Acura TSX – a near luxury, affordable driver’s car

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Gaining that wonderful feeling that all is right with the world can be achieved without the benefit of mind-altering substances.

It’s possible to reach this level of nirvana on the open road behind the wheel of an automobile that fits like a glove — a car that has the rare ability to become one with the driver, a vehicle that answers all requests with a “can do” attitude, and it’s affordable.

No it’s not the BMW 3-Series a car that responds to the driver — delivering the passion for the road — maybe more than any other. It’s called the ultimate “driving machine” for its myriad of attributes. But Acura has one of those rare gems, too. It’s called the TSX.

We think it is a very suitable alternative to the vaunted BMW. Does it reach the rarefied behind-the-wheel feel of the German product? Perhaps; perhaps not.

If you are an unwavering BMW fan, perchance a person who has owned one or two 3-Series models, then the Acura is probably not your choice for impeccable road manners.

But the compact TSX sedan, particularly with the silky smooth short-throw 6-speed manual transmission, comes so darn close that it’s noteworthy.

The TSX has world-class reliability, something that has not always been present in the current-generation BMW. And the TSX leaves the showroom for a remarkable price of $27,890 without navigation and $29,890 with navigation.

There are no options. These are the two prices for everything available, which includes at least a half dozen items that must be added to the base price of a BMW 325i. The comparable 325i starts at a similar price — $30,900 — but the options list can quickly throw the Bimmer into 35 grand territory. For instance, navigation is $2,000, leather is $1,450 and an automatic transmission is $1,250.

There are a couple big criticisms of the TSX, particularly for BMW drivers.

The Acura is driven by its front wheels while the BMW is rear-wheel drive, the optimum set-up for a sports sedan. And the TSX comes with a 4-cylinder engine while the BMW is propelled by an inline six.

But don’t give up on the TSX without a stint behind the wheel. The Acura is exceptionally well balanced. It features a combination of a wonderfully tuned suspension, a tossable compact size and a high-revving engine that was born to run. It’s enough to make a car enthusiast’s mouth water.

The TSX responds like putty in a master craftsman’s hands. The sedan is responsive to all inputs whether from the steering, throttle or brakes. Everything works to precision.

Some have knocked the engine, Acura’s high-revving 2.4-liter 4-cylinder i-VTEC, which makes 205 horsepower, slightly more than last year. The comparable BMW 325i comes standard with a 3.0-liter inline 6 making 215-horsepower.

The different engines give the two cars a different feel. The BMW reaches maximum horsepower at 6,250 rpm while the TSX must be wound out to a race-car-like 7,000 rpm to hit max horsepower.

To get the most out of the 4-cylinder, it must tickle redline through the gears. Low-end torque is also lacking, compared to the 325, reaching a maximum rating only at 4,500 rpm.

But much of the fun comes from winding up the sweet-sounding engine and matching the six gears to the torque range. This is a sedan that responds best in the hands of a driver who desires finesse over brute strength.

Acura tells us that the five-horsepower increase actually is more like a 13-pony boost because of the new stricter SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standard that Acura has adopted for the 2006 model year.

Run through the gears in expert fashion and the TSX will break into the upper ranges of 6 seconds from 0 to 60.

We admit that the small Bimmer 6 is a bit faster to 60 and quicker in the quarter mile. And we do wish the TSX had just a smidgen more forward momentum, but that being said we are still smitten with the overall athletic feel of the Acura sedan.

In addition to a few exterior tweaks, the TSX has been spiffed up with a handful of touches here and there in the interior in its third model year.

Acura gave the TSX a more sporty appearance with a redesigned signature five-sided grille, more angular side markers and bumper-integrated fog lamps. The rear bumper and taillights have been restyled to give the car a more aggressive look.

The dashboard layout is terrific, a stylish flow of wood and soft surfaces. The mandatory aluminum-like trim is evident on the steering wheel controls. The gauges, as we’ve come to expect in Honda/Acura products, are clear and easily understandable.

Front seat occupants are treated to comfortable seats with plenty of leg and head room. Back-seat passengers will have to rely on their front-seat compatriots to adjust their seats to create adequate legroom. But the same can be said for the compact BMW.

Trunk room is adequate and the rear 60-40 split seats fold for more storage space.

The already excellent navigation system has been further refined with an eight-inch display, quicker processing time and enhanced voice recognition that features a menu of 560 commands.

The navigation system now has access to the Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide, and more than 7 million points of interest.

Other attractive standard features — considered necessities by some in our frantic fun-filled lives — include a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and an iPod jack in the center console. Also standard on all TSX models is a 360-watt sound system with standard XM satellite radio.

Standard safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist, side-impact airbags for front passengers and side curtain airbags for both front and rear occupants.

In the unlikely case you will need it the TSX comes with a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty.

There are a number of worthy competitors to the TSX besides the aforementioned BMW 325i, but dollar-for-dollar it’s hard to beat the luxury, dependability and sheer driving pleasure offered by the TSX.