Acura TSX – of sound design

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

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.

The Acura TSX has been that car since it was introduced in 2004.

Now an all-new 2009 edition comes along that loses none of the first generation’s attributes while gaining the most up-to-date automotive, information and audio technology available.

In this age of horsepower wars, when power seems to equal driving excitement, it’s interesting to drive an entry luxury-segment sedan that provides so much entertainment from a four-cylinder engine.

As a daily driver the entry-level luxury TSX is a pleasant compact sedan with a solid build quality and a pleasingly quiet interior.

To bring the TSX to its full potential it takes a winding rural road and a cutting-edge CD or music DVD cranked up in the remarkable 10-speaker 415-watt ELS Premium surround sound system. We recommend your TSX be outfitted with the short-throw six-speed manual transmission to get the ultimate experience.

We drove the five-speed automatic early in the year in the San Diego area and found it agreeable, but without the excitement a manual transmission brings to a high-revving four-cylinder. Paddle shifters are provided for those who want to shift the automatic for themselves.

Either way, you will be housed in some of the most comfortable front seats in the business. Volvo may still be the leader in seat comfort, but the TSX is very close.

The front-driven Acura, derived from the European Honda Accord, is exceptionally well balanced. It’s a combination of a perfectly tuned suspension, a smallish but wonderfully nimble mid-size, with a high-revving engine that was born to run. It’s enough to make a car enthusiast’s mouth water.

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

Some have knocked Acura’s high-revving 2.4-liter 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine, which makes 201 horsepower for a sedan in this segment. But the TSX’s unique personality would be severely altered with a more conventional V-6.

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 lacking compared to bigger engines, 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.
Run through the gears in expert fashion and the TSX will break into the upper ranges of 6 seconds from 0-to-60.

Like we said, this isn’t one of the new rocketships that are appearing in showrooms faster than front-yard dandelions.

And some have criticized the electric power steering as too highly boosted at slow speeds and with a lack of on-center feel on the highway. We don’t mind easy turns in a parking lot and we think this new TSX exhibits exceptional feedback when taking back-road twists and turns at exhilarating speeds. We didn’t notice any fall off from the previous version.

The new TSX is slightly larger than the one it replaces, but for all practical purposes the sedan retains its ‘just-right’ size; being smaller than the American Honda Accord. Four adults fit nicely and a 12.6 cubic foot trunk easily swallows two golf bags or several pieces of luggage.

Styling has been tweaked to a more edgy appearance, but if you know what a TSX looks like, the 2009 model is instantly recognizable.

On the inside TSX has a handsome dashboard layout and materials, are for the most part, first class. Fit and finish is excellent.

While most of the switchgear used in everyday driving is intuitive, the TSX unfortunately has gained some of the convoluted qualities of German luxury cars with a myriad of buttons. We think this will result into a forced trip to the owner’s manual for most people who want to change settings such as power door locks and automatic headlights.

We’ve always been fond of Honda/Acura navigation for its accuracy and ease of use, and the latest iteration of the system lived up to our high expectations. It now includes an extensive list of Zagat-related restaurant listings, XM real-time traffic, and weather conditions.

The voice-recognition system works well and now recognizes 100,000 words.

But the technological highlight comes with the upgraded audio system that plays either standard CDs or music DVDs. We were blown away several years ago when we first heard Acura’s cutting-edge sound in a TL. The new 10-speaker 415-watt premium surround system in the TSX takes the music into a new dimension.

The system rivals what you would find in most home entertainment set-ups with its sweeping sound with outstanding treble and base clarity and separation. In a word – awesome!

Like all Acura vehicles in recent years there are no options. Buyers can pick between two trim levels, Base for $29,675 including destination charge or Base with Technology Package for $32,775. Both come with either the automatic or manual for the same price.

We highly recommend the extra $3,000 outlay which not only brings the startlingly good sound system, but navigation and a backup camera.

If you’re not a fan of navigation, you will have to forego the premium sound, but the base system is no slouch. It features 360 watts of output, seven speakers, a subwoofer and XM satellite radio.

All Acruas are loaded up with good stuff including such safety features as side airbags, side-curtain airbags, active head restraints, antilock brakes, Vehicle Stability Assist, traction control, and tire monitoring.

Things that might be optional on other cars in the 30-grand price range are standard across the lineup such as power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, one-touch up and down power windows and leather upholstery.

We agree the TSX is aimed at a limited audience. But for those who desire a great driving experience, good gas mileage and one of the auto world’s best sound systems, this may be the one.


Base price: $29,675; as driven, $32,775
Engine: 2.4-liter 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.6 inches
Length: 186.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,415 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 28 mpg highway, 20 city
0-60: 7 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Lexus IS 250, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz C300

The Good
• Great road-carving experience
• Awesome optional sound system
• Wonderful front seats

The Bad
• May be hard pushing a 4-cylinder in this segment

The Ugly
• High-revving engine requires premium gas