2009 Acura TSX Expert Review
Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2009 Acura TSX.
2008 is shaping up to be a very busy year for Honda's up-market Acura division. With the unveiling of a new diesel engine and the revamp of their entire sedan lineup, Acura is attempting to reinvent itself as a credible player in the premium sedan segment. But ever since Acura's birth in 1986 as the very first premium Japanese brand, the automaker has suffered from an identity crisis. Acura has always been a mixed bag, as if Honda wasn't sure what it wanted it to be, and with a lineup that spanned the enthusiast-friendly Integra/RSX, the rebadged Isuzu-built SLX and the competent but anonymous RL, consumers were equally confounded.
After complaints that the previous generation of Acura sedans were utterly devoid of style, the automaker decided to give all of its vehicles a bold, new face for the 2009 model year. However, as anyone who has ever followed the follies of cosmetic surgery knows, it's far from a sure bet. Although surgeons claim to be able to take years off a patient's face, the result is often just some weird mutation that looks like a bad photoshop job. Case-in-point: the 2009 Acura RL that debuted at this year's Chicago Auto Show. The new shielded fascia Acura applied to its "flagship" was greeted with howls of pain from virtually all who laid eyes upon it. The RL was followed a month later by an all-new TSX, and on the smaller sedan, the overall look was better received, but many of Acura's aesthetically astute critics remained. Now that we've had a chance to spend some serious time living with the 2009 TSX, we were prepared to move beyond its controversial exterior and see how it faired in the real world. Hit the jump to see how it did.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Like the outgoing TSX, this new model is essentially a re-badged version of the rest of the world's Honda Accord. Since the mid-nineties, North American Accords have diverged from those sold elsewhere, getting larger at a faster rate than its European and Japanese variants. The TSX has proved reasonably popular for Acura and, per usual, the new model gets more of everything -- beginning with the exterior. While the old model was relatively plain and slab sided, the 2009 model gets a significantly more aggressive stance thanks to the longer, wider, lower styling. The surfaces around the wheel openings are far more prominent than before and the character lines are sharply creased, drawing a few cues from the larger TL.
While the majority of the exterior changes are subtle, the one element that's drawn the most attention is the aforementioned grille. The shield that first appeared on the refreshed RL has drawn almost universal complaints from observers, but the implementation on the TSX is less prominent and better integrated than on its larger sibling. In the harsh light of day, it still doesn't qualify as pretty, but it has the potential to grow on owners. As always, such things are a matter of taste and your mileage may vary. Otherwise, aside from the grille and badging, this is essentially the same car as the Euro Accord that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show.
Thankfully, getting away from the contentious exterior is simply a matter of pulling on the chrome door handle. The front seats are the same marvelous units found in the Accord, providing excellent support in all the right places, particularly when attacking the bends. All the controls fall readily to hand and virtually the entire upper surface of the dash board seems to be one continuous surface. Like the Accord and other recent HondAcuras the central portion of the dash bulges out to ease the reach of the controls. The center of the dashboard's peak is occupied by the usual control knob for the Nav/Entertainment system and the graphical interface is basically the same as that used on other Honda vehicles, remaining straightforward and simple to use.
One enhancement Acura has added for 2009 is the integration of the XM traffic data with the navigation system to provide on-the-fly re-routing in the event of a backup on the way to Grandma's. Previously, a list of traffic incidents could be pulled up manually that would show the location and distance on an incident from the current position, but it wouldn't tell you if the problem was on your current route. Now it can automatically adjust its directions without any intervention. During our time with the TSX, we didn't have the opportunity to test its functionality, but if it's anything like the system in the Lexus LS we had a few months ago, it will be a big help during the summer travel/construction season.
The only real complaint we (okay, I) had with the TSX's driver's interface was the shift knob, which seemed to feel too small to be comfortable in hand. Again, this was a personal preference and others probably won't have an issue, particularly since the vast majority of Americans opt for automatics anyway. The shift mechanism itself is absolutely wonderful. Rowing through the gears of the six-speed was utterly effortless and there was never any doubt as to which cog I was headed for. The clutch effort was relatively light and smooth, providing a suitable place to work out the day's frustrations. All cars should have gear changing capabilities this good, so it's unfortunate that most TSX buyers will never have the opportunity to experience it.
The engine that sends propulsive force through the gearbox retains the same 2.4-liters of displacement as the 2008 model, but it has been revised to provide a much fatter torque curve. The peak power drops from 205 to 201 hp for 2009, while maximum torque climbs from 164 to 172 lb.-ft. It doesn't sound like much, but it feels vastly better than the old engine. While the outgoing mill felt lifeless below 3,500 rpm, the revised four cylinder actually feels capable of motivating this car at low revs. Even with the extra 150 pounds saddled to the new TSX, it feels much more pleasant to drive around town. When you take it out to play, the power-plant, like all Honda VTEC fours, loves to rev and quickly spins up to 7,000 rpm and beyond.
The engine speed can be clearly discerned from either the very pleasant engine note or the simple and clearly legible gauges. The needles are attached at the outer rim of the speedo and tach, leaving the central portion free for extra information displays. Regardless of the engine's rotational velocity, vibration is virtually non-existent.
The rear cabin has belts for three passengers, but is clearly contoured with a preference for two. The central section of the second row seat is significantly higher and any passenger relegated to that position should be shorter of stature and long in patience. The outer passengers should have no problem with either head or leg room, with an extra three inches of width and another 2.6-inches of rear shoulder room compared to the last generation TSX. While road trips for four won't be a problem, it's dependent on everyone packing light. The TSX's trunk only measures 12.6 cu. ft., a drop of two-tenths from the old model.
On the road, the chassis of the TSX is well sorted, with just the right blend of spring rates and damping to make the sedan a capable back road runner up to eight-tenths. Beyond that, the limitations of a front wheel drive chassis begin to intrude as understeer takes over. Hard acceleration also causes things to get a little wonky as the front tires struggle for grip and the newfound torque has the drive wheels heading off in directions other than those intended by the driver. Reducing forward velocity is also a pleasure thanks to a nice firm brake pedal, although like other Acuras, pushing too hard, too many times in succession can get temperatures elevated quickly.
While the overall driving experience is good, one issue continually caused complaints. The new TSX has electrically assisted steering. At speeds above about 40 mph, the effort to the turn the wheel is well proportioned and there is even a hint of heavily filtered feedback through the wheel about what's happening at the tire-road interface. Below that speed threshold however, the effort is a bit two light and there is a dead zone around the straight ahead position. The low speed steering feel is just a bit too artificial and disconnected, but since the electric assist is all software controlled, it's also an issue that Honda should be able to adjust, perhaps with a future update.
Overall, the new TSX is a handsome looking design (apart from the grille) with a much improved powertrain. For the most part it's a very pleasant drive and is unlikely to give anyone any huge reasons to complain. The annoyances are relatively minor as long as you keep in mind that this isn't a hard-core sports sedan. Our Vortex Blue Pearl tester was priced at $32,060, with technology package and no additional options were available. The base models come in just just shy of $29K. While the TSX won't be challenging any BMWs or the Infiniti G, it will get you from here to there in comfort and won't lose its head on curvy road as long as you don't explore the limits. It certainly has more visual identity now than it did in its previous incarnation. However, the question still remains, Who is Acura? That's a question this car still doesn't really seem to answer. Perhaps next year when the TSX is available with Honda's first US market diesel we'll have a better idea.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The first generation Acura TSX received glowing reviews from the media and owners alike. While not having the most exciting styling or the beefiest of powertrains, the TSX offered a sensible and reliable vehicle with plenty of standard options that didn't break the bank. Our man Damon road-tripped a 2007 TSX up to Lake Tahoe and was pleasantly surprised with the driving characteristics and smooth powertrain, although he put Acura's turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 on the wish list.
With Acura launching an all-new TSX in 2009, we've been itching to see what direction they would go with the second generation. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long to find out because Acura invited us to test the new TSX just a few weeks before officially launching the car at the New York Auto Show.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Before actually getting behind the wheel, we spent significant time doing a walk-around of the car and scrutinizing the new design. The new TSX is definitely larger – 3.0 inches wider, 2.4 inches longer, a 2.6-inch wider track, and a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase. This, combined with an overall height that has been decreased by .6 inches, gives the new TSX a much more aggressive stance than before. Adding to the new look is what Acura calls "Keen-Edged Styling" that includes a new "Signature Power Plenum Grille," slight fender flares, and sharper, edgier styling than the previous design. It's polarizing for sure, but as we've mentioned before, looks better in light colors. The interior meanwhile features a similar theme with sharp, contrasting edges that make the old design look soft in comparison.
After getting acquainted with the car it was time to get on the road. The wider stance as well as new dual-mode dampers provide a comfortable ride at pretty much any speed, but also allow for a quick and direct turn-in. The steering is also weighted nicely and accurate, things we're used to in the TSX by now. While we had no complaints about handling, the powertrain was mediocre at best. The 2.4-liter inline-4 is sufficient, but still lacks real grunt. At least 4,000 rpm is required to motivate the TSX to go anywhere, but even the upper part of the rpm range isn't that fun to work with. You would hope that a high-revving engine would allow you to move through the gears quickly, but the TSX revs painfully slow, and the optional six-speed is sloppy and vague. To its credit, Acura made an effort to improve the powertrain for 2009 by revising valve timing, increasing compression, and improving the intake and exhaust flow, but it really isn't enough when compared to other engine options in this segment. Despite the inevitable torque steer that would come with it, we're still hoping for that turbocharged inline-4!
While we were left wanting more with the powertrain, we did enjoy Acura's optional technology package that came with our car. It includes a host of features including Acura's navigation system with real-time traffic and weather, XM satellite radio and a spectacular ten-speaker surround sound system with six-disc CD/DVD changer. Add to this the standard Bluetooth and USB port interface, and Acura should do well with the younger, more tech-savvy audience.
Despite the 2009 TSX being an all-new car, it almost feels like a refresh. While those in tune with the automotive industry will know the difference, the general consumer might not see a difference because of the relatively similar powertrain and styling compared to the previous model.
Overall it was tough to emotionally connect with the TSX. There's nothing wrong with the car, but nothing that jumps out and grabs us either. It does its job without much fuss, but never gets your adrenaline pumping either. After chatting with our fellow editor and codriver for some time during the drive, we even found that we forgot we were driving the TSX. It just sort of faded to the background as we ate up the miles. The interesting part is that this fits who will most likely be interested in the TSX. It's the type of car that one can buy and just forget about. It's something that doesn't appeal to the enthusiast side of us, but there are no doubt plenty of consumers who want a sub-$30,000 luxury car that is worry free, has excellent reliability and a great resale value. It would also be perfect for the young business professional who wants a nice car, but doesn't want something as flashy as a BMW or Mercedes.
Truthfully, an evaluation of the TSX doesn't show its real potential with buyers. It has been and is still a smart and logical buy. What it really comes down to is, despite its mediocre powertrain and lack of charisma, the TSX is one of the few cars we wouldn't mind using as a daily driver... as long as we had something more fun waiting for us when we got home.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new sport-luxury sedan.
With the 2009 TSX, Acura has done a full remake of its entry-luxury level sedan. More than just bolting a slick new body on an old platform, the TSX is new from the ground up, as in, longer, wider and lower. In a couple measures, it's roomier, too.
Technology is what sets the new TSX apart. Acura's superb navigation system comes standard and can be operated using voice-recognition. The standard navigation system is the equal of anything in the class, while an optional system displays real-time traffic with congestion re-routing and local and national weather. An airlines display lets you track a flight's progress across the country. The top-line audio system sets a standard for the class, too, with superbly crisp surround sound. Hands-free, Bluetooth cell phone architecture is built right into the car's electronics.
The 2009 Acura TSX is a four-door, five-passenger sedan designed to competed with Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series sedans. It comes with one engine, a 2.4-liter inline-4, and a choice of transmissions, a six-speed manual and a five-speed SportShift sequential automatic. Although horsepower is off slightly, torque is increased by enough to make up any difference in sheer acceleration. Just as important, fuel economy is unchanged with the manual and improved with the automatic. The TSX stays with a front-wheel-drive configuration, whereas true sporty sedans are rear-wheel drive. That said, the TSX is one of the better-handling front-wheel-drive sedans and in its class, hard to beat as an everyday driver that can still be fun on a mountain road.
Styling stays true to Acura themes for 2009, but cleans up here and there to give the car a more aggressive, more buff look and to emphasize its more planted stance. The wider part, where it adds a couple inches between the wheels side to side, translates directly into a sportier driving feel.
Everything inside that matters is powered, including the adjustments on both front seats. Dual-zone climate control and heated seats and outside mirrors are standard. Safety hasn't been overlooked either, with everything from a full array of airbags to electronic stability control to tire pressure monitors included at no extra cost.
The 2009 Acura TSX is a four-door, five-passenger sedan with a 2.4-liter, 201-hp four-cylinder engine and a no-cost choice of either a six-speed manual or a five-speed sequential SportShift automatic.
The Acura TSX ($28,960) comes standard with leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, eight-way adjustable driver's seat with memory, four-way passenger seat, power seats, windows and locks, heated outside mirrors, steering wheel controls for cruise and audio, seven-speaker AM/FM/XM/6CD stereo; USB and auxiliary audio input jacks in the center console, power tilt-and-slide moonroof with shade; Bluetooth connectivity; garage door remote; two power outlets; xenon HID headlights; fog lights; speed-sensitive wipers.
The TSX with the Technology Package ($32,060) replaces the standard audio system with a 10-speaker, surround-sound, 415-watt, AM/FM/XM tuner with multi-format, six-disc CD/DVD audio changer. The navigation system adds a rearview camera, AcuraLink Real-Time traffic (in 76 major metropolitan markets) with dynamic re-routing, AcuraLink weather and AcuraLink satellite communication system.
Acura-approved, interior and exterior accessories are available from dealers. For inside, the list includes Dark Metallic and Titian Silver interior trim kits, trunk tray, trunk hooks, cargo organizer, and cargo net. Among those for the outside are 18-inch, 10-spoke, chrome-look or ebony-finish alloy wheels to replace the stock 17-inch aluminum alloys; backup sensor; wheel locks; sport bumper kit; rear bumper applique; deck lid spoiler or wing spoiler; moonroof visor; car cover; and nose mask.
Safety features include a full complement of airbags to protect occupants front and rear in frontal and side impact crashes. Rear outboard seats provide anchors (LATCH) for child safety seats. Antilock brakes let the driver steer the car during emergency stops, brake assist boosts initial brake pressure in panic stops and electronic brake-force distribution apportions brake application between front and rear to optimize stopping distance. Electronic stability assist, coupled with traction control, adjusts brake and throttle to keep the car going where it's supposed to go through evasive or avoidance maneuvers or when road conditions deteriorate. And tire pressure monitors tell the driver when a tire gets low on air.
While it's not quite the case that if you've seen one Acura, you've seen them all, there's still a consistency to the marque's styling that ties all its models together. The '09 TSX is no exception to that rule. Although it stretches the mold a bit, as it should, there's still no mistaking it for anything but one of Honda's luxury line.
The front end nicely blends elements from Acura's other two sedans, the sporty TL and the more serious RL, and from the MDX sport utility. The headlight housings, for instance, with their squinty lenses curling around the front fenders to reach deep into the arcs of the front wheelwells, look like a direct lift from the TL. The elongated, pentagonal chrome bar topping the similarly outlined grille pulls from both the MDX grille and the single bar slicing across the grille on the current TSX. The gaping lower air intake is a new design cue and shaves visual mass from what might otherwise be an overpowering front bumper while adding function by pumping needed cooling air into the engine compartment and reducing front end lift. Hood sculpting defines the TSX's centerline and front fenders.
The side view departs a bit more from the family look, but keeps just enough of the cues to stay true to its design DNA. This is especially evident in the side lenses of the headlight and taillight housings and the silhouette of the trailing lip of the trunk lid, all of which closely mirror the '08 TSX. In much sharper relief, though, are the sculpted character lines in the door panels. These add visual bulk and combine with edgy wheel arches remindful, again, of the MDX to make a stronger statement about the car's sporty aspirations. Door handles embedded in the upper crease give the view a cleaner look.
The rear aspect, sad to say, suggests of recent Toyota Camrys more than of the previous TSX in its overly busy styling. A deeply cut horizontal line slices straight across the rear vertical of the trunk lid, itself looking almost concave against the gently convex vertical of the '08. Taillights bridge the seam between trunk and fenders as before but bracket a license plate recess that's inverted from the '08 TSX, visually pushing the trailing lip higher and seeming to add sheet metal across the lower reaches of the trunk lid. The rear bumper cups the trunk opening with unflattering sedan like bulk, which makes the hot rod-spec dual exhaust tips look a little lame.
Liking the new Acura TSX interior is easy. It's comfortable without being plush, sporty without being sparse. Communication between driver and car is, for the most part, open and easy and unabridged.
The front seats are supportive, with enough side bolstering for reasonably rambunctious motoring on twisty roads. The bottom cushion could be deeper, but this is a common shortcoming in today's cars, save for a few, like the BMW 3 Series and new 1 Series with their extendable thigh supports. The front seat passenger still gets shortchanged with no height adjustment, which leaves even taller people feeling as if they're sitting in a hole. The three inches tacked onto the TSX's width went mostly to more padding for side impact protection, but front-seat hip room is up by a solid inch.
The rear seat is more like a bench than twin buckets, and space for the lower extremities is snug, measuring by the tape a mere one-tenth of an inch roomier than the '08. This despite the addition of more than two inches to the '09's overall length and almost an inch and a half to its wheelbase. Rear head restraints adjust for height, which is a plus for its occupants, although that even when at their lowest position they obstruct the visibility out the back window from the inside rear view mirror is a minus. All four doors have dual inside pulls, one horizontal and one angled up, for easy closing by passengers of any stature.
Gauges tell their tales with easy-to-scan graphics and floating needles. The steering wheel sports push buttons and toggles controlling more than a dozen functions, not counting the horn, making it look like it would be just as comfortable in a jet fighter cockpit as in a car. This may be just fine for fighter pilot Walter Mittys who fantasize about mixing it up with the other side's Top Guns, but for the rest of us, who just want to drive the car, it's a bit much. The center stack, however, with either the base sound and navigation system or the optional Technology Package, is one of the more intuitively arranged that we've seen, with large, finger-friendly buttons and a reasonably easy-to-learn multi-function joystick-like knob for the multi-layered information center-cum-map screen. The high-end audio setup does force the relocation of the CD changer down into the bowels of the center stack, where it's not as easily accessed as with the base system, which parks it at the top of the stack, but that's a minor complaint, and one that won't even show up on the technophiles' radar.
Storage is more than adequate. Every door has a molded-in space for a water bottle, the front doors room for the proverbial map, although given a navigation system is standard, think guidebook or CDs. The glove box has a partitioned nook for the owner's manual and associated booklets, leaving the rest for smallish flat items. The front center console hosts a bi-level storage bin and two cup holders. The fold-down center armrest has two more. There's a bin in the front footwells on each side of what once was called the transmission hump.
Trunk space is down from the '08, by between more than one-half a square foot to a couple tenths of a square foot, primarily because the navigation system becomes standard for '09 and the trunk houses some of its hardware. The usable space, however, is awkwardly shaped by the need to accommodate the rear suspension components, which is just as well, as the opening itself isn't particularly commodious.
Driving the new TSX doesn't deliver as much fun as an honest-to-goodness sporty sedan could/should for one simple reason: front-wheel drive. Not that it suffers too much torque steer or any of the other dynamics peculiar to front-wheel-drive cars, but that any car burdened with a front/rear weight bias of 60/40 simply cannot deliver the responsiveness and agility of a rear-wheel-drive car, like the two aforementioned BMWs, or an all-wheel-drive car, like the Audi A4 Quattro or the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Nevertheless, the TSX is an enjoyable, moderately sporty car. Suspension balance is good, with spring rates and shock absorber tuning well matched at all four corners. The car takes corners at speed with noticeably more confidence and less body lean than the previous-generation model, thanks in part to '09's two-and-one-half inch wider track. Only when the corners start arriving in rapid succession and require quick steering adjustments first one way then the other do the car's limitations become apparent. Adding to the disappointment is the steering's numb feeling. There's no lack of precision or response to steering inputs, just very little tactile feedback from that all-important contact patch between tire and pavement.
Horsepower is down slightly from '08, but torque is up slightly, so any difference between the '08's and the '09's response to the pressure of the driver's right foot on the gas pedal is measurable only by a stopwatch. As in, sprightly, but definitely still not neck-snapping. Interestingly, the '09's fuel economy improves by two miles per gallon, to 21/30 city/highway, over the '08's with the SportShift five-speed automatic; it's unchanged with the manual gearbox, which, strangely, is rated by the U.S. EPA at one mpg less in the city and two mpg less on the highway.
The SportShift automatic's adaptive programming leaves a bit to be desired, however. Although it initially holds a lower gear longer when the car's on a grade or when it's being pushed hard through a series of corners, it often gives up too soon. Time after time, during our test drive on the two-lane roads in the mountains east of San Diego, just as we readied to ease back into the gas during the transition from one corner to the next, it shifted up a gear, dumping the engine out of the sweet part of its power curve. It was similarly impatient on grades, not waiting long enough before shifting up a gear and then shifting back down a moment or two later when it realized its error. Never was there any indication of brake fade on those roads, and ride quality over anything but the worst pavement was better than average. There was little wind noise, and the longer wheelbase and wider track minimized the dreaded rocking-horse effect over freeway expansion joints.
Gear spacing in the six-speed manual easily kept the engine in the best part of its power curve, although we still don't see the need for a transmission this mechanically complex for everyday driving; save for brief periods of testing the car's limits, we mostly ignored second, fourth and fifth gear. Clutch action was smoothly managed, and the curved shape of gas pedal brings its lower portion close enough to the arc of the brake pedal to permit relatively comfortable heel-and-toe downshifts.
The 2009 Acura TSX is kind of like the little engine that thought it could, but found out it couldn't. As decent a car as it is, and it is a very decent car, it's not the full-fledged sporty sedan it could be, and that Acura seems to want it to be. With all-wheel drive and just a little more power, it could give BMW and Audi a real run for their money.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from San Diego, California.
Acura TSX ($28,960); TSX with Technology Package ($32,060).
Options As Tested
Acura TSX ($28,960).
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