An identity crisis is never good. And though we're not psychiatrists, we can think of three types. One example may not know what personality to have — e.g., Vanilla Ice going from catchy pop star to wannabe hard-core rapper. One may not have a personality to begin with — e.g., Paris Hilton. Or perhaps the saddest of all, one may have been something with a distinct, likable personality that for some reason morphed into something rather blasé — e.g., the 2009 Acura TSX.
Previously a taut sport sedan offering enthusiasts a lively, communicative driving experience along with Acura quality, the Acura TSX has become more of a luxury sedan for 2009. Many consumers will consider the latest version of the TSX to be "nice." Enthusiasts, however, will likely consider it watered down and boring.
More often than not, our staff compares the new TSX to a Honda Accord due to its upsizing (it's 3 inches longer and wider than last year's TSX) and more isolated feel behind the wheel. Yes, the Accord's a very good car that has gotten increasingly more refined and more feature-laden over the years. But if folks want one, they can go to a Honda dealer. People step up to the Acura brand expecting something different, something more involving to drive and more luxurious than a volume-selling family sedan. And based on our time with the 2009 Acura TSX, we don't think the company delivered.
Although the same 2.4-liter inline-4 is used as before, the version in the 2009 TSX is quieter. In response to feedback from customers who felt the engine was a little too vocal, Acura took pains to mute the sound coming from under the hood, which to our ears took away some of the car's character. The company also tweaked the engine to have more midrange torque and hence a fatter power band. The numbers come in at 201 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. That's 4 hp less but 8 more lb-ft.
Even when coupled to a five-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is also available), the 2.4 does a decent job of getting the 3,400-pound TSX up to speed. We clocked the 0-60-mph sprint at 8.6 seconds, with the quarter-mile run taking 16.3 seconds. We thought the four would be a lazy dog when paired with the automatic, but thanks to the tranny's alert nature, the TSX seldom felt flat-footed. Even the manual-shift feature was on point, something of a rarity as in most cars with this feature there's a brief but annoying lag between when the lever or paddle is flicked for an upshift and when it actually happens.
There's solid midrange punch on tap for passing and merging, too. But stats mongers will note that most V6-equipped family sedans would still have no trouble showing their taillights to the TSX, beating it to 60 by 1 or 2 seconds. In the real world, a mid-8-second car will be more than quick enough for most folks. High-speed cruising is relaxed, though grooved pavement, such as that seen on Southern California's freeways, can generate noticeable road noise. At 22.1 mpg, our fuel economy didn't quite match up to EPA estimates of 21 city, 30 highway and 25 combined.
Our first big disappointment came with the TSX's braking performance. A stopping distance of 133 feet from 60 mph is respectable for a big SUV. We'd expect something about 10-15 feet shorter for an entry-level luxury/sport sedan. In their favor, the brakes have a progressive, easily modulated pedal.
The next bummer came upon turning the steering wheel, when we wondered "where did the feel go?" In fact, the previously stated Accord comparison isn't really fair in this regard. The Honda has more feedback and a better interface between the driver and the asphalt than the TSX's over-assisted, numb setup. The suspension does a respectable job of keeping the car composed in the turns, yet it also seems to have lost the taut, athletic nature of the prior system. Whereas the previous car felt small and nimble, the new one feels still capable but every bit its size. As such, the 2009 Acura TSX doesn't inspire confidence in the twisty bits the way last year's version did. On the plus side, the TSX's ride is supple and did a fine job of insulating occupants from nasty, broken pavement.
With their aggressive side bolstering (even in the shoulder area), the front sport seats are ready to provide generous lateral support should one somehow be inspired to take a spirited run through a curvy road. Their ideal, firm shaping combined with the standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 10-way power driver seat allowed all from our shortest (5-foot-5) to our tallest (6-foot-3) editors to get and remain comfortable behind the wheel.
In back, although the seat is well-shaped and comfy enough, taller folks may find legroom lacking — at 34.3 inches, it's around 3 inches less than an Accord, though it specs out nearly 4 inches more than a Lexus IS 250. Hip- and shoulder room are noticeably better than before, thanks to the 2009 model's 3-inch increase in width.
A number of standard features — such as perforated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats — serve to pamper those inside the TSX.
Although the dash's center stack is loaded with buttons — many of them similar in size and shape — most of the controls are easy to use and intuitive once you're familiar with them. It looks similar to an Accord's setup, but a closer look reveals that the TSX separates the audio and climate groupings. Our TSX had the Technology package trim (includes a navigation system, upgraded audio system and a rearview camera) which also meant that the climate, audio and nav systems could be operated via voice commands. Springing for the Techie version also means you get weather forecasting and real-time traffic with rerouting. The latter was accurate, clearly showing the ugly reality of L.A.'s rush-hour traffic right there on the nav screen and offering alternate routes.
In-cabin stowage is generous and the center console features iPod and auxiliary audio jacks as well as a power point. Rated at 12.6 cubic feet, the trunk rates a few cubes smaller than a typical midsize family sedan's, yet it's more usable than you'd think. Thanks to its boxy shape and easy access, the trunk can take three golf bags crosswise (no angling required) and also features a 60/40-split rear seat to open up more capacity. The 2009 Acura TSX also passed our child safety seat test with flying colors, allowing the large seat to be placed in reverse-facing mode in the rear center position or even directly behind a 6-foot-3 driver or passenger.
Design/Fit and Finish
With its massive chrome frame around an angled smile, the TSX's grille styling is quite bizarre, and sadly seems to reflect Acura's new design language. In profile, it's not too bad, with the wedgelike theme reminiscent of the past TSX. But even then, the chunky front overhang and rear door cutline that runs right through the wheelwell flare lends additional awkwardness.
Things are much better inside, where high-grade materials and gimmick-free design are found. However, we'd prefer real metal (or even fake wood) trim to the faux titanium accents, as the latter once again reminded us of an Accord.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those who are looking for a feature-laden, well-built luxury sedan at an attractive price should consider the 2009 Acura TSX. Driving enthusiasts who value involving dynamics more than the latest high-tech features would be happier with a true sport sedan. If we had our druthers, we'd take a livelier, base BMW 328i over this more mundane, feature-rich Acura.
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