Station wagons are a bit like free dinners. Your parents appreciate them, auto journalists love them and nobody buys them. It's that last trait that's led to the near extinction of the family wagon, save for a few luxury rigs, a Volkswagen and a Subaru. And why not? Who needs a station wagon when a crossover is just as roomy, not as efficient and generally more expensive?
Given the current state of the wagon in the U.S., we were resigned to the fact that the stubby two-box was on its way to oblivion. But that hasn't stopped Honda from turning the European Accord into the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon. And putting our auto-journo biases aside for the moment, we're damn glad they did.
The Acura TSX Sport Wagon may be brand-new to the U.S., but under its newly shaped sheetmetal is the same TSX we've come to appreciate, albeit with more cargo room and another $1,350 added to the bottom line. The Sport Wagon starts at $30,960, and with Acura's $3,650 Technology Package, our tester tipped the scales at $34,610.
Anyone who has ever priced out an Acura model knows that opting for the high-end package means that just about every option is included. That doesn't change for the TSX Sport Wagon, as the Technology Package includes navigation, Bluetooth, a power tailgate, voice recognition and 10-speaker ELS Surround audio with a 15 GB hard disk for audio storage.
That's a lot of kit for $3,650, but the plethora of tech options won't entice the luxury car buyer if the exterior doesn't look great. It helps that the TSX wears Acura's corporate beak more convincing than most of its its larger, more expensive siblings. Perhaps the smaller stance of the TSX makes the front end look less like James Bond's Jaws with an overbite. But does the two-box wagon design change that? We're thinking yes, but only for the better. The wagon's well-tapered profile gives the TSX a visual boost, while chrome roof rails, attractive 17-inch wheels and body-color moldings give this middle-management hauler a touch of class.
Still, the TSX is a bit of a tweener when it comes to luxury cred. The wagon starts at over $30k and it wears an Acura badge, yet it comes up a bit short in the swaddled and pampered department. Why? The interior. Sure, our tester came equipped with all the leather and tech gizmos expected in this echelon of the market, but the problem lies with materials that aren't quite up to snuff. The center arm rest is Honda+, with run-of-the-mill materials and little cushion. The doors are dressed in utilitarian garb, and the dash struggles to compete with the likes of the Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. Two solid rides, no doubt, but neither are trying to campaign as luxury rides.
But while the TSX falls short of lux, we'd add that the wagon's duds are more than adequate for most. The steering wheel, while loaded with a complicated combination of buttons, feels premium and the seats are well-bolstered and comfy enough for most any rump. The addition of the Technology Package gave our tester all the amenities we've come to expect from vehicles in this price range, and while we've seen easier to use systems, there was little trouble pairing our smartphone or accessing the music on our MP3 player via the USB input.
Being a wagon, there's ample storage space, and even with the second row upright, you can fit a commendable amount of stuff in the 25.8 cubic feet of storage out back. Stow that second row and you're treated to 60 cubic feet of space, or more room than many mid-size crossovers.
The cabin of the TSX Sport Wagon does have a pair of weaknesses that could cause issues. The first is an over-abundance of buttons that can overwhelm the driver. At times, we found ourselves staring at the center stack, just hoping for the proper button or knob to jump out at us. This is a problem that both Acura and Honda share, and one that needs to be addressed ASAP. The second is that if you're hoping the TSX Sport Wagon can also pull family duty, keep on wishing. The wagon lacks the leg room to keep rear passengers comfy over long hauls, with only 34.3 cubic inches of space for feet and legs of all shapes and sizes. Even the much smaller Honda Fit sports more leg room.
Lucky for us, we didn't need to tote around many passengers during our week with the wagon. That means we often found ourselves behind the wheel all alone, and given the TSX's surprisingly nimble driving dynamics, that's more than okay with us. It begins with the addictively rev-happy 2.4-liter four-cylinder resting behind the bottle opener grille. The TSX Sport Wagon weighs 3,599 pounds, which sounds like a V6 would be required, but why add cylinders if they're not needed? Acura seems to think so, since it's not offering the 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 as an option, even though it can be had in the TSX sedan.
This marvelously smooth four-cylinder powerplant boasts a ho-hum 201 horsepower at a sky-high 7,000 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 revolutions, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. We couldn't help but scour the road ahead to search out areas where we could safely bury the throttle in the carpet. Acceleration from a stop isn't particularly impressive – likely about seven seconds to 60 mph – but once on the move, the free-reving four moves the tach as easily as anything within earshot of 200 ponies. It's disappointing that the TSX still features an old-school five-speed automatic transmission, but this slushbox is still silky smooth, something we've come to expect from Honda and its luxury arm.
Since we're talking about a four-cylinder with a displacement of only 2.4-liters, fuel economy is still very respectable. The Environmental Protection Agency tells us that the TSX Sport Wagon is capable of 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 22 mpg in city driving. We managed 24.2 mpg in mixed driving during our time with the wagon; not bad for a vehicle with more cargo capacity than many crossovers in the mid-size segment.
A spirited mill can only strive for greatness if it also has the benefit of a willing chassis. This is where the TSX Sport Wagon shines brightest of all. Acura engineers went with an independent double-wishbone suspension with coil springs and an independent multi-link rear paired with coil springs and thicker rear stabilizer bar. That high-quality suspension hardware feels very athletic, thanks in part to pricey Michelin Pilot P225/50R17 93V rubber.
If we can describe the chassis performance in only a few words, we'd say this high-end wagon features one of the best front-wheel-drive sedan setups we've had the pleasure of driving. The TSX earns this designation thanks to a magnificently dialed-in feel that lacks the body roll or general sloppiness of most crossovers. The electric variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering doesn't offer an abundance of feedback and it can feel a bit heavy around town, but the steering comes across as crisp and accurate.
While the TSX Sport Wagon falls a bit short of the luxury bar, we couldn't care less. It's not overly fast, roomy or plush, but it wins our hearts and minds thanks to a terrific powertrain and chassis that kept us entertained. That this TSX is a true sports wagon is simply icing on the cake. While we Americans love our cake, it's unfortunate that buyers probably won't give the TSX Sport Wagon the love it deserves – it's worth a look.