2008 Acura TSX Expert Review:Autoblog
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Within ten-minutes of our Alabaster Silver Metallic Acura TSX tester being delivered, our bags were in the trunk and we were out the door. A much-needed respite was in order after a long summer, and Lake Tahoe beckoned. Wait. We fed the cat, right?
After making sure our Russian Blue had sufficient food to survive the weekend, the fiancée and I were underway, headed up 680 and then onto I-80 through Sacramento. Friday's Northern California traffic hadn't hindered our progress until we hit the State capital, where the Acura's balanced clutch engagement and gloriously smooth stick were working overtime through 20-miles of start-and-stop traffic. Fortunately, the interior of the TSX is a pleasant place to be, with thoughtful switchgear, comfortable seats, well-padded armrests and a bevy of aural selections – all well executed in minimalist fashion. When our iPod wasn't jacked into the auxiliary input, the XM-equipped stereo was normally stuck somewhere between Real Jazz and a live stream from Lollapalooza, 'cause we're bipolar that way. And while August in Nor Cal normally doesn't necessitate the use of the standard heated seats, once we got into the higher elevations, and the sun fell beneath the mountains, there was little doubt that they would soon be set to "scorch."
The only two options that our TSX tester was equipped with were the aforementioned "Navi" ($2,100) and the silver trim ($359) that subsected the dash and then tapered into the door panels. Both were nice, but if we had to choose between the two, our money would go towards the faux aluminum. Anyone who's familiar with Honda's navigation system can attest that it works magnificently 80-percent of the time, while the remaining fifth tends to cause foreheads to meet the top of the steering wheel. The turn-by-turn directions and the large display are top notch, but the system's insistence that it knows what you're trying to spell better than you do (it removes letters from the touch-screen keyboard as you type) causes bulging veins from the neck up. We can count on at least one hand the number of times we referenced the Google Maps app on our phone over our three-day excursion, which isn't what you want when spending two-large on a sat-nav.
Once traffic cleared, the cruise was set at 70 for the next 30-miles as we made our way through the farmlands that make up the Central Valley. Toddling in the TSX is exactly what you'd expect from Acura's entry-level sedan, with most road imperfections easily muted through the double wishbone (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension. The ride could never be accused of being numb or uncommunicative – you know what's going on beneath you, but you're not troubled by it – and although the steering is a speed-sensitive rack and pinion setup, there's no question about how it will react to inputs.
After dawdling around at freeway speeds for far too long, we were finally greeted with the elevations changes and twisting roads that make their way through the Sierras. With a snickity shift down into third, the TSX's 2.4-liter four pot came to life, running effortlessly up past its 205 HP peak at 7,000 RPM and onto the 7,100 RPM redline. A quick shift into fourth, and although the VTEC's engagement point was still 1,500 RPM away, it pulled smoothly up the rev range until the 6,000 RPM crossover hit and the comforting howl of lift caused the needle to shoot up into the red.
It's turned into a cliché that certain vehicles cause drivers to row the gears for no other reason than the pure enjoyment of the shifter, and Honda's have become the standard bearer for this overused device – there's a reason for that. The TSX's six-speed gearbox is the most rewarding you'll find, with perfectly matched throws, smoothly notched gates and a knob whose weight and feel makes you forget about the one behind the wheel.
Once the road went wobbly, the TSX's sports sedan credibility was officially put to the test. Grade: B+. There's no slop on initial turn-in and smooth inputs into the wheel accompanied by progressive pressure on the accelerator cause the TSX to track confidently through corners. Out-and-out understeer when throwing the long pedal to the floor is easily dispatched by the slight intrusion of the traction control system, and when disengaged, a light left foot on the brake brings grip back from the brink. High-speed sweepers are dispatched with poise, bordering on boredom. It certainly doesn't pretend to be a sports car, but it could be confused as a GT if you forget about the additional doors behind you.
The 17-inch wheels wrapped in all-season rubber do a favorable job of keeping things sticky while taking to bends, although we'd be remiss not to say that the first upgrade we'd make to our own TSX would be fitting more performance-oriented gumballs. The chassis can handle it, and you'd be doing yourself and the car a disservice by sticking with the OEM tires when it comes time for replacement.
After making our way through the mountains and stopping for a couple of photo shoots, we finally descended into the valley. Rolling down Interstate 50 through the heart of Tahoe, we came up behind another TSX sporting slate gray body panels and optional five-spoke rollers. While stopped in traffic before the state line next to our badge brethren, we were afforded the opportunity to reflect on the TSX's exterior styling. Maybe the use of the word "styling" is a bit liberal, but both of us agreed that it's a handsome vehicle, albeit a bit on the bland side. The Euro-Accord's front fascia fits in well with its bigger brothers and the rear certainly isn't as unattractive as some of its German competition, but it lacks visual weight. It'd be a great Q-ship if it came with Acura's new turbocharged 2.3-liter four, and would certainly benefit from the additional torque. We're not going to hold our breath for that one.
Once we arrived at our hotel, the two of us felt perfectly ready for a night on the town. Normally, spending over four hours in lesser vehicles leaves both buttocks and brains ready for bed, but the TSX treated us well throughout our journey and we were ready to enjoy some of the sybaritic pleasures that waited for us at the bottom of the hill.
The following day we strapped ourselves in and headed out for a lap drive around the Lake. This part of the country is peppered with countless driving roads that match beautifully paved tarmac with awe-inspiring scenery – the trek around Tahoe is easily in the top ten. The sedan's compliance in any situation quickly proved itself again through two-lane twisties and bumper-to-bumper gridlock, and even made a comfortable place to reflect while we sat on the side of the road enjoying the environs. Life was good, until we heard the telltale sound of air escaping a tire.
Within seconds the Multi-Informational display between the tach and speedo lit up with the tire-pressure monitoring indicator. We pulled off the road and watched as the right-rear tire slowly deflated in front of us. After the space-saver spare was fitted, we rolled into a local tire shop where they found what looked like a broken box cutter blade embedded into the rubber. Bummer, but at least we know the TPS works.
Watching the TSX jacked up onto two wheels, something dawned on us. The term "entry-level luxury" has been a misnomer for years. It's a substantial step to go from a mid-$20,000 daily driver to a $40k luxury ride, and it's a move few can afford. The additional amenities are one thing (soft-touch plastics, techie toys and seats swathed in leather) that distances the TSX from lesser vehicles. But beyond that, driving dynamics are often dwelt upon as being a defining characteristic of these up-market whips. However, the TSX sits on the cusp. Maxed out with all the options that one could reasonably want, Acura's starter model comes in around $32,000. That's a bargain considering all that's offered, and it's a suitable upgrade for buyers interested in a more than a modicum of luxury and engaging driving dynamics. The TSX is proof that your monthly payments don't have to be in the stratosphere to enjoy some of the finer things in life, and if you can forget that it's just a Euro Accord sporting Acura badging, you should be pleased every time you get behind the wheel – regardless of the destination.
New Car Test Drive
More power and fresh looks for 2006.
The Acura TSX is a four-door, front-wheel-drive sports sedan with a superb chassis and a wonderfully tuned engine that loves to rev.
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.
The 2006 Acura TSX ($27,890) offers a choice of six-speed manual gearbox or five-speed automatic with Sequential Sport Shift at no extra cost. A navigation system is optional ($2,000), and has been revised for 2006.
Standard equipment includes perforated leather seating, moonroof, HID headlights, and a 360-watt Acura premium audio system with six-disc CD changer and eight speakers. XM Satellite Radio hardware is standard, but requires a subscription. Standard 17-inch nine-spoke alloy wheels come with V-rated performance tires
Safety features include Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control and side curtain airbags.
The optional A-Spec package ($4,330) adds high-performance shocks and springs, lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot all-season performance tires, and an aero kit featuring an air dam, chin spoiler, side skirts and a choice of deck lid or wing spoiler. The kit is installed by dealerships. The suspension is available separately ($800).
For 2006, the Acura TSX gets a revised grille, bumper fascia, headlights and foglights. Styling cues add to the sporty looks. The nose is clean and sharp. The headlights are narrow, horizontal slits that wrap around the fenders. New side sills for 2006 extend further outward, enhancing the car's already aggressive stance.
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 Acura TSX interior feels graceful. Satin-finish or simulated wood trim wraps from door to door, across the center console and steering wheel.
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.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine boasts several improvements for 2006. Larger intake valves, increased valve timing and lift, increased intake and exhaust flow and reduced pumping losses combine for a healthy horsepower increase to 205 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 164 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. This is actually a larger horsepower increase than it looks like on paper, thanks to the Society of Automotive Engineer's new horsepower rating system. And despite the smaller number it's an increase in torque as well. Although this sounds like another high-strung four cylinder, the torque curve is broad and flat, so you don't need to constantly shift gears to get good acceleration performance. Third gear in the TSX is always there for you, which is saying something for a four-cylinder. Third gear feels good from 3600 rpm at 40 mph all the way up to about 75 mph. Even in sixth gear, cruising at 70 mph and 3000 rpm: put your foot down and the TSX will go, right away.
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.
Acura TSX ($27,890).
Options As Tested
GPS navigation system with voice activation ($2,000).
Acura TSX ($27,890).
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