Simple joys like sharp throttle response and good on-center steering feel get lost in your basic awful big-city commute. So out of necessity, you look for other diversions, and you find them in the 2009 Acura TSX.
If you're stuck in traffic, hook up your iPod and your playlists come right up on the navigation screen. As Coldplay (or Black Star, as if we have any inkling of your taste) circulates through all 10 Panasonic speakers, you check the map screen and notice an accident warning a mile ahead. Instead of driving right into the mess like everyone else, you avoid being in the wrong lane, plus you ask the Acura to "Call Jennifer," so she doesn't get mad when you're late picking her up. You suggest she wear a scarf (perhaps the sparkly black one), because the Acura TSX is forecasting 50 degrees and fog.
Then, at Jen's urging, you say to the TSX, "Find nearest Zagat-rated restaurant."
Even if you don't have your own Jennifer, it feels good to be the centered, relaxed guy who has his life all figured out.
But when traffic finally clears, you might want to go back to being the disorganized guy who just likes to drive, the guy who scares the crap out of Jen around every corner. But it turns out the 2009 Acura TSX really isn't cool with that.
Let's See Your Hand
To its credit, the redesigned 2009 Acura TSX doesn't try to hide its aversion to fast driving. Since this is an Acura, you believe this near-luxury sedan wants to be driven. But when you take hold of the steering wheel, the car just isn't saying much to you. You add some steering input hoping to wake it, but still nothing.
What you're feeling (or rather, not feeling) is the new electric-motor-driven power steering of the 2009 Acura TSX. Acura says this setup is an evolution of the EPS of the semi-exotic Acura NSX, but the execution seems so different on the TSX that it must be a distant genetic link at best.
The focus here is making the steering wheel easy to turn, not turning the wheels. So the TSX is effortless to maneuver at low speeds while isolating you from nasty road impacts, plus adding extra mpg to the EPA rating. So even though the new TSX has a quicker 13.4:1 steering ratio than before (14.8:1), you don't really notice.
Worse, the new setup has an unsettling lack of predictability. It doesn't deliver a sense of secure stability when the TSX is pointed straight ahead on the freeway and it also takes too long for the power assist to drop away as your speed increases.
Happiness Comes to Those Who Rev
You also notice a strange calm from the 2009 TSX's engine bay. Acura tells us some owners of the first-generation TSX found the TSX's 2.4-liter inline-4 engine "too revvy," so the company called in the NVH task force. Now the mechanical sounds are pretty faint below 4,000 rpm, as if someone has tried to smother the engine with a down comforter.
Venture past 4,000 rpm, though, and the Acura TSX's engine acts like its old self. You feel and hear the i-VTEC variable valve timing switch to the higher-lift cams at 5,000 rpm. Peak power doesn't hit until 7 grand, so there's plenty of incentive to use all the revs right to the 7,100-rpm redline.
Of course we're only talking about 201 horsepower (4 hp fewer than the 2008 TSX). More relevant is the bump in midrange torque for 2009 — 172 pound-feet at 4,400 rpm versus 164 lb-ft at 4,500 in '08.
Though Acura tells us that fewer than 10 percent of TSX buyers will select the six-speed manual transmission over the five-speed automatic, we can report that the pleasure of controlling the four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission is by far the best part of driving the 2009 Acura TSX. Someone at Acura must think so, too, because the shift lever is topped with the metallic knob of the Honda Civic Si and even the transmission's ratios have been shuffled with shorter gears in 2nd and 3rd to deliver quicker acceleration.
The TSX's shift action is characteristically light in the Honda style, and it helps you appreciate the precision of the way it works, plus the way the clutch engages at exactly the right point in the pedal stroke. Heel-and-toe downshifts are rewarding, and the engine makes good sounds when you get it right. You can't pretend it's not fun, and before long your passenger wants to drive, too.
Still Too Slow?
If you're not into these sensory delights, though, chances are good you'll decide the TSX isn't quick enough. Its 7.7-second 0-60-mph time (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and 15.6-second quarter-mile at 89.8 mph are on par with the 2.0T-equipped Audi A4 and Volkswagen Passat, but the normally aspirated 2.4-liter's peaky power band isn't as friendly as the 2.0-liter turbo's flat torque curve.
The 2009 Acura TSX is also an easy mark for almost any family sedan with a V6, especially when equipped with the five-speed automatic. We tested a TSX with the five-speed and its 0-to-60-mph time fell to 8.6 seconds (8.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). That's slower than all four of the family sedans in our last comparison test which included the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
The 240-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 in the Acura RDX seems like the obvious solution here. Even the 4,000-pound RDX beats the TSX through the quarter-mile (15.2 seconds at 90.4 mph), so you can imagine the results if the engine had 600 fewer pounds of car to motivate. But the turbocharged engine's intercooler would have to go up front and that would lengthen the front overhang, and Acura's designers aren't up for a car with a big nose.
A more likely remedy will be Honda's 2.2-liter i-DTEC four-cylinder turbodiesel, already the favorite power plant among European buyers who know this car as their Accord. A turbodiesel engine is indeed coming soon for the TSX, although it won't be the Euro engine.
The Opposite of Flattery
If you end up on a back road with a 2009 Acura TSX, it probably won't be something you planned. Yes, the chassis has some life to it, but it's in such a conservative state of tune that the TSX is prevented from showing the kind of athleticism that enthusiast drivers like.
At a pace that sane people might drive, the '09 TSX has the compliant, springy ride that's characteristic of Honda, and the car feels light and willing. But as soon as you start to attack the corners, the TSX raises the white flag. There's considerable body roll and the P225/50R17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires run out of grip quickly. And the lack of steering feedback makes you feel like you're driving the 2009 TSX half-blind.
This has real consequences in the slalom, where the Acura averages only 64.1 mph, one of the slowest speeds we've recorded among current-day, premium-brand cars. It's 1.5 mph slower than a 3,600-pound Honda Accord EX-L V6. Even a Mitsubishi Lancer with a weakling 2.0-liter engine and a power-sapping continuously variable transmission beats the TSX through the cones with a 65.4-mph speed. The TSX performs similarly on the skid pad, and its 0.79g is what we'd expect from a larger, heavier family sedan.
It's like the TSX hasn't had a sure hand to guide its development at the Honda proving grounds.
Where There's Smoke
We get it that Acura likes to keep unsprung weight to a minimum and tries not to burden its cars with oversize brake rotors and calipers. But this particular set of brakes for the 2009 Acura TSX isn't fully up to the task of stopping a 3,400-pound car (though some blame must go to the tires as well).
On a good day in normal traffic, there's no problem, and the pedal feel is solid and linear. But when we apply full braking power at our instrumented testing facility, it gets ugly.
The TSX won't stop any shorter from 60 mph than 127 feet, which is 14 feet farther than an all-wheel-drive Lexus IS 250 that weighs 100 pounds more (and costs the same). The TSX's brakes fade dramatically after just one stop, and there's smoke coming off the rotors by the third run. The car isn't happy. We're not happy.
Defining the Enthusiast
After these disappointments, we want to curl up into a ball in the 2009 Acura TSX's extraordinarily comfortable seats and call it a day.
And this is exactly what many TSX owners will do. As a home-to-office car, the new TSX is quite satisfying. You simply won't find another sedan that packs so many high-tech interior features for the $32,775 it costs to get into a 2009 Acura TSX with the Technology Package (your meal ticket to the navigation and Panasonic ELS sound systems).
What makes the Acura even more appealing is its ability to integrate all this technology into a control interface that feels slick and contemporary to Gizmodo geeks without disorienting late adopters still fumbling with their first Blackberry.
Yet if driving is still really about the driving for you, then the 2009 Acura TSX will seem like little more than an expensive accessory for your iPhone. Unless you can get by on the occasional rev-matched downshift, the second-gen TSX really isn't about the drive.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Automotive Editor James Riswick says:
I just sold my 2006 Acura TSX. I loved it, but I'm sure you'd agree it's hardly a collector's item worthy of gathering dust and depreciation in the Edmunds garage for years to come. But would I have traded in my 2006 TSX for this all-new 2009 TSX? Not a snowball's chance in Haiti.
There are certainly areas of improvement. The shorter-travel clutch, revised gearing and additional midrange power make the rev-happy four-banger easier to drive around town. The driving position is slightly better and the new Technology Package is excellent — particularly the ELS surround-sound audio system.
However, the rest of the comparison is a push or a bust. This 2009 model is no quicker, its braking distances are still subpar and its slalom and skid-pad performances are basically the same. The interior offers a tad more shoulder room, but it remains mostly unchanged in size, while still providing tons of standard equipment at a reasonable price.
And then there are numerous ways in which the 2009 TSX has gone backward. The electric steering is just awful, with zero feel and sloppy weighting, as if it came from the old Accord hybrid. The old car's excellent steering basically made the car, and it's hard to believe easy parking and a fractional fuel-economy benefit have been worth the sacrifice. If this is the future of Honda steering, the company is in trouble.
Furthermore, the new TSX's interior trim is now silverish plastic rather than real alloy, while other bits that were once chrome or wrapped in leather are now plastic. The new RL-style electronics interface works well, but I think the old touchscreen was more intuitive and looked better. And speaking of which, my '06 hardly featured styling to stir one's soul, but the 2009? Judge for yourself.
This all adds up to a net loss for the 2009 TSX. If Acura wasn't going to make an effort to improve this car dynamically, it could've saved itself a lot of money by just adjusting the old car's gearing and updating the nav-audio system. It's a cliché for an owner of a previous-generation car to say his is better than the newfangled version, but in this case, the cliché certainly applies.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2009 Acura TSX in WA is: