Within ten-minutes of our Alabaster Silver Metallic Acura TSX tester being delivered, our bags were in the trunk and we were out the door. A much-needed respite was in order after a long summer, and Lake Tahoe beckoned. Wait. We fed the cat, right?
After making sure our Russian Blue had sufficient food to survive the weekend, the fiancée and I were underway, headed up 680 and then onto I-80 through Sacramento. Friday's Northern California traffic hadn't hindered our progress until we hit the State capital, where the Acura's balanced clutch engagement and gloriously smooth stick were working overtime through 20-miles of start-and-stop traffic. Fortunately, the interior of the TSX is a pleasant place to be, with thoughtful switchgear, comfortable seats, well-padded armrests and a bevy of aural selections – all well executed in minimalist fashion. When our iPod wasn't jacked into the auxiliary input, the XM-equipped stereo was normally stuck somewhere between Real Jazz and a live stream from Lollapalooza, 'cause we're bipolar that way. And while August in Nor Cal normally doesn't necessitate the use of the standard heated seats, once we got into the higher elevations, and the sun fell beneath the mountains, there was little doubt that they would soon be set to "scorch."
The only two options that our TSX tester was equipped with were the aforementioned "Navi" ($2,100) and the silver trim ($359) that subsected the dash and then tapered into the door panels. Both were nice, but if we had to choose between the two, our money would go towards the faux aluminum. Anyone who's familiar with Honda's navigation system can attest that it works magnificently 80-percent of the time, while the remaining fifth tends to cause foreheads to meet the top of the steering wheel. The turn-by-turn directions and the large display are top notch, but the system's insistence that it knows what you're trying to spell better than you do (it removes letters from the touch-screen keyboard as you type) causes bulging veins from the neck up. We can count on at least one hand the number of times we referenced the Google Maps app on our phone over our three-day excursion, which isn't what you want when spending two-large on a sat-nav.
Once traffic cleared, the cruise was set at 70 for the next 30-miles as we made our way through the farmlands that make up the Central Valley. Toddling in the TSX is exactly what you'd expect from Acura's entry-level sedan, with most road imperfections easily muted through the double wishbone (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension. The ride could never be accused of being numb or uncommunicative – you know what's going on beneath you, but you're not troubled by it – and although the steering is a speed-sensitive rack and pinion setup, there's no question about how it will react to inputs.
After dawdling around at freeway speeds for far too long, we were finally greeted with the elevations changes and twisting roads that make their way through the Sierras. With a snickity shift down into third, the TSX's 2.4-liter four pot came to life, running effortlessly up past its 205 HP peak at 7,000 RPM and onto the 7,100 RPM redline. A quick shift into fourth, and although the VTEC's engagement point was still 1,500 RPM away, it pulled smoothly up the rev range until the 6,000 RPM crossover hit and the comforting howl of lift caused the needle to shoot up into the red.
It's turned into a cliché that certain vehicles cause drivers to row the gears for no other reason than the pure enjoyment of the shifter, and Honda's have become the standard bearer for this overused device – there's a reason for that. The TSX's six-speed gearbox is the most rewarding you'll find, with perfectly matched throws, smoothly notched gates and a knob whose weight and feel makes you forget about the one behind the wheel.
Once the road went wobbly, the TSX's sports sedan credibility was officially put to the test. Grade: B+. There's no slop on initial turn-in and smooth inputs into the wheel accompanied by progressive pressure on the accelerator cause the TSX to track confidently through corners. Out-and-out understeer when throwing the long pedal to the floor is easily dispatched by the slight intrusion of the traction control system, and when disengaged, a light left foot on the brake brings grip back from the brink. High-speed sweepers are dispatched with poise, bordering on boredom. It certainly doesn't pretend to be a sports car, but it could be confused as a GT if you forget about the additional doors behind you.
The 17-inch wheels wrapped in all-season rubber do a favorable job of keeping things sticky while taking to bends, although we'd be remiss not to say that the first upgrade we'd make to our own TSX would be fitting more performance-oriented gumballs. The chassis can handle it, and you'd be doing yourself and the car a disservice by sticking with the OEM tires when it comes time for replacement.
After making our way through the mountains and stopping for a couple of photo shoots, we finally descended into the valley. Rolling down Interstate 50 through the heart of Tahoe, we came up behind another TSX sporting slate gray body panels and optional five-spoke rollers. While stopped in traffic before the state line next to our badge brethren, we were afforded the opportunity to reflect on the TSX's exterior styling. Maybe the use of the word "styling" is a bit liberal, but both of us agreed that it's a handsome vehicle, albeit a bit on the bland side. The Euro-Accord's front fascia fits in well with its bigger brothers and the rear certainly isn't as unattractive as some of its German competition, but it lacks visual weight. It'd be a great Q-ship if it came with Acura's new turbocharged 2.3-liter four, and would certainly benefit from the additional torque. We're not going to hold our breath for that one.
Once we arrived at our hotel, the two of us felt perfectly ready for a night on the town. Normally, spending over four hours in lesser vehicles leaves both buttocks and brains ready for bed, but the TSX treated us well throughout our journey and we were ready to enjoy some of the sybaritic pleasures that waited for us at the bottom of the hill.
The following day we strapped ourselves in and headed out for a lap drive around the Lake. This part of the country is peppered with countless driving roads that match beautifully paved tarmac with awe-inspiring scenery – the trek around Tahoe is easily in the top ten. The sedan's compliance in any situation quickly proved itself again through two-lane twisties and bumper-to-bumper gridlock, and even made a comfortable place to reflect while we sat on the side of the road enjoying the environs. Life was good, until we heard the telltale sound of air escaping a tire.
Within seconds the Multi-Informational display between the tach and speedo lit up with the tire-pressure monitoring indicator. We pulled off the road and watched as the right-rear tire slowly deflated in front of us. After the space-saver spare was fitted, we rolled into a local tire shop where they found what looked like a broken box cutter blade embedded into the rubber. Bummer, but at least we know the TPS works.
Watching the TSX jacked up onto two wheels, something dawned on us. The term "entry-level luxury" has been a misnomer for years. It's a substantial step to go from a mid-$20,000 daily driver to a $40k luxury ride, and it's a move few can afford. The additional amenities are one thing (soft-touch plastics, techie toys and seats swathed in leather) that distances the TSX from lesser vehicles. But beyond that, driving dynamics are often dwelt upon as being a defining characteristic of these up-market whips. However, the TSX sits on the cusp. Maxed out with all the options that one could reasonably want, Acura's starter model comes in around $32,000. That's a bargain considering all that's offered, and it's a suitable upgrade for buyers interested in a more than a modicum of luxury and engaging driving dynamics. The TSX is proof that your monthly payments don't have to be in the stratosphere to enjoy some of the finer things in life, and if you can forget that it's just a Euro Accord sporting Acura badging, you should be pleased every time you get behind the wheel – regardless of the destination.