Acura TSX V-6 — Expanding the brand choice

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Prior to the Acura TL’s complete redesign for the 2009 model year, we were unabashed fans of the mid-sized sports sedan.

We loved the overall driving dynamics of the 2004-2008 TL, and we loved the styling. It was a home run in our eyes. Then along came the new TL, more refined and more powerful and a better car in many ways than the previous generation. But to this day we still can’t get our arms around the new styling, specifically the big-shield grille.

For us and Acura fans who feel the same way, that leaves the slightly smaller TSX, which is derived from the European Honda Accord. It has been a unique compact entry-level luxury sedan in the U.S., and up until now the only one currently sold in America with just a four-cylinder engine.

It’s an energetic 2.4-liter, 201-horsepower fuel-efficient engine that, when mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual, offers a rewarding experience. In fact, it’s possible to break into the upper ranges of six seconds from 0 to 60.

The new front-driven TSX, redesigned for the 2009 model year, also carries the baggage of the Acura big-blade grille, but in a more subdued rendering. Overall lines are conservative yet handsome.

The TSX is the styling winner in the Acura sedan stable to us, but if you don’t want to shift for yourself — and most people are voting automatic — then you are left with an otherwise engaging four-cylinder engine that when mated to a five-speed automatic becomes rather ordinary.

Acura’s answer to this conundrum for 2010 is to slap the base TL 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V-6 under the hood, providing a completely new performance dynamic for the TSX.

We wrote last year that “the TSX’s unique personality would be severely altered with a more conventional V-6.” We still hold that opinion, but we see the need for the V-6, and a new split personality.

The TSX, we do admit, now has the goods to compete with such players as the BMW 328i, the Mercedes C300, and the Cadillac CTS.

And the good part is that Acura has left the popular 4-cylinder with optional manual transmission intact. You can now have it either way — the personality you desire.

While the V-6 adds a new layer of muscle to the TSX, it also adds cost and reduces gas mileage.
For example, our 2010 TSX with Technology Package V-6 carried a bottom line of $38,760 including destination charge. The same trim level with the 4-cylinder goes out the door for $33,220.

Mileage is less of an issue. The 4-cylinder automatic is rated at 21 city mpg and 30 mpg highway. The V-6 mated to the five-speed automatic is rated at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.

Regardless of engine, when you purchase the technology package you get an incredible array of features including the vaunted ELS Surround Sound System, which, to us is the best in the automotive business. It is beautiful music to the ears.

The extra cash outlay purchases the luxury of power. The performance is seamless through the five-speed auto shifter with 0 to 60 achieved in just a tick or two over six seconds. And surprisingly little torque-steer is evident on pedal-to-the-metal starts when 280 horsepower and 254 foot-pounds of torque are funneled through the front wheels.

Keep charging ahead and the TSX V-6 will finish off a quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at 97 mph.

The TSX may not possess the sports sedan persona of a BMW, but its overall road manners are impeccable and its stance is entertaining on a Sunday afternoon chase down rural winding asphalt. The V-6 is lively and fun; responsive and quick, making urban driving much less of a headache as well.

But we couldn’t help but wonder during our seven days behind the wheel what a six-speed transmission would do for gas mileage and performance. Although nearly all the competition currently features six-speed transmissions, Honda/Acura has elected to soldier on with one less gear.

The new TSX is slightly larger than the first generation (2004-2008), but for all practical purposes the sedan retains its just-right size. Four adults fit nicely — but be forewarned that some compromises may be necessary to give rear-seat passengers enough leg room — and a 12.6 cubic foot trunk easily swallows two golf bags — it passed our weekly bag test — or several pieces of luggage.

The TSX has a handsome dashboard layout and materials, for the most part, are 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 and 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 and XM real-time traffic and weather conditions with a three month trial subscription. 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 10-speaker 415-watt premium surround system takes the music into a new dimension.

It rivals most home entertainment systems 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 and for 2010, two engines. The base TSX 4-cylinder is $30,120 including destination charge and Base with Technology Package for $33,220. Prices for the V-6 are $35,660 and $38,760.

We highly recommend the extra $3,100 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 system, but the base system is no slouch. It features 360 watts of output, seven speakers and a subwoofer and XM satellite radio.

If you desire a very entertaining luxury-appointed 4-cylinder sedan with a 6-speed manual, it is still available. But if you want the performance of a V-6 in a features-loaded, extremely reliable small sedan, the TSX has now got you covered as well.

Base price: $30,120; as driven, $38,760
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 254 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.6 inches
Length: 185.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,630 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 6.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lexus IS 250, BMW 328i, Cadillac CTS

The Good:
• Now with two interesting engine choices
• Great build quality
• World-class sound system

The Bad:

• V-6 engine adds three grand to the sticker

The Ugly:

• Tight back seat accommodations