2011 Acura TSX

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First Drive Review: 2009 Acura TSX

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

“Dance, 10. Looks, 3.”
One of the signature numbers in the musical A Chorus Line features a struggling starlet justifying a bevy of elective medical procedures to bring her looks up to par with her talent. “T*ts and *ss,” she claims, are all she’ll need to bring everything into balance. “Keep the best of ya, do the rest of ya,” she croons.

In much the same spirit, Acura has reworked its talented but image-challenged TSX, which is sold in Europe as the Honda Accord. Adding—ahem—size and content where it matters, but retaining the previous model’s handling characteristics and essentially the same powertrain, Acura keeps the 2009 TSX in its sweet spot beneath the larger, pricier, and much more powerful TL while making the TSX a far more convincing premium-brand proposition.

Bigger, but Not Much Heavier
The first thing you notice is that the TSX is bigger—by a bunch. Its increased width (3.0 inches), length (2.2 inches), wheelbase (1.4 inches), and track (2.6 inches) contribute to newfound road presence that, like the lanky nerd you remember from high school who sprouted a full coat of toned muscles over a summer, ought to have Audi A4, Saab 9-3, and Volvo S40 drivers doing double takes. What you don’t see are the TSX’s new structural components, including a stronger rear bulkhead, new roof crossmembers, and integrated frame rails, many reinforced by welds instead of bolts for added rigidity. The trunk space hasn’t grown, however. Meanwhile, Acura’s claim for the accompanying weight increase is a fairly reasonable 160 pounds overall.

More Space, More Goodies
The dividends of the TSX’s larger, more capacious cabin include its ability to closely follow its big-brother TL in style, feature content, and ergonomic sensibility. Even without the optional features-laden Technology package, which includes a navigation system that incorporates not only real-time traffic reporting for 76 markets but also weather reports along the way, the TSX is loaded with features such as leather trim, Bluetooth connectivity, iPod integration, and fantastically snug sport seats.

The Technology package, however, is one box you’ll definitely want to check if only on account of its surround-sound audio system designed by sound engineer Elliot Scheiner of ELS, who was on hand during our preview to personally show us just how sparkling sound can be. Besides its 10 speakers and DVD-Audio capability, it also features a cool “note” function for XM radio that makes it easy to identify and tag songs to recall at a later date. With the push of a button, the note function captures 10 seconds of up to 30 songs and saves the text indicating song title, artist name, and XM channel. Sure beats scribbling song titles down when you’re hustling along at 80 mph.

Dance, 10
From our brief first drive along the mountain roads northeast of San Diego, we can say that the new car still has that light-on-its-feet feeling that has characterized the TSX all along. Power from the rev-happy 201-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder—largely unchanged from the ’08 TSX—is sufficient if not overabundant. The delightfully precise, stubby six-cog manual shifter is exactly the same bit found in the 2008 model and delivers, not surprisingly, the same level of satisfaction. Due to a freak snowstorm in the mountains—yes, in San Diego County—that cut our driving short, we were unable to sample the TSX’s available five-speed automatic transmission, with its redefined algorithms and new paddle shifters on the steering wheel. We’ll rectify that soon.

As before, the TSX’s steering is crisp, quick, and happily unaffected by the 172 pound-feet of torque being sent to the front axle. The suspension is taut, yielding sweet and flat cornering about as close to that of, say, the Volkswagen GTI, as possible without allowing impact harshness to turn off premium brand customers. Incidentally, we’re told the TSX is tuned more for sportiness than is its twin, the European Honda Accord.

We look forward to a more thorough test in coming months to see exactly how this new model and the old one compare, but based on this drive, if Acura’s goal—as it claims—was to deliver the best in front-drive driving satisfaction for the near-lux set, we would say it has succeeded. “Dance, 10,” indeed.

Looks, 10
Okay, maybe “Looks, 8.” With its larger dimensions and more expressive sheetmetal, the 2009 TSX has far more road presence to catch people’s eyes. Our jury’s still out on Acura’s new guillotine grille, but everything else on the car seems to work, especially the back end, which may be Acura’s best yet. The road presence finally commands premium-brand respect.

Balance of Powers
We have always been fond of the TSX’s balance of power, comfort, and fun, so we were thrilled (and relieved) that, for once, such a balance has been retained in spite of Honda’s thorough reworking of pretty much everything around that honey of an engine. Sure, the 2.4 could provide more oomph—we’d been hoping the new TSX would get the 240-hp turbo 2.3-liter from the RDX—but too much oomph in front-wheel drive applications, as seen in the 258-hp TL, for example, almost always brings with it a cocktail of torque steer, wheelspin, and electronic stability nannies. Not so with the TSX. Just floor it, and have a blast while enjoying the equally talented brakes and chassis.

Besides, with the 2.4-liter, Honda is better placed than ever to capture luxury- or sport-sedan intenders who want all the goodies in a low-emissions sprite with favorable fuel economy. And by all measures, the TSX’s fuel-economy ratings of 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for the automatic and 20/28 for the manual are quite favorable.

Bringing its looks up to its dance, then, without pricing itself too high (base price is expected at $29,000, rising into the $35,000 neighborhood with the Technology package), Acura has kept the best of the TSX while doing the rest of it. Thus, we expect it to dance its way into a lot of new gigs.

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BB04 - 8/27/2014 8:13:51 PM