Remember what the last entry-level sedan from Acura looked like? Neither do we. To refresh your memory, it was a four-door version of the Integra coupe, yet it had neither the performance nor the luxury to stand out in a category flooded by outstanding competitors.
The all-new TSX doesn't exactly pin the needle on the styling meter or carry the swagger of a stout V6, but in all other aspects handling, refinement, comfort, amenities it's a far more memorable sedan than its featureless predecessor.
With prices expected to fall between $25,000 and $30,000, the TSX is aimed squarely at the likes of Audi's A4 1.8T and BMW's 325i both vehicles representing the lesser powered but higher-volume models in their respective lineups. Although widely recognized as leaders in their class, the Euros' smaller-displacement engines and somewhat limited feature lists leave them susceptible to well-executed attacks from up-and-coming luxury brands like Acura.
The company is aware that a sizable number of buyers in the entry-level luxury sport sedan class buy purely on the basis of prestige, and the TSX makes up for its lack of pedigree with a spec sheet that's hard to ignore. The 2.4-liter engine, for instance, may only have four cylinders, but with 200 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, the TSX is more than a match for the European elites. Twin-balance shafts render the all-aluminum engine as smooth as any Bavarian straight six, and with variable valve timing and a 7,100-rpm redline, the engine thrives at high rpm.
Two transmissions are available: a close-ratio six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic with Sportshift. The manual gearbox features short, crisp throws and a lightweight clutch pedal that won't leave your leg aching for mercy in stop-and-go traffic. The Sportshift feature on the automatic allows for manual control of the gears while the standard shift program takes advantage of two overdrive gears to provide even better mileage than the manual unit (preliminary EPA estimates are 21 city/29 highway for the manual and 22/31 for the automatic).
On a winding drive route that featured both congested boulevards and desolate canyons, the drivetrain proved impressively smooth and more than adequate for spirited driving. Like most four-cylinders, the power is meager at lower rpm, but swing past 3,500 on the tachometer and the engine comes alive, providing a strong, silky pull right up to its redline. Acura's latest i-VTEC variable valve timing hardware opens the engine up above 6,000 rpm for better breathing and increased horsepower but there's little sense of its comings and goings from the driver seat. The six-speed manual is every bit as precise as the best European gearboxes, with well-defined gates and a lightweight feel that makes the task of keeping the engine properly peaked a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Even more impressive than the drivetrain is the TSX's razor-sharp handling, a trait that has eluded most Acura sedans to date. Built on an entirely different platform than the smaller RSX coupe, the TSX features a sophisticated double-wishbone suspension in front and a multilink setup in back. Equipped with 17-inch wheels and tires and a standard Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system, the TSX slices through turns with barely a hint of body roll and loads of grip. The steering provides the kind of quick, precise action necessary for athletic maneuvering, and torque steer in this front-wheel-drive sport sedan is almost nonexistent. During more subdued driving, the TSX remains comfortable and compliant but never soft or floaty.
Standard four-wheel disc antilock brakes provide exceptional stopping power and a low-effort pedal that requires barely a toe or two for proper modulation. The VSA system isn't overly intrusive, allowing more than enough leeway to have fun before it kicks in to reduce the throttle or clamp the brakes to restore control. Drivers in cold weather climates will also be glad to know that VSA functions as a traction control system as well.
Those more interested in the luxury side of this upscale sedan will find the standard equipment list on the TSX impressive. There's full leather seating with heaters up front and eight-way power-adjustment for the driver. The steering wheel not only tilts and telescopes for proper positioning, but it also includes controls for the stereo and cruise control systems. The audio system itself consists of an in-dash six-disc changer, eight speakers and 360 watts of total power. There's also a sunroof, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control and xenon headlights. The only available option is a GPS navigation system that features a huge eight-inch screen and voice-activated control.
We found the TSX to be well appointed and comfortable during our day-long test-drive. The seats are supportive without feeling overly stiff like so many European sport sedans, and the combination of a tilt/telescoping wheel and power-adjustable driver seat make it easy to find a comfortable driving position. There's slightly less headroom up front compared to the competition, but the rear seats are about on par with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 when it comes to leg- and headroom.
There are three interior colors to choose from black, gray and Parchment with the darker colors featuring metallic dash trim while the lighter Parchment leather is coupled with wood accents. The overall look is clean and uncluttered and even with the navigation system and its extra-large screen the audio and climate controls remain intuitive and easy to use. Safety equipment includes side airbags for the driver and front passenger, along with a head curtain airbag that protects all outboard passengers in a side-impact collision.
As impressive as the TSX is when it comes to features and performance, its attention to detail is what makes it more than just a gussied-up Accord (the TSX is based on the European version of the Honda Accord a smaller, sportier version of the U.S. model). Open the door and you're greeted with elegant chrome side sills while the door handle itself features a tasteful strip of the shiny stuff. Close the door and it shuts with a satisfying "thump" a sound crafted by the vehicle's engineers through the use of special door seals. Other nice touches include trunk hinges that don't intrude on the cargo hold, a bottom-hinged accelerator pedal for a more precise feel and nicely integrated exhaust pipes finished off with sharp-looking chrome tips.
Unlike Acura's previous attempt at an entry-level sedan, the TSX has what it takes to compete against the best in its class. Although some might still find its front-wheel-drive layout less than optimal, its ride and handling quickly make you forget where the power is coming from. Nothing in the class comes close to the extensive standard features list, leaving the TSX way ahead of the game when you consider the value equation. Looks and prestige can, and do, count for a lot in this segment, but anyone who drives the TSX is likely to think long and hard about whether they really need anything more than what this sedan has to offer.