By Anson Tse
- One of the best looking interiors
- Smooth and quiet V6
- Nimble handling
- Some ergonomic details are a bit off
- The V6 option is expensive
- Underwhelming audio system
The Acura brand has been around for over 20 years now but it’s not top of mind when thinking about Japanese luxury vehicles. Lexus and Infiniti always seemed to gather the most attention, which probably attests more to marketing efforts than the vehicles themselves. I have noticed an increased marketing effort from Acura to generate more awareness of the brand, mainly touting its 5 star safety ratings across its whole line. But what about the cars themselves, how do they compare with everything else out there in this crowded premium sedan market?
Most of the Acura line is directly derived from common Honda platforms, which makes for an excellent starting point. The Acura TSX is based on the European version of the Honda Accord, which is a bit smaller than the American version. This is now the second generation of the TSX, having debuted in 2004. The closest competitors to the TSX are the Lexus IS, Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKZ, and Volvo S40. The Lexus, BMW and Cadillac are rear wheel drive platforms while the Audi and Lincoln are front wheel drive platforms with all wheel drive options.
The Acura TSX sedan is a smooth riding comfortable sports sedan that is a pleasure to drive. The car handles well and feels light on its toes, mainly due to the light steering feel which makes it easy to drive in any situation. Handling is solid which is to be expected from a vehicle derived from the European market. For those looking for a plush, luxurious ride with some performance characteristics, the TSX will foot the bill just fine. There’s no question that this feels like a front wheel drive car, especially when driven aggressively. Someone who desires a more sporty, performance tuned ride should look to the rear wheel drive competitors.
The presence of the new the 3.5L V6 engine doesn’t initially seem to detract from the TSX. The bigger engine adds about 200 pounds up front and the extra power it brings is welcomed. Previously, the TSX was only available with the 2.4L I4 engine, which didn’t exactly set the standard for power or refinement. It’s still standard and puts out 201 horsepower and 170 pound feet of torque. However, even with Honda’s well respected engine VTEC tuning, there’s a real limit to how much power can be squeezed out of a four cylinder engine. The 3.5 L V6 is shared with the Acura TL and the added power now makes the TSX a serious contender in this class. This powertrain is as well refined as one would expect from a front wheel drive setup; power delivery is smooth and quiet.
When it comes to fuel economy, there’s no question that the I4 is the more frugal choice with an EPA rated 21 city and 30 highway. The V6 with the 5 speed yields a respectable 18 city and 27 highway. I managed to get 22 MPG over the course of my time with the car.
The build quality on the Acura was excellent. The body structure is solid although you don’t get the same perception of stiffness as you get when you shut the door of an Audi A4. The TSX achieves a 5 star crash rating on all 5 dimensions of the federal safety ratings, which is testament to a well engineered body structure. The choice of materials is excellent. The texture and graining of the materials makes for a functional and luxurious interior. On some bumpy roads, I did notice a slight buzz coming from the rear headliner which sounds like a wire rattling. While this is a minor gripe, this is something that should be have been easily detected at the assembly plant and a little surprising. On the exterior, all of the body panel gaps illustrate just how well constructed this car is.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
I think that the TSX has the nicest styled interior in its class, a perfect combination of luxury and aesthetics. All of the controls and displays are high mounted on the instrument panel which keeps the important things in the driver’s line of sight. Since this is what you’re always going to see and interact with, it’s important that this part of the car is well designed.
The interior cabin feels quite open and spacious although this is smaller than a Honda Accord, it seats five people quite comfortably, with ample foot space for rear passengers. Perforated leather seats provide a great level of support and comfort for front and rear seat passengers. The rear seats fold down providing access to the trunk.
Our TSX tester came equipped with Technology package which includes a navigation system with voice recognition, rearview backup camera, and real time weather and traffic. Other features include a 10 speaker Acura ELS Surround sound system and dual zone climate control system that is linked to the GPS system to provide self adjusting climate control depending on the sun’s position. Too bad it’s not really sunny enough at this time of the year to test it out. There are also a host of advanced technologies like Bluetooth integration with the AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio with a built in CD changer and USB jack tucked away in the center armrest console.
The navigation system worked well however the design of the main navigation control knob is poorly placed in my opinion. The central control is a large protruding knob that rotates with a button on the end to indicate up, down, left, right, or enter. It functions well but it’s almost too much like a video game control. The problem is that your right arm will have to hang in the air grasping this knob with no surface for your arm to rest on. If you’re trying to scroll through the menus or enter an address, your arm will get tired very quickly.
Furthermore, with all the functions on this control knob, it is not very easy to operate. If Acura repositioned this knob lower in the center console like the BMW iDrive, it would be much easier and more comfortable to operate. Perhaps Acura wants you to use the voice recognition system, which seemed to work fairly well.
The Bluetooth functionality worked well with my iPhone but I was unable to pair my phone without looking at the owner’s manual. Overall, I didn’t find this navigation system very intuitive to use. I was also underwhelmed at the maximum volume that this 10 speaker, 415 Watt system was able to put out. Sound quality was excellent, but it just doesn’t get that loud leaving me quite disappointed given the sticker price.
The TSX also came equipped with creature comforts like a power moonroof, heated seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Xenon HID headlamps, fog lamps, redundant steering wheel controls. I have normal sized male hands but positioning of the cruise control and audio controls were such that I had to reposition my hands so that my thumbs could reach all the buttons. When using the steering wheel control to change the radio channels, there’s a two second delay which is yet another annoyance.
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