2004 Car Review : Acura TSX


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

Acura, Honda's upscale division in North America, has undergone a transformation in the past few years, sharpening its focus and resulting in vehicles that combine sports performance with luxury in a unique and distinguishable manner. But the shifts have resulted in gaps in the Acura product line.

One such space was left by the departure of the Integra sedan. The RSX coupe brought the niche held by the long-lived Integra coupe up to contemporary Acura standards of construction, style, and name. But, judged by the success of the Integra sedan, there was room in the lineup and demand from Acura customers for a sedan smaller and sportier than the TL. Differentiating it a bit from the RSX and perhaps making is a touch larger wouldn't be bad ideas - after all, sedans, even sports sedans, are more often called upon to carry four or more people and luggage than coupes. Fortunately, the perfect machine already existed in the Honda global lineup - the European Honda Accord Type S.

Here in North America the Honda Accord is one of the most popular mid-sized, middle-class sedans. In fact, it has become such a part of the American automotive scene that we have out own dedicated version. It's larger that the cars of the same name in Europe or Asia, and designed and built expressly for American conditions, drivers, and roads. Europe's Accord Type S was designed and built to compete directly against Europe's best entry- level sports sedans. The same competitors are available here, and now so is the Euro Accord Type S, slightly modified in the guise of the Acura RSX.

With a 200-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed gearbox, and a sophisticated chassis featuring state-of- the-art suspension design and standard electronic vehicle stability control, the TSX would seem on paper to be a serious competitor for any of the four-cylinder European sports-luxury sedans, and not a few of the more upscale sixes. As I discovered during a recent week with a TSX, in this case the paper specifications speak the truth. The TSX truly is worthy of comparison to any direct competitor, of any origin, and more than a few of their more expensive relatives, too.

APPEARANCE: Yes, there is a Honda/Acura global style. The TSX is remarkably little-changed from the Accord Type S offered in Europe. The major change? The badge in the pentagonal grille is the Acura ``A'' instead of the Honda ``H.'' It's an aerodynamically- clean compact sedan with a chiseled, angular look. The grille is flanked by low multi-element headlights behind plastic fairings. Fender flares give a look that is muscular without being muscle- bound, and there are some similarities to the Honda S2000 sports car around the hood and front fenders. The TSX is low at the front, with a well-raked windshield and backlight and a high rear deck. Its pronounced wedge shape is enhanced in side view by a strong shoulder line crease that ascends toward the rear. It is a car for a mature but still youthful driver who demands refinement with performance, and it shows.

COMFORT: Driver comfort is important for serious driving, and the TSX's interior is designed for serious driving. In design it is quite similar to some of its rivals, and more European than Japanese in style. The leather-upholstered front bucket seats provide the comfort and support expected in the class, and the driver's is power-adjustable. A tilt- and telescope-adjustable leather-rimmed steering wheel and well-placed shift lever add to the driving environment. If the instrument panel looks to be styled in Munich, the easy-to-read backlit gauges are pure Acura. The rear seat is among the most spacious in the class, and can fold 60/40 for cargo when necessary, and the trunk is usefully large. The TSX is very well-equipped, with a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, and very good sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer among the standard comfort specifications. The only option is a DVD-based navigation system.

SAFETY: Dual-stage frontal, front side, and front and rear side- curtain air bags, a strong central safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, and strong, large four-wheel antilock disc brakes are some of the standard safety features of the 2004 Acura TSX.

ROADABILITY: Class-leading levels of torsional and bending rigidity in its chassis structure, a properly-tuned double-wishbone front/multilink rear suspension system, and low aerodynamic drag combine to give the TSX the response and cornering ability of a sports sedan and the supple ride comfort of a European luxury car. It's great fun on challenging roads, and smooth and quiet enough on the Interstate to cover distance in comfort.

PERFORMANCE: The TSX's sports credentials are secure. It's quick and sophisticated. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood uses Acura's latest i-VTEC variable valve timing and lift system, tuned intake and high-flow exhaust systems, and sophisticated electronic fuel injection for serious power - 200 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm - low LEV-2 level emissions, and good fuel economy at EPA 22/31 mpg city/highway. Dual balance shafts reduce vibration, and electronic throttle control circuitry adjusts throttle response to driving conditions. The front wheels are driven through slick-shifting six- speed gearbox, with a five-speed automatic with ``Sequential SportShift'' manual mode available at no extra cost. How does it work? If you grew up with an Integra GS-R, you'll feel right at home. It's a classic quick-revving Honda performance engine, strong enough off the line and with healthy power from around 3500 rpm to the 7100 rpm redline. There is a top-end kick reminiscent of the original VTEC Integras, and power is not fading when the rev-limiter stops the fun.

CONCLUSIONS: Acura successfully takes on the cream of the European compact sports sedans with the new TSX.

SPECIFICATIONS

2004 Acura TSX

Base Price $ 26,490
Price As Tested $ 26,990
Engine Type dual overhead cam aluminum 16-valve
inline 4-cylinder with 1-VTEC variable valve timing
Engine Size 2.4 liters / 147 cu. in.
Horsepower 200 @ 6800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 166 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 105.1 in. / 183.3 in.
Curb Weight 3230 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 16.2
Fuel Capacity 17.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires P215/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4
Brakes, front/rear vented disc /solid disc antilock and vehicle stability assist standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone, coil springs/ independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 29 / 24
0 to 60 mph 7.2 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination and handling $ 500

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