2012 Acura TSX Expert Review:Autoblog
Brush your long, grungy mop from your eyes, turn down the Nirvana and take a look around. It's the early '90s and an army of sport utility vehicles are flooding the streets. The newest four-wheeled object of America's affection has quickly become the default mode of transportation for everyone from inner city professionals to suburban soccer moms.
Fast forward a couple of decades and although sport utes are still around, they've largely been displaced by the crossover – the SUV's easier-to-maneuver, more fuel efficient and more comfortable unibody progeny. But even after years of refinement, the CUV is still a basketcase of compromises. Which begs the question: Did we have it right back in the day? Is a wagon still the best compromise of size, functionality and driving dynamics? We snagged the keys to a 2011 Acura TSX Sports Wagon to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeff Glucker / AOL
Needless to say, the TSX Sport Wagon is based on its sedan counterpart, but in addition to its two-box shape, Acura has set it off with a redesigned grille. The new piece looks far less hawk-nosed than the one worn by the four-door, as its been broken up by a thinner frame that creates a slimming effect. The lower bumper also improves front-end styling with a much wider and more aggressive appearance. Seeing the TSX Sport Wagon for the first time is a bit like running into that formerly plain-looking girl from high school who got some work done and now dates a pro baseball player; she looks nearly the same, but somehow better. And she knows it. All of which suggests that Acura's stylists may have been listening to at least some of the criticism they've received over the company's controversial front fascia.
The Sport Wagon's updated nose gives way to that long wagon body, which also benefits from a handful of well-placed styling elements. Noticeable fender bulges wrap around the 17-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels and serve to bookend a razor sharp shoulder crease. A strong character line takes over and works its way around the perimeter of the car. It's a neat visual trick that keeps your eyes moving along the bodywork, and it also helps to hide the extra length the wagon wears – a grand total of about 3.6 inches. The overall appearance, however, is somewhat sportier than the sedan because of how the rotund rear end sets off the car's stance.
The driver's perch gives you the chance to enjoy the TSX's dark trim and subtle contrast stitching on its seats. The heated leather front chairs wrap around your body like a mold and while the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 328i Sport Wagon and Volvo V50 might have nice seats, none of them offer standard heating and few are as comfortable. Rear seat passengers are well taken care of, too, as the wagon loses just 0.1-inch of headroom compared to the sedan, while leg, hip and shoulder room all remain the same.
Better still, the rear seats fold down nearly flat with the touch of a switch. The side pockets and lower panels can be removed to reveal even more storage options and the 28-inch height of the rear opening allows for some sizable objects to catch a lift. The 60.5 cubic-feet of rear cargo space is downright cavernous compared to the 50.5, 48.9 and 44.2 found in the Audi, BMW and Volvo, respectively. The closest you'll get to equaling the TSX's cargo hold is the Cadillac CTS Wagon which comes in at 58 cubes with the seats folded flat.
It's not just comfort and utility that makes the TSX Sport Wagon a near ideal place to log trips over the hills and through the woods. All of the knobs and switches are easy to reach, and the available infotainment system hits the moving target of today's technological standards. With the exception of the bulbous multi-directional controller blighting the center stack, the controls are logically laid out, providing an easy learning curve. Dual-zone climate controls keep more than just the driver happy and even the base seven-speaker sound system provides an enjoyable audio experience. The navigation system and rearview camera, however, only show up on the dashboard if you opt for the Technology Package, but Bluetooth and USB audio come standard.
The base model starts at $30,960 plus $860 for destination and handling, while the TSX Sport Wagon with Tech Package costs $34,610 plus D&H. When upgrading to the latter, buyers also receive a power-actuated tailgate, boosted ELS 460-watt 10-speaker audio system with voice recognition, navigation with real-time weather, traffic updates and dynamic re-routing, and the rearview camera. A loaded Acura TSX Sport Wagon with Tech Package still comes in under the base price of the A4 ($35,940), 328i ($36,200) and comparably-equipped V50 ($35,650). The Caddy? Just over $38,000 in base spec.
Comparing pricing and amenities never paints a complete picture, though, and that's where driving dynamics come into play. "Sport" is the TSX Sport Wagon's middle name, and after hauling around Southern California for a couple of days, the moniker is well-deserved. If just. The suspension is firm – almost surprisingly so – making this five-door a joy to push hard, at least on SoCal's smooth roads. The rack-and-pinion steering is also tight and responsive, combining neatly with the TSX's stiff suspenders to make for an engaging driving experience.
When the road turns even slightly rough, however, the TSX Sport Wagon transforms into something of a child's moonbounce. While never unsettled, on certain course surfaces we found the Acura to be not unlike navigating a Boston whaler across a choppy harbor. Suspension for this front-wheel drive wagon is composed of double wishbones up front and multi-link setup in the rear, and we suspect the issue lies with the constant-rate coil springs. Perhaps a set of progressive units would help smooth things out, but prospective buyers who live in areas blessed with four distinctly separate seasons should keep the TSX Sport Wagon's stiff nature in mind.
Under the hood of the TSX Sport Wagon lies a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 201 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 172 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. That doesn't sound like much, but the powertrain actually provides a surprising amount of motivation for this 3,599-pound premium utility sled and sounds pretty good while doing it.
Power is routed to the front wheels courtesy of a five-speed automatic transmission, while a pair of paddles mounted to the steering wheel allow for manual gear selection. When left alone, the automatic shifts smoothly, though sometimes it plays a game of hide-and-seek when pressing on with authority. If you're not in the mood for the cogbox's automated games, you can always switch the transmission into Sport and use the paddleshifters. Fortunately, whatever speed you build is just as easy to shed thanks to the TSX's well-sorted 11.8-inch ventilated front and 11.1-inch solid rear discs.
A six-speed manual transmission would offer even more engagement, but sadly Acura can't build a business case for one. When pressed why we can't get a row-our-own version, Acura officials indicated that the company expects to sell around 4,000 units per year, or 10 percent of all TSX models sold. The take rate for manual transmissions amongst current TSX buyers is only around two to three percent, and with the wagon already making up a minority of TSX sales, it doesn't make financial sense to offer a three-pedal model.
So where is the V6 that's offered in the sedan? The four-cylinder does a surprisingly credible job, but the 280-hp, 3.5-liter unit available in the four-door would be a welcome addition. Just as Acura was listening to its customers with regards to the front-end design, it's also evidently deferred to market research regarding what engine to plunk in the TSX Wagon's beaky nose. As the theory goes, the average wagon buyer doesn't need 280 hp when 201 hp works just fine, and prospective buyers Acura spoke with placed a higher priority on fuel economy than power. The 2.4-liter is rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 miles per gallon on the highway, while the V6-powered sedan achieves 18/27 – numbers that would no doubt fall in the heavier wagon.
That all said, why is the TSX Sport Wagon finally available in the U.S.? Because Acura says it wants to provide an SUV alternative for its entry-level customers. The wagon is aimed squarely at those successful members of Generation-Y for whom owning an SUV has become a stigma. Priced below the competition and boasting better fuel economy, the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon is not yet the near-luxury estate of our dreams, but it's a welcome step in the continued resurrection of the premium wagon.
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeff Glucker / AOL
New Car Test Drive
New Special Edition model.
The Acura TSX is available as a sedan or wagon. Both are competent near-luxury cars that are very easy to live with. The TSX Sport Wagon is a nice alternative to a small SUV or crossover. It delivers almost as much utility, better reflexes and better fuel economy than just about any SUV extant.
For 2012, a new Special Edition model joins the Acura TSX lineup. The 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition features a more aggressive front spoiler, new rear bumper fascia, unique side sills, dark grey polished aluminum wheels, and trunk badging. We drove a 2012 TSX Special Edition and really liked it. Its seats are as good as sport seats get, with perforated black suede inserts and red backing and stitching, matched by the stitching on the steering wheel and the shift knob. The headliner is black, instead of the standard TSX gray. There's red instrument lighting, overhead lighting, footwell lighting, and aluminum pedal covers.
The 2012 TSX Sport Wagon has been updated with more rear cargo space gained by replacing the spare tire with a tire repair kit, thus enlarging the storage area under the floor. There's now 66.2 cubic feet, making the TSX wagon the cargo-space leader in its class. We drove a TSX Sport Wagon and thought it was an agile alternative to a crossover SUV.
2012 Acura TSX models come standard with heated leather-trimmed seats, power everything, dual-zone climate control, a great sounding high-watt stereo, electronic stability control and a full array of airbags. The TSX scores well in government and insurance industry crash tests. The 2012 TSX competes primarily with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Lexus IS, and to a lesser extent with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9-3 and Volkswagen CC.
For 2011, the TSX sedan got a slight face lift and the TSX Sport Wagon joined the lineup. The Acura TSX was last redesigned for the 2008 model year. The TSX was based on the European Honda Accord platform and is expected to be replaced by the smaller 2013 Acura ILX, which is based on the Honda Civic.
The Acura TSX uses front-wheel drive, whereas many sports sedans including some of its competitors are rear-wheel drive. Regardless, this Acura remains one of the better-handling front-drive sedans available. We pushed it during our week-long test with a Special Edition, and it made us happy. It's grown bigger, heavier and more luxurious over the last few years, and as a result it plods a bit more than it once did, yet it's still hard to beat as an everyday driver that can be fun on a winding road.
The TSX comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 201 horsepower. This engine is smooth and loves to rev. It comes with a choice of manual or automatic transmission, and the slick-shifting 6-speed manual is the most fun TSX to drive. TSX gets good fuel economy, delivering an EPA-estimated 22/31 miles per gallon City/Highway.
A 3.5-liter V6 is available for the TSX sedan, delivering substantially more power and torque, with a 3 mpg mileage penalty. The V6 has a temperament all its own, distinct from the four-cylinder models. It's more substantial, and heavier, with character more in tune with the luxury class.
Technology has always been a big part of the TSX appeal, and this extends beyond the drivetrain and chassis. Acura's superb navigation system is the equal of anything in the class. It 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. Like the other features, voice command and hands-free Bluetooth cell phone architecture are cleanly integrated with the car's electronics. The TSX delivers Acura's hallmark traits of smooth mechanicals, a clean stylish cabin, and distinctive design. If it isn't a true sports sedan because of its size and front-wheel drive, it's very good being what it is: a stylish, efficient premium compact sedan with a sporty tilt. If passengers aren't too tall, the TSX is also a comfortable commuter car, as long as the freeway isn't too rough.
The 2012 Acura TSX is available as a sedan or five-door wagon, with either a four- or six-cylinder engine and manual or automatic transmission. Options are limited.
The TSX sedan ($29,810) comes standard with a 2.4-liter inline-4, delivering 201 horsepower and up to 172 pound feet of torque. Either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission is available for the price, with 17-inch alloy wheels.
Standard features include leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat with memory, a four-way passenger seat, heated outside mirrors, steering wheel controls for cruise and audio, and a 360-watt stereo with single CD, XM satellite receiver and seven speakers, including sub-woofer.
TSX Special Edition ($30,810) features a more aggressive front spoiler, new rear bumper fascia, unique side sills, dark grey polished aluminum wheels, trunk badging, black sport seats with perforated suede inserts and red stitching, red instrument lighting, overhead lighting, footwell lighting, and aluminum pedal covers.
TSX Sport Wagon ($31,160) is powered by the 2.4-liter four, but it's only offered with the automatic. It comes standard with the same features as the sedan, with a few wagon-only items such as a rear cargo cover.
TSX V6 sedan ($35,350) upgrades with a 3.5-liter V6 generating 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet. The V6 also adds 18-inch wheels, recalibrated steering and suspension, and active sound control. Comfort and convenience features are identical to those on four-cylinder models.
The optional Technology Package for the sedans ($3,100) and wagon ($3,650) includes Acura's navigation system, with real-time traffic and weather and voice recognition. The package also adds premium ELS audio with more power, 10 speakers, a CD changer and a 15-GB storage drive, and a back-up camera. On the wagon, it includes a power liftgate. The window sticker will list TSXs with this package as separate Technology models. TSX dealer installed accessories include a remote starter, exterior racks and spoilers and interior trim kits.
Safety features include the required complement of airbags: front-impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags for outboard passengers front and rear. There are active head restraints for front passengers and anchors for child safety seats (LATCH) in back. Active safety features include electronic stability control (ESC) and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist. A tire pressure monitor is required by federal law.
The TSX applies what Acura calls its Keen Edge design theme, with hard creases and prominent bulges. There is a consistency to Acura's styling that ties its current models together, starting with the prominent, stylized caliper logo, and there is no mistaking the TSX as anything other than a model from Honda's luxury brand.
Introduced as a 2008 model, the current-generation TSX has been with us for awhile and is expected to be replaced by the 2013 Acura ILX.
The TSX sedan is one of the largest cars in its class. It's more than seven inches longer than a BMW 3 Series, and five inches longer than a Lexus IF, and it's wider than both. The wagon is about four inches longer than the sedan, sharing the same 106.4-inch wheelbase, with a large rear hatch and bulging rear bumper that create a big rear end.
There are underbody panels intended to improve aerodynamics. These plastic sheets enclose some mechanical components, smoothing airflow underneath the car and minimizing the aural disturbance it creates. In its quest to reduce noise inside the TSX, the windshield has a sheet of sound-deadening acoustic laminate between layers of glass, and the side windows are thicker than average.
The TSX's front end blends elements from Acura's other two sedans, the sporty TL and the more sedate RL, and from the MDX sport utility. Its side view departs a bit more from the Acura family look, but keeps just enough of the cues to stay true to Keen Edge design. The rear angle is rather busy, and unfortunately suggests a Toyota Camry. The rear bumper cups the trunk opening with unflattering bulk, which makes the hot rod dual exhaust tips look a lame.
The five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels have a beveled lip, giving them a little more visual depth. Split five-spoke 18-inch wheels identify the TSX V6. The six-cylinder is also distinguished by a V6 badge on the trunk and slightly larger lower grille inlets.
Outward visibility is excellent from the driver's seat, especially forward and to the sides. The rear view is slightly hindered by rear headrests, a problem not unique to the TSX. The larger wheels and lower profile tires on the V6 add almost nothing to the minimal road noise that finds its way into the cabin. Wind noise is better muted than ever at highway speeds, and the most prominent noise inside the TSX is the mostly pleasant sound of the engines spinning at high revs. Noise, vibration and harshness control in the TSX surpasses the class standard.
It's easy to like the handsome TSX interior. The cabin is comfortable without being plush, and sporty without being sparse. Communication between driver and car is easy and unabridged.
The trim is titanium-colored high-quality plastic, and everything else inside the both the Sport Wagon and Special Edition that we tested was black, except for the trim around the main gauges and a couple of buttons. Some might find the effect dark and dense, others might find it classy. The center console flows elegantly, up into a clean center stack and out over the driver's and passenger's knees. Its trim has the look of brushed aluminum, and the door handles are L-shaped, tidy and delicate and functional. The L shape is for a reason, either horizontal or vertical levers.
There's a traditional key, rare in this class of sedans, but we like its convenience. The center-console box is cooled by the air conditioning, keeping snacks or a soft drink cool. The optional navigation system has a full VGA monitor with good resolution.
The standard front seats are supportive, with enough bolstering for rambunctious motoring on twisty roads. The bottom cushion could be deeper, and shorter drivers may have a hard time getting the lumbar support perfect, while the front passenger gets no height adjustment.
However in our Special Edition, with the perforated suede inserts and leather edges, we found the seats to be as good as they get. Leather seating surfaces aren't needed one bit. The suede seats are especially grippy for hard cornering, and they're heated.
One thing we didn't like was the HVAC programming. On a cold day, we started out with the heat at full blast; then when we realized it was 80 degrees in the cabin, we backed it down to 72. What did the system do? It blasted us with icy air, to bring the temp down to 72 as quickly as possible. Other cars do this. We wonder what they're thinking. So we turned it off.
The TSX has less front headroom than most competitors, but more rear legroom than some, and parity just about everywhere else.
The gauges are trimmed with chrome, and tell their tales with simple graphics and floating needles. The paddles for the 5-speed manual automatic transmission are mounted on the steering wheel rather than the column, so they turn with the driver's hands. The wheel sports pushbuttons and toggles for more than a dozen functions, not counting the horn, good for those who fantasize about mixing it up with other Top Guns.
With the optional Technology Package, the TSX presents one of the more intuitively arranged switch packages we've seen, with large, finger-friendly buttons and a relatively easy multi-function knob for the multi-layered information/map screen. There's a hard button for all climate and audio functions, so you don't have to use the joystick to change a radio station or air-flow direction. The standard CD slot is easy to access, unlike too many others.
A Grammy winner helped tune the optional sound system for Acura. It doesn't blast you, using a modest 415 watts of amplification (460 in the wagon), 10 speakers and DVD-audio capability to deliver beautiful detailed sound. It also features Song by Voice audio selection. The easy-to-load hard drive will store 15 gigabytes of music, or about 3,500 songs. With this system owners can leave their CDs at home.
The navigation system is tops. Its graphics are outstanding and it works quickly. The Real-Time Weather feature (requires satellite radio subscription) provides forecasts that even show the local storm radar.
Interior storage is adequate. Door pockets have good bins with a shaped space for a water bottle. There's also a bin in the front footwells on each side of what once was called the transmission hump. The glovebox has a partitioned nook for the owner's manual and booklets, leaving the rest for smallish flat items. The center console hosts a bi-level storage bin and two cup holders; and the E-brake is a lever between the seats as it should be.
The rear seat is more like a bench than twin buckets. Those of average height should stay comfortable for a couple of hours. The drop-down center armrest has two cup holders, and there are pockets on the front seatbacks and small bins at the bottom of the rear doors. Rear head restraints adjust for height.
Visibility is good from the driver's seat, especially out the front and sides. The rear view is slightly hindered by rear headrests, a problem not unique to the TSX. Wind noise is better muted than ever at highway speeds, and the most prominent noise inside the TSX is the mostly pleasant sound of the engines spinning at high revs. Noise, vibration and harshness control in the TSX surpasses the class standard.
The trunk in the sedan offers 14 cubic feet, at least one foot more than Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Lexus IF. The liftover height is low, but the opening isn't wide. Space is easily expanded by dropping the rear seatbacks using levers from the trunk. We love this convenience that others often overlook.
The Sport Wagon provides 25.8 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat, expanding to 66.2 cubic feet with the seats lowered. That's more than BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 wagons, even more than small SUV/crossovers including the Acura RDX. The lift-over height is a low 24 inches, and the opening is wide. With the rear seatbacks folded, there's nearly 70 inches of length, plenty of room for a bicycle or a big day at Costco. The wagon's space is nicely finished with velvety carpet under a tonneau, and equipped with tie-down hooks. There are four separate covered compartments, including one under the floor that's expanded in 2012 by replacing the spare tire with a tire repair kit. The Technology Package includes a power liftgate.
Acura has done a great job in every area, in making the TSX hot, sweet, and fun to drive. It uses the same powertrain as a Honda Civic Si. In fact, we tested a Civic Si the week after we left the TSX, and for $7000 less we got the same performance. But not the same style.
Running the TSX hard, we'll mention the two things we found less than perfect: more front wheelspin than we expected, and a firmer jab at the rear suspension over sharp bumps at speed, for example freeway expansion strips. But neither thing happens very often, so they're not even close to being deal-breakers, unless you live somewhere where the roads are often icy and the freeways are broken.
From the raves department, we'll start with the gearbox. The 6-speed with short-throw linkage is tight and sweet, not much more to say. It never let us down, and we loved playing with it, including quick heel-and-toe downshifts. And the tidy leather-wrapped knob is perfect.
The suspension hugs ripples in the road, making the driver feel secure and inspiring him or her to look for more. The turn-in is sharp and responsive, and you have to be stupid aggressive with the steering wheel to get it to understeer in slow curves. The electronic stability control is programmed just right, a very important thing for enjoyment of a car like this. It corrects at the right time, not too early, and makes its corrections with the brakes, not the throttle; so you're never left with no power. In fact, you can blast through understeer in curves at medium speeds, driving with the throttle while the brakes control the drift.
Now that the compliments have been paid, remember that front-wheel drive doesn't offer the handling characteristics, agility or feel of a rear-wheel-drive car, nor an all-wheel-drive car biased to behave like rear-wheel drive, as is the Audi A4 quattro.
The 2.4-liter engine with 201 horsepower is the silkiest four-cylinder we can think of. The throttle response is wonderful, and acceleration smooth; it rejoices at rpm where others sound stressed. It comes on the cams at 5500 rpm and climbs with a subtle scream until it's gently capped by the rev limiter at 7300 rpm, where it misfires just right, without dropping your face onto the steering wheel.
The torque is good, too, 172 foot-pounds at 4300 rpm. We chugged up our very steep street in 4th gear at 40 mph, where a lot of cars we test need a downshift to third.
It's not long-legged at higher speeds; 80 mph is 3500 rpm, with the cabin still quiet and the engine smooth. We gave it one high speed run on an isolated freeway at speeds higher than that, and the TSX took it totally in stride. In fact, it delivered 22.9 mpg with foot on the floor a lot, over 80. Driving more reasonably, it got 25.5 mpg. The engine is carefully built with low internal friction, helping the fuel mileage.
With the four-cylinder engine, we're not fond of the automatic transmission, with just five speeds, where others in this class typically have six or more. Even in sport mode, the automatic can be slow to react to the driver's demand for more acceleration. The only way to ensure quick shifts is to make them manually with the paddles. The four-cylinder just doesn't have enough power to carry the 5-speed automatic, at least not to the sporty level of the rest of the car.
The 3.5-liter V6 significantly changes the TSX character, not least by adding 70 horses and 84 lb-ft of torque, making it much faster. Acura's V6 is smooth and linear, and at higher revs it expresses itself with a very pleasant growl. Yet even here the automatic transmission can mute the engine's goodness. It doesn't generate the exhilaration or the involvement factor of the 6-speed manual, which isn't offered with the V6. The V6 model also adds 210 pounds of weight, all over the front wheels, knocking 3 mpg off EPA city and highway ratings. And it needs an extra 15 inches of space for a U-turn.
But the V6 delivers good response, with additional composure that makes for an ideal everyday transport. And its automatic transmission uses a fluid warmer that ensures smooth shifting in the coldest climates. The ride is quite comfortable, but the comfort doesn't come at the expense of mushy reflexes or rowboat wallow. The steering is accurate, and to most drivers it will feel quite racy. With its wider tires on larger rims, the V6 sticks to the pavement well.
The brakes are stout in all models, stopping the TSX in short order, with solid pedal feel and an ABS system that virtually eliminates skips and jitters. It takes some fairly heavy abuse before the brakes begin to heat up and stopping distances increase.
Performance of the Sport Wagon is essentially the same as the sedan, except unfortunately it only comes with the four-cylinder and automatic. There is no increase in flex or shimmy in the wagon's body structure and no increase in noise, even as a slight boom in the expanse of space to the driver's rear. And the wagon's extra utility compared to the sedan is hard to beat.
The front-wheel-drive Acura TSX is stylish, comfortable, and economical to drive with either the four- or six-cylinder engine. It's hard to beat. It's available as a sedan or great Sport Wagon with as much cargo space as a small SUV. But mostly, the smooth and high-revving four-cylinder with the 6-speed gearbox is a tight-handling joy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents J.P. Vettraino in Detroit, G.R. Whale in Los Angeles, Tom Lankard in San Diego, and Sam Moses in Portland contributed to this report.
Acura TSX sedan ($29,810); TSX Sport Wagon ($31,160); TSX V6 sedan ($35,350).
Options As Tested
Acura TSX Special Edition ($30,810).
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