2004 Acura TSX Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sporty new sedan from Honda's European market.
Acura felt it should have a car to compete with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, so it came up with the TSX, an intriguing car that does much with little. It starts with a European Honda Accord, slightly smaller than ours, including the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and adds impeccable execution all the way to your driveway. That execution is what the TSX pits against the benchmark BMW 325.
Honda's 200-horsepower engine boasts a broad torque curve that responds immediately to the drive-by-wire throttle and quick work with its sweet gearbox. 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. For an enthusiast, the 2004 Acura TSX eliminates the lust for European-market cars.
The lineup for the Honda TSX couldn't be simpler. There is a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with Sequential Sport Shift, for $26,490. The only option is a $2000 navigation system, in which Acura takes pride: it's intuitive, thorough and fairly easy to operate.
Notable standard equipment includes a 200-horsepower version of the 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam iVTEC engine, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels with V-rated performance tires, perforated leather seating, side curtain airbags, moonroof, HID headlights, and 360-watt Acura premium audio system with six-disc CD changer and eight speakers.
Acura TSX shares sheetmetal panels with the European Honda Accord sedan, although the grille and bumper fascias are changed. The nose is clean and sharp, although the grille is wider than the Accord's. The headlights are more narrow and horizontal than the Accord's, streaking aggressively back along each fender. Invisible to the eye are aerodynamic undertrays, strategic bellypans that help bring the coefficient of drag down to an impressive 0.27. 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 seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels complement the car's clean lines, and the P215/50 tires are low-profile but not radical. There are discreet business-like chrome exhaust tips tucked under the rear fascia at each edge. They give the car attitude. Dual exhausts on a four-cylinder are cool.
To get a picture of the scale, the TSX is 183 inches long with a wheelbase of 105 inches; the Acura RSX, with the same basic engine, is 172 inches long with a wheelbase of 101 inches; and the U.S. Honda Accord is 187.6 inches long with a wheelbase of 105 inches.
The Acura TSX interior feels graceful in its beige perforated leather, with a sculpted driftwood gull, or maybe it's a B-1 bomber, flying toward you on the dash panel. Its eyes and mouth are the sound system, and its wooden wings arc out on the dash. The voice-activated navigation system gives it elegance and a feel of being in command, as long as the system listens to you. After that it will make you look silly and you may want to punch it. But eventually you will learn how to speak as it insists, and it will reward you.
The TSX is a five-seater, but pity the fifth person. The driver gets all the luck. There's plenty of bolstering in the eight-way power seat, the rubber-coated pedals feel good, and there's a solid dead pedal. The 8000-rpm tach is as big as the 160-mph speedo, because the TSX is all about using the tach. The bright red needles give it just the right neon touch.
Still for the driver, 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. The seat fits great and there's good legroom. You 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. You've got a moon roof, you even have heated seats. The TSX calls out: 'Road trip!'
What do you get when you combine a close-ratio, six-speed gearbox with an engine that makes its most horsepower at 6800 rpm and redlines at 7100 rpm? You get to change gears a lot. Just kidding. Fact is, with the Acura TSX it really is 'get' to change gears, not 'have' to change gears. And the engine is so sweet at 6000 rpm that you want to stay there. The red zone on the tach begins at 7100 rpm, but it's not electronically limited until 7400, and it will easily get there.
Another thing is the broad torque, which makes it easier not to shift if you don't feel like it. The TSX draws 200 horsepower out of the basic Honda four-cylinder, and, at 2.4 liters, provides 166 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm, with a good chunk of that torque also there at even lower rpm. That's a big improvement over the torque of the 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter RSX-S engine. Third gear in the TSX is always there for you, which is saying something for a four-cylinder. It's useful at 3600 rpm/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.
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 vale timing and lift system.
It's simply a wonderfully tuned engine. It doesn't feel as if 200 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 'er up a bit, 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 the state of the art of building the perfect little European sports sedan (never mind that it's Japanese), as revealed by the suspension. Double A-arms support the front, with a multi-link system in the rear. Tender loving car 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. We did our usual panic stop at 70 with no hands, and the TSX aced it. And they 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 softish 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 has not been inherited from other, bigger Acuras. The broad range of third gear again was useful, tremendous, even. Braking and downshifting was idiot-proof, thanks again partl.
The Acura TSX is an exceptional car for the superb qualities it draws out of the Honda Accord platform. It's an amazingly refined and sporty four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedan with a powerful and responsive engine, flawless suspension, seductive gearshifting and a classy leather interior.
Options As Tested
DVD Navigation system with voice recognition ($2000).
Acura TSX six-speed manual ($26,490).
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