SAN DIEGO, California - Redesigning of the least-costly model from Honda's luxury division has resulted in an appealing sport sedan. The first-generation model was satisfying enough, but a little lackluster for some tastes. This time, Acura has transformed the TSX into a sport sedan that delivers the goods on the road, despite relatively modest power output from its four-cylinder engine.
European-inspired styling is one TSX hallmark, coupled with nimble handling. What Acura calls "Keen Edge Dynamics" includes a new signature "power plenum" grille, which will find its way onto future products as well - likely including the redesigned TL sedan that's due later this year. Bold fender flares enhance the TSX's appeal to the youthful buyers that the company tries to attract with this "entry-level" premium sedan.
First introduced as a 2004 model, the original TSX was "for the sophisticated enthusiast," said product planner Michael Chun. Though it represented European flair, the first-generation TSX lacked a unique character, according to chief engineer Hiroyuki Ikegami. Road noise needed improvement. So did fuel economy.
Rivals include the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, and Volvo S40 - probabably the tamest member of the group. Chun further advises that the TSX is even cross-shaped with Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which suggests an appeal beyond the "upwardly mobile" and "image-conscious" most-wanted buyers.
The target audience for the 2009 model is 30 years old, with a household income of $90,000, currently "climbing the ladder of success." Sales are expected to split 50/50 between men and women.
Dimensions have changed, but not by much. Overall length has grown by nearly 2 inches, and wheelbase by 1.3 inches. Shoulder space is about 2.5 inches greater. Track width (distance between left and right wheels) has increased by 2.6 inches.
Under the hood, the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine produces 201 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque (170 with automatic) at about 4300 rpm. The prior 2.4-liter made 205 horsepower, but only 164 pound-feet. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard. The available five-speed automatic transmission has a straight-gate five-position lever plus "smart" paddle controls, which can be used in Drive mode whenever desired.
Fuel economy, according to EPA estimares, is 21-mpg city and 30 mpg for highway driving with the automatic transmission. Manual shift drops the estimates to 20/28 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended.
Only a few moments on the road are needed to detect the TSX's improvement in driving pleasure, as measured by nimbleness and a secure feel. Despite being unquestionably taut, the suspension delivers a satisfying ride on good pavement. Nevertheless, some sense of overall firmness is evident most of the time. On harsher pavement surfaces, don't be surprised if signifant motion is transmitted to occupants.
Steering is a bit on the light side, but it feels just about exactly right for a sport sedan in this league. Road noise is minimal, but the high-revving four-cylinder engine emits sound quite a bit of the time.
Acura's claim of increased roominess appears accurate. In fact, the TSX seems just about as specious as the larger Acura TL sedan. Terrific front seats are staunchly bolstered and firm, but amply cushioned. Elbow and leg room are abundant. Headroom isn't bad, though some heads won't be too far from the roof.
Because a surprise blizzard developed during our test drive at higher elevations, outside of San Diego, there was no opportunity to try a TSX with the automatic transmission.
Sales begin in April, starting around $29,000. An optional Technology Package includes a navigation system with a screen that's larger and higher (8 inches wide). Also included is AcuraLink Real-time traffic information, plus a 415-watt, 10-speaker Acura/ELS premium surround sound system with DVD Audio operation.
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