Desirable for buyers, the entry luxury segment of the automotive marketplace is a tough neighborhood for the cars within. Entries from long-established European marques define the class, but there are plenty more from Japanese and even American luxury automakers. And there is further competition from manufacturers who, while not usually thought of as “luxury”, wouldn’t mind their top offerings being thought of in that vein.
Since model year 2004, Acura’s entry in the class has been the TSX. It’s no secret that Acura is Honda’s premium brand. Also no secret that the Honda Accord sold here is made here, expressly for the desires of the North American market. Which left Honda performance enthusiasts feeling unwanted, as they could look at European/Japanese versions of the Accord, Type S in particular, and see something that they would rather have…
Which, after a bit of cosmetic surgery to fall in line with the Acura Look, became the Acura TSX. Warming the hearts of enthusiasts even more, the TSX was originally offered with a rev-happy 200 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. A six-speed manual gearbox was featured, with five-speed automatic available if you must. It was successful enough, and improved Acura’s reputation for performance at a reasonable price. That first-generation TSX has cult car status today.
The second generation TSX debuted for model year 2009. Stylistically similar and so readily identifiable, it was a bit larger, improving interior space with a minimal weight gain. Its four-cylinder engine was developed a bit for improved midrange torque. Even more power, 280 hp worth, was available in 2010 from an optional 3.5-liter V6 engine. And to satisfy a small but vocal niche, the TSX Sportwagon was introduced for 2011, four-cylinder automatic only.
Changes for 2012 are minimal. On the four-cylinder side, there’s a Special Edition model with interior and exterior upgrades, offered with stick or automatic. Above that is the “5-Speed Automatic with Technology Package”. The V6 comes in base form or with the Technology Package, automatic only. The wagon continues, offering a sportier alternative to the increasingly common small crossover.
It had been a while since I last drove a TSX, so when a Technology Package-equipped four-cylinder example recently arrived in my driveway I was interested. My personal preference is for a manual transmission; this example had the more-common automatic. Not a disaster – the addition of variable cam phasing to the VTEC variable cam control system didn’t seem to do much on paper, but paper is not the final truth. Increased low- and mid-range torque helps in D, and as ever the “Sequential SportShift” manual mode is there for quick manual shifting when desired. Ride and handling are on the sporty side, no complaints there, and the TSX is roomier inside than some of its more expensive competitors. It’s not ostentatious, a plus for many people and reasons, and it goes decently far on a gallon of unleaded premium. Call it “rational entry-luxury” and enjoy it.
APPEARANCE: Love it or hate it, the Acura grille is instantly recognizable. It has been toned down a bit in recent years, and its contours blend well with angular “keen edge” lines of the TSX for a stylish but conservative look that should wear well. There’s just enough chrome to announce a luxury mission without being overbearing, and just enough of an “aero kit” look from the lower front and rear bumper fascias and door sills to hint at performance in a mature manner. The front air dam and other air-management devices are functional, and help reduce drag for improved efficiency and to reduce wind noise.
COMFORT: As outside, the TSX’s interior is cleanly-chiseled and understatedly handsome. And functional. Materials are appropriate for it’s class and price point, with perforated leather on the seat surfaces, soft-touch synthetics for most interior panels, and satin-silver plastic trim. Fit and finish is first-rate, and there is thankfully no attempt at faux wood. Seat comfort is very good, and both front seats are power-adjustable and heated. LED-backlit analog instruments are easily read in all light, and the tilt- and telescope-adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel has cruise, information, Bluetooth phone, and auxiliary audio controls. With navigation, auxiliary controls are also on the wheel. Trip computer information is displayed inset into the speedometer.
A tilt-and-slide power moonroof increases interior light or gives fresh air when wanted. As in other Acuras, and Hondas, the navigation system is intuitively controlled via a multi-function knob at the top of the center stack, below the screen. Hard buttons for functions are well-marked and there should be no need for consultation with the manual. Rear seat room is good for the class, and storage areas around the cabin add convenience. The audio system, upgraded with the Technology Package, has all popular forms of entertainment, AM, FM, and XM radio, a CD changer, and minijack and USB/iPod inputs. Dual zone climate control keeps the interior comfortable no matter what the outside weather may be. The sedan’s trunk space can be increased by the 60/40 folding rear seatback, and if the sedan isn’t large enough inside there’s always the wagon.
SAFETY: An Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) unibody structure helps protect passengers in the event of a frontal crash. Active front head restraints and front, front-seat side, and side-curtain airbags add further passive protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and the Vehicle Stability Assist™system help with active safety.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The TSX’s commendably rigid unibody structure allows a moderately firm tuning from its fully-independent double-wishbone/multilink suspension, for precise handling and good all-day comfort. Dual mode shock dampers are the secret, passively handling both small irregularities and sharp jolts well. The TSX is stable in corners and, although the power steering is electrically-assisted (EPS), feel and feedback are very good, with none of the numbness all too often common from such systems. The EPS system is descended from that developed in the NSX, so no surprise.
PERFORMANCE: Raw numbers are misleading. The newest version of the TSX’s 2.4-liter engine makes 201 horsepower (at 7000 rpm), with torque peaking at 170 lb-ft at 4300 rpm. The original made 200 hp at 6800 rpm, and 166 lb-ft at 4500. Realistically no difference, but what numbers don’t say is that there is much more midrange torque, all the better to make the car easier to drive and more automatic-friendly. Credit goes primarily to the i-VTEC system, which adds Variable Timing Control™ (VTC™) — aka continuously variable phasing of the intake camshaft in the dual overhead cam, 16-valve engine — to enhance efficiency and power output more than is possible by the VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system alone. VTEC, as ever, changes cam profiles used depending on engine speed and load to optimize performance and efficiency. A multitude of seemingly-small friction-reducing details further improve efficiency. The result is low emissions (CARB Level II ULEV and EPA Tier II Bin 5) with good fuel economy — EPA 22 mpg city and 31 highway — and good acceleration when needed. That extra torque also makes the five-speed automatic’s job easier. With mostly city and country driving I averaged 24 mpg, with no lack of power for the short highway ramps in my part of the world.
CONCLUSIONS: The 2012 Acura TSX combines comfort, efficiency, and performance.