2005 Acura TSX Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sporty sedan based on European Accord.
The Acura TSX is a responsive sports sedan with front-wheel drive. The tip-offs for its sporty demeanor start with the name. Acura calls its sports-specialty vehicles the RSX, TSX, and NSX. Road cars are named CL, TL, RL. The TSX is Acura's response to the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
The TSX is based on the European-market Honda Accord, which is a different car and slightly smaller than the Accord designed for the U.S. market. It's a superb chassis that's tight and fun to drive. The 2.4-liter iVTEC four-cylinder engine delivers 200 horsepower and boasts a broad torque curve. This engine is wonderfully tuned and loves to rev.
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 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 Acura TSX eliminates the lust for European-market cars.
New for 2005 is the A-Spec, a sport package available from Acura dealers.
The 2005 Acura TSX model line presents few dilemmas: Simply choose between the six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with Sequential Sport Shift. Both models are the same price ($26,990). Then decide whether you want the excellent navigation system ($2,000).
Either way, the front-wheel-drive TSX is powered by the 200-horsepower 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam iVTEC engine and comes with 17-inch alloy wheels with V-rated performance tires. Standard equipment includes perforated leather seating, moonroof, HID headlights, and 360-watt Acura premium audio system with six-disc CD changer and eight speakers. For 2005, XM Satellite Radio hardware is standard, but requires a subscription.
Safety features include Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control and side curtain airbags.
A-Spec ($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. If you want the better handling without the other stuff, you can have the suspension by itself ($800), but you'll have to give up the nifty A-Spec badges.
The Acura TSX is a four-door sedan that shares most of its sheet metal with the European-market Honda Accord (which is different from the Accord sold in the U.S.) The TSX features a different grille, bumper fascia and headlights. The nose is clean and sharp. The headlights are more narrow and horizontal than the European 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 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 seven-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 rear fascia at each edge and 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 coupe 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. 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. The seat fits great and there's good legroom. 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. 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. You've got a moon roof, you even have heated seats and heated outside mirrors. The TSX calls out: 'Road trip!'
Your companion will be comfortable. A four-way power front passenger seat is standard on 2005 models. The TSX is a technically a five-seat sedan, but it's better suited for four.
Navigation systems are getting better every year and Acura's may be the best. 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.
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 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm, with a good chunk of that torque also there at even lower rpm. 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 valve timing and lift system.
It's 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 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 throttle.
We loved the VSA electronic stability control, which we couldn't feel working during those t.
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.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses reports from Washington's Columbia River Valley; with nctd.com editor Mitch McCullough in California.
Acura TSX ($26,990).
Options As Tested
GPS navigation system with voice activation ($2,000).
Acura TSX ($26,990).
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