hump. The glovebox has a partitioned nook for the owner's manual and booklets, leaving the rest for smallish flat items. The center console hosts a bi-level storage bin and two cup holders; and the E-brake is a lever between the seats as it should be.
The rear seat is more like a bench than twin buckets. Those of average height should stay comfortable for a couple of hours. The drop-down center armrest has two cup holders, and there are pockets on the front seatbacks and small bins at the bottom of the rear doors. Rear head restraints adjust for height.
Visibility is good from the driver's seat, especially out the front and sides. The rear view is slightly hindered by rear headrests, a problem not unique to the TSX. Wind noise is better muted than ever at highway speeds, and the most prominent noise inside the TSX is the mostly pleasant sound of the engines spinning at high revs. Noise, vibration and harshness control in the TSX surpasses the class standard.
The trunk in the sedan offers 14 cubic feet, at least one foot more than Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Lexus IF. The liftover height is low, but the opening isn't wide. Space is easily expanded by dropping the rear seatbacks using levers from the trunk. We love this convenience that others often overlook.
The Sport Wagon provides 25.8 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat, expanding to 66.2 cubic feet with the seats lowered. That's more than BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 wagons, even more than small SUV/crossovers including the Acura RDX. The lift-over height is a low 24 inches, and the opening is wide. With the rear seatbacks folded, there's nearly 70 inches of length, plenty of room for a bicycle or a big day at Costco. The wagon's space is nicely finished with velvety carpet under a tonneau, and equipped with tie-down hooks. There are four separate covered compartments, including one under the floor that's expanded in 2012 by replacing the spare tire with a tire repair kit. The Technology Package includes a power liftgate.
Acura has done a great job in every area, in making the TSX hot, sweet, and fun to drive. It uses the same powertrain as a Honda Civic Si. In fact, we tested a Civic Si the week after we left the TSX, and for $7000 less we got the same performance. But not the same style.
Running the TSX hard, we'll mention the two things we found less than perfect: more front wheelspin than we expected, and a firmer jab at the rear suspension over sharp bumps at speed, for example freeway expansion strips. But neither thing happens very often, so they're not even close to being deal-breakers, unless you live somewhere where the roads are often icy and the freeways are broken.
From the raves department, we'll start with the gearbox. The 6-speed with short-throw linkage is tight and sweet, not much more to say. It never let us down, and we loved playing with it, including quick heel-and-toe downshifts. And the tidy leather-wrapped knob is perfect.
The suspension hugs ripples in the road, making the driver feel secure and inspiring him or her to look for more. The turn-in is sharp and responsive, and you have to be stupid aggressive with the steering wheel to get it to understeer in slow curves. The electronic stability control is programmed just right, a very important thing for enjoyment of a car like this. It corrects at the right time, not too early, and makes its corrections with the brakes, not the throttle; so you're never left with no power. In fact, you can blast through understeer in curves at medium speeds, driving with the throttle while the brakes control the drift.
Now that the compliments have been paid, remember that front-wheel drive doesn't offer the handling characteristics, agility or feel of a rear-wheel-drive car, nor an all-wheel-drive car biased to behave like rear-wheel drive, as is the Audi A4 quattro.
The 2.4-liter engine with 201 horsepower is the silkiest four-cylinder we can think of. The throttle response is wonderful, and acceleration smooth; it rejoices at rpm where others sound stressed. It comes on the cams at 5500 rpm and climbs with a subtle scream until it's gently capped by the rev limiter at 7300 rpm, where it misfires just right, without dropping your face onto the steering wheel.
The torque is good, too, 172 foot-pounds at 4300 rpm. We chugged up our very steep street in 4th gear at 40 mph, where a lot of cars we test need a downshift to third.
It's not long-legged at higher speeds; 80 mph is 3500 rpm, with the cabin still quiet and the engine smooth. We gave it one high speed run on an isolated freeway at speeds higher than that, and the TSX took it totally in stride. In fact, it delivered 22.9 mpg with foot on the floor a lot, over 80. Driving more reasonably, it got 25.5 mpg. The engine is carefully built with low internal friction, helping the fuel mileage.
With the four-cylinder engine, we're not fond of the automatic transmission, with just five speeds, where others in this class typically have six or more. Even in sport mode, the automatic can be slow to react to the driver's demand for more acceleration. The only way to ensure quick shifts is to make them manually with the paddles. The four-cylinder just doesn't have enough power to carry the 5-speed automatic, at least not to the sporty level of the rest of the car.
The 3.5-liter V6 significantly changes the TSX character, not least by adding 70 horses and 84 lb-ft of torque, making it much faster. Acura's V6 is smooth and linear, and at higher revs it expresses itself with a very pleasant growl. Yet even here the automatic transmission can mute the engine's goodness. It doesn't generate the exhilaration or the involvement factor of the 6-speed manual, which isn't offered with the V6. The V6 model also adds 210 pounds of weight, all over the front wheels, knocking 3 mpg off EPA city and highway ratings. And it needs an extra 15 inches of space for a U-turn.
But the V6 delivers good response, with additional composure that makes for an ideal everyday transport. And its automatic transmission uses a fluid warmer that ensures smooth shifting in the coldest climates. The ride is quite comfortable, but the comfort doesn't come at the expense of mushy reflexes or rowboat wallow. The steering is accurate, and to most drivers it will feel quite racy. With its wider tires on larger rims, the V6 sticks to the pavement well.
The brakes are stout in all models, stopping the TSX in short order, with solid pedal feel and an ABS system that virtually eliminates skips and jitters. It takes some fairly heavy abuse before the brakes begin to heat up and stopping distances increase.
Performance of the Sport Wagon is essentially the same as the sedan, except unfortunately it only comes with the four-cylinder and automatic. There is no increase in flex or shimmy in the wagon's body structure and no increase in noise, even as a slight boom in the expanse of space to the driver's rear. And the wagon's extra utility compared to the sedan is hard to beat.
The front-wheel-drive Acura TSX is stylish, comfortable, and economical to drive with either the four- or six-cylinder engine. It's hard to beat. It's available as a sedan or great Sport Wagon with as much cargo space as a small SUV. But mostly, the smooth and high-revving four-cylinder with the 6-speed gearbox is a tight-handling joy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents J.P. Vettraino in Detroit, G.R. Whale in Los Angeles, Tom Lankard in San Diego, and Sam Moses in Portland contributed to this report.