2009 Acura TSX Review
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Acura TSX Review
Back in the `80s and `90s, Acura made its performance reputation with two cars. One, the now-legendary NSX, was an expensive, limited-production mid-engined sports car. At the other end of the price scale was the compact Integra, in coupe and sedan form with variations from mild to GS-R wild and Type R wilder.
And then it seemed that Acura changed course, with more of an emphasis on luxury. And crossover SUVs, exemplified by its MDX and later RDX. The last Integra enjoyed an unusually long life span, from 1994 to 2001, when it was replaced by the RSX.
Which did not enjoy such a long life. Note to performance aficionados (and I'm one): when it comes time to spend cold, hard cash, there are more people who crave luxury comfort than speed and handling. Many more. And sedans and crossovers outsell coupes by considerable margins. Acura sales did quite well, even without narrowly-focused high-performance offerings.
But that spark was never extinguished. It lives on in the TSX.
The TSX was introduced for model year 2004. It wasn't quite a replacement for the late Integra sedan, as it was a touch larger and positioned more upscale, in keeping with Acura's direction. But it tapped into the Eurocentric tastes of the sports sedan buyer, as it was a minimally-Americanized version of the European Honda Accord Type S.
It succeeded, and the second generation is now here. You could be excused for not noticing, as Version 2.0 has little blatantly obvious change in style, but that's good for continuity. The second-generation TSX is a little larger than the first, for improvement in interior space and comfort, with the underlying chassis structure modified for increased strength and improved passenger safety and convenience. The 2.4-liter, 201-hp four-cylinder engine has been refined for easier driving characteristics, with greater mid-range torque. Transmission choices are, as before, a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic with manual shifting.
My week with a new TSX six-speed with the Technology Package of navigation system, upgraded audio, and AcuraLink¨ communications, brought back memories of the late, great Integra GS-R every time I romped on the gas pedal, but the car itself is much more substantial and civilized. It is a worthy competitor in the Euro-dominated entry-premium sector, with its own distinctive character. Which I would call "high tech entry-luxury hot rod". It has all of the comforts and conveniences expected in an entry-luxury sedan, plus all of the contemporary electronic information and convenience gadgets - it could almost be thought of as a PDA on wheels - and tops that off with seriously quick performance and agile handling, with a well-balanced engine and chassis package that's just rough enough around the edges to appeal to dyed-in-the-wool-flat-cap car enthusiasts. Think of it as what an Integra GS-R would grow up to be.
APPEARANCE: Although the three-box sedan shape is close in proportions and use of angular character lines to balance against the curves of the hood, fenders, and passenger cabin, the TSX has evolved. The creases are more pronounced, in what Acura called "Keen Edge" design, and the windshield pillars are thinner, for better visibility. The car has grown a bit, by 2.4 inches in length and 3.0 in width, with a 1.3-inch increase in wheelbase. The front shows off the new extra-thick bright Acura grille, flanked by low, wide complex headlamps, while the rear uses familiar taillights to help establish identity. A simple buy bold character line rises on each side from a point at the front under the grille.
COMFORT: Interior design and appointment won't disappoint, and are as good as any in the TSX's ultra-competitive class. Like the outside, the interior styling is distinctive and good-looking. It does not sacrifice function, as both the main instruments in front of the driver and the cabin convenience systems based on the center stack are well-designed and easy to see and use. Add comfortable and supportive power-adjustable sport seats with perforated leather trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel adjustable for both tilt and reach, and with cruise and auxiliary audio controls, and a shift knob placed neatly within reach and the result is a fine office from which to conduct the business of driving. The standard equipment level is very high, with automatic headlight activation, a seven-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD audio system with auxiliary and USB interfaces, Bluetooth¨ phone connectivity, and Homelink¨ remote opener control. The Technology Package, as in my test car, replaces the standard audio system with a 10-speaker surround-sound one, and adds a navigation system with voice activation and XM Traffic information (in areas where that is available) and the AcuraLink¨Êsatellite communication system. The trip computer also has a calendar and calculator (with a rather bizarre interface). Hey, PDA on four wheels. The extra width of the new TSX is most noticeable and welcome in the rear seat, where moderate central tunnel height makes the center position useful and a 60/40 split seatback with trunk passthrough adds usefulness. The trunk is easier to access thanks to an enlarged opening.
SAFETY: Advanced Compatibility Engineering¨ is Acura's term for a network of structural parts that channel crash energy in a frontal collision, and it is used in the TSX's unibody structure. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist and electronic brake distribution, standard Vehicle Stability Assist¨, dual stage front and dual chamber front side airbags as well as full-length side airbags are some of the other safety features of the 2009 Acura TSX.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The new TSX features inside lower frame rails, positioned above the floor of the passenger compartment, for cleaner underbody aerodynamics, a redesigned rear bulkhead for greater rigidity to help reduce noise and vibration, and a closed-channel, cross-braced roof structure, also for improved rigidity. Careful attention was paid to underbody airflow, for lower drag (and improved fuel economy) and quieter operation. The fully-independent double wishbone / double wishbone-based multilink suspension is tuned moderately firmly, in the manner of most of the sport-oriented cars in the TSX's class. It strikes a good balance between cornering ability and long-term comfort, with first-class behavior in daily driving and more enthusiastic driving on appropriate roads. If it doesn't quite measure up to the standards of the venerable Integra Type R in ultimate grip, neither does it have that car's "tuner car" narrow focus. It is one of the best-behaved front-wheel drive cars in current production, although there is noticeable torque steer under hard acceleration. What did I say about "just rough enough around the edges to appeal to enthusiasts"?
PERFORMANCE: While the second-generation TSX's engine spec of 2.4 liters with dual overhead cams and 16 valves operated by the iVTEC¨ variable valve-control system and dual balance shafts to quell engine vibration sounds familiar, that engine has been refined a bit. Its 201 maximum horsepower (at 7000 rpm, just shy of the 7100 redline) is little-changed from the previous 200 (at a slightly lower 6800), but maximum torque has increased to 172 lb ft at 4500 rpm, from 166 at the same revs. And all-important midrange horsepower is up - with no decrease at the top. The result is a more satisfying car to drive moderately, thanks to that fatter midrange. But there's no loss of screamingly strident classic early-VTEC top end. Electronic rev limiters are very good things to have with engines like this! The six-speed manual gearbox is the perfect match for the engine's power characteristics and the car's personality, but the improved midrange should make life easier with the five-speed automatic. Brakes are four-wheel antilock discs, with standard VSA¨ stability assistance, and are fully up to the car's ability.
CONCLUSIONS: The second-generation TSX proves that the spirit of performance is still alive at Acura.
SPECIFICATIONS:2009 Acura TSX
Base Price $ 32,060 Price As Tested $ 32,820 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC¨ variable cam lift and phasing system Engine Size 2.4 liters / x cu. in. Horsepower 201 @ 7000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 172 @ 4500 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 106.4 in. / 186.1 in. Curb Weight 3419 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.0 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P225/50R17 93V Michelin Pilot HX Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, VSA¨ standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone Drivetrain independent multilink double wishbone PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.1 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination charge $ 760