The 2010 Acura TSX. Click on the above image to see mor... The 2010 Acura TSX. Click on the above image to see more photos (Sam Abuelsamid, Autoblog).

You're in an enviable position that is, paradoxically, filled with agony. You are a sports sedan buyer with thirty-five large to spend. You want something that drives fantastically, looks good and has some degree of curb presence. The problem is, you have about thirty-five choices in front of you. That's the rub.

The most popular choice isn't a bad one: BMW dominates the middle luxury space with its 3-Series sedan, a car that can be had for just south of $34,000 based on our AOL Autos Best Deal Program. It's still the high water mark of the segment, a car that has as much credibility as a driver's machine as it does a luxury vehicle. Other top sellers, such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Cadillac CTS, have regained popularity with model refreshes that seemed to focus more on drivability and engagement rather than luxurious puffery. Add in a throng of other solid choices -- Infiniti's G37 and Audi's A4 among them -- and it becomes clear that there is no clear choice.

In the midst of all that confusion, Acura hopes to make a case for its TSX sedan, traditionally a bit smaller and a bit cheaper than the typical 3-Series imposter. It also happens to be front-wheel drive, something that the majority of luxury buyers don't seem to mind (or even know about), but most of the other top-sellers in the segment are driven by their rear wheels.

One benefit of the front-wheel drive setup is that fewer buyers scare themselves into thinking they need all-wheel drive (the TSX doesn't offer it anyway) and, in all honesty, the TSX's front-wheel drive with electronic stability control and traction control works just fine. Buyers of the top selling rear-drive cars, often find themselves what-the-helling it and paying extra for all-wheel-drive, which adds not just cost, but weight too, things that we'd prefer to leave off our shopping list, even in areas where you're likely to experience a harsh winter.

So the TSX comes at the luxury sedan space from an entirely different angle. It has marginal name brand recognition, an entirely different set of structural characteristics, and a radical redesign in the spirit of Acura's newest shield-of-the-protector styling language. It is not the easy choice in a field of so many well-qualified cars. So, then, why consider it?


The smallest car in the Acura lineup, the TSX debuted in America in 2003 as a warmed over version of the Honda Accord sold in Europe and Asia (the American version of the Accord was already much larger and served as the basis for Acura's bigger TL sedan). What you'd expect would turn out to be a failed experiment in "moving the brand to a more affordable price point" actually ended up strengthening most buyers' notions of what Acura meant. The original TSX was, after all, a dotted line successor to the cult classic Integra. Different and certainly more expensive, the TSX was actually more of a true entry-level luxury car than the boy-racer Integra ever was.

This new model, refreshed for 2009, is a bit bigger than the one it replaced. It's three inches wider and about that much longer, including a 1.3-inch growth in wheelbase to provide a bit more room for rear seat passengers. Now the TSX is actually right in the middle of the competition, longer and wider than both the 3-Series and Lexus IS, but shorter than the Cadillac CTS. It's no longer too small; we consider it just about perfect in terms of size, though buyers who move from a Toyota Camry or the Accord will notice they have a bit less room. The reality is that the Camry and Accord (and Chevy Malibu and a host of others) are growing such that they are actually getting too big.

One owner provided her review thusly: "[My] Previous car [was a] 2007 Camry XLE, which had more room in rear but nowhere near as nice to drive." Somewhere in that brief notion is the reason why buyers who move up to the TSX find it to be compelling. There are plenty of other cars that offer more room or more horsepower (the TSX's base engine, a four-cylinder, is rated at a comparatively low 201 horsepower), but rarely is the package done so comprehensively for this price.

When moving upmarket, it's easy to see why the TSX is compelling. This is usually a result of both the car itself as well as Acura's typically high quality dealer experience. That Acura continues it strategy of building in a lot of standard features doesn't hurt, either. For example, the TSX comes standard with heated front seats, something you'll have to pay extra for in a BMW or Audi.

The 2010 TSX starts at $29,310 (you can snag the AOL Autos Best Deal price in the mid $26,000 range, however), moving all the way up to $39,000 if you opt for the V6 engine and "Tech" package (it includes everything from the navigation system to real-time weather and traffic, an upgraded sound system and dual-zone climate control).

We found that the basic TSX still has a pretty handsome interior, although the arrangement of the controls is a bit messy. Acura's large dial navigation system (very similar to what you'll find in a Honda) can be a bit slow and the lack of a secondary dial is frustrating if you're trying to scroll through a long list of songs or stations, as it requires you to push a button to move to the next station, something that made us tired after trying to move through more than 200 XM radio channels.

Driving the TSX

New for 2010 is a V6 engine, rated at 280 horsepower and matched to the company's five-speed automatic with paddle shift buttons on the steering wheel. Our test model also included 18-inch wheels shod with all-season tires.

The V6 bumps the price about $5,000 over the base four-cylinder but turns the car into a bit of a rocket. Its 0-60 mph times are in the low six second range and power is readily available, although we do think the car could benefit from a six-speed transmission, whether manual or automatic. (The four-cylinder TSX offers a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.)

So, it's faster, but is that a good thing? In the TSX's case, not entirely. The rocket-propelled feeling behind the wheel goes some way toward reinforcing the fact that the Acura's steering system (electronic power steering as opposed to hydraulic steering, something that's more efficient from a fuel economy perspective) is actually quite bad in comparison to the competition. A good part of what defines a sports sedan is steering feel -- manageable at all speeds but resolutely planted in a straight line and telepathically aligned to the vehicle's wheels. The TSX is light to the touch, as if it's always in a cruising or parking mode. This has been and will continue to be the reason Acuras are not chosen by buyers who place a premium on driving experience.

Opting for the four-cylinder engine doesn't get you a different steering system, but it does cut down on the sort of red-alert acceleration that can more readily expose the steering system's flaws. In addition, the four-cylinder is where the TSX shows off its true value: As a highly efficient entry luxury car in both fuel economy and MSRP.

Like hotel rooms, bottles of wine or concert tickets, some vehicles have a narrow price elasticity. That is, some simply feel right at one price point but not at another. This could be contrasted to an Apple iPhone, something that seems to command high customer appreciation regardless of the price. In this case, the TSX is actually not a great $38,810 sedan (the price of our test vehicle), but at or around $30,000 it's actually quite good.

Why the pricing bias? In the mid $35,000 range and above a buyer receives far superior interiors (the Audi A4 is, with some argument, the class of the field), improved driving dynamics (from the BMW 3-series, Audi A4 or Infiniti G) and simpler and more refined exterior designs. The Acura's pi? de r?stance is its value and that's not a bad thing. It's just limiting.

Beyond the guts of the vehicle, buyers of luxury cars typically hold brand cachet high on their lists. Years of buying show us that people are generally willing to spend more on brands than they are on actual features. What changes product segments -- and eventually, entire markets – is either the underdog player who is able to systematically approximate the characteristics of the top players or a revolutionary who does something that nobody else is. In both of these cases, consumers eventually define those products and brand as being good, better and ultimately, best.

In this case Acura has failed to approximate the qualities of the top cars in the segment. It remains a great value purchase, with plenty to like, but the TSX doesn't constitute the best of what's available. It's a smart purchase at the right price, but fades in desirability as other vehicles enter the picture.

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