The American Car
The 2010 Acura TSX V6 is really an American car. It's so American that it works better with a 3.5-liter V6 engine than it does with its 2.4-liter inline-4, which is kind of a surprise for a car that comes from Honda by way of its premium car division.
Yet the addition of the V6 seems to make a huge difference in the TSX, a makeover both mechanical and conceptual for this sport sedan, which has seemed kind of underwhelming since the 2009 Acura TSX with its inline-4 engine first came to us late last year.
No Japanese company has worked as hard as Honda to make itself over as an American outfit. Honda has lots of assembly factories in the U.S. just like every other Japanese-label company, but a huge part of the company's engineering brain trust is here as well. You'll find most of it in Ohio, which Soichiro Honda himself picked as the site of his American industrial base because of the profound respect he had for the quality of the American machine tools he bought from the region for his little motorcycle company during the 1950s.
So maybe it's no surprise that the 2010 Acura TSX V6 is the most American of the cars from Honda.
Everything Is Bigger in America
As we've learned, the second-generation TSX is not like the first-generation car, which was an Accord that had been shrink-wrapped to a sporting size for the European market. The TSX's roots still are in the Accord, but it's the new-generation Accord, which is far more of a full-size sedan meant for rolling across those amber waves of grain on the American highway.
Of course, a lot of this is in our head, since the new TSX's wheelbase is only 1.3 inches longer than before while its overall length is just 2.8 inches longer. And yet there's something that seems oversize about this new TSX when we catch sight of it out of the corner of our eye. There are some benefits, though, as the 2010 Acura TSX suits not just a full-size country but also full-size people, measuring out to 94.5 cubic feet of passenger volume.
If you are looking for an ideal-size car for everyday driving on the American road, this would be it. And although the cues of Acura's Keen Edge styling vocabulary continue to strike us as faintly disagreeable, the overall effect here is fairly pleasant — modern without being memorable. You know, like an American car.
How About a Little Zip?
Though the premise of the TSX has rested upon a small-displacement inline-4 that asked for the courage to challenge the redline if you wanted peak performance, this same personality has limited the car's appeal to Americans. And now that the TSX has reached full-size dimensions, the 201-horsepower 2.4-liter Honda inline-4 feels like it's overmatched, droning unpleasantly even as it gives the new TSX marginally faster performance than the old one. This four-cylinder engine works fine, but it isn't leading a happy life.
So no one should be surprised that the addition of the 3.5-liter Acura V6 wakes the TSX right up. With 280 hp on tap at just 6,200 rpm, this engine isn't going to excite many Honda enthusiasts. Yet the V6's 254 pound-feet of torque is enough to pull the fairly prosaic, wide-ratio five-speed automatic transmission (it's a fuel economy thing, of course) with surprising authority.
At the test track, this translates to acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill in 6.4 seconds (6.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) with hardly a whiff of wheelspin from the front tires even when the stability control has been disengaged. The quarter-mile arrives in 14.7 seconds at 96.6 mph.
None of this gets your attention until you find yourself on a road where you'd never take rear-seat passengers unless you were planning a focus group for evaluating the cause and affect of carsickness. Then you'll discover a razor-sharp character in this V6 that makes it a total delight while you're using the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
A tall 11.2:1 compression ratio, variable valve timing and a sophisticated throttle map account for a lot of the V6's goodness, and the typical light-flywheel effect of a Honda-engineered motor also makes a difference, as this V6 climbs the rpm scale with fairly thrilling quickness. Moreover, the transmission lets you hold a gear to redline while in Sport mode, and it doesn't get confused and default to automatic mode if it thinks you're not paying attention.
Playland at the Beach
Probably this infatuation with power accounted for our foolish overconfidence as we crested the Santa Monica Mountains on Stunt Road and looked down the narrow, twisting chute of Latigo Canyon Road as it fell toward the beach in Malibu. As with every roller-coaster ride, we came to our senses just a few seconds too late as we headed irrevocably down the first steep pitch.
Had we been in the standard 2010 Acura TSX with its inline-4, it might have been a potentially disastrous ride, as that iteration of the TSX feels clumsy and uncertain in situations like this. In comparison, the TSX V6 feels transformed, as if it had morphed into the last-generation Acura TL (you remember, the good-looking one), which it resembles in size. The TSX V6 carves up the corners while remaining poised on its suspension, feeling lively without being out of control. It's adept, if not exactly a hard-core sport sedan.
You don't quite see this potential when it comes to our usual handling tests, as the TSX V6 registers just 0.84g on the skid pad, the slalom passes in 65.1 mph and it takes 133 feet to bring it to a halt from 60 mph. Yet the overall effect of the chassis changes for the TSX V6 adds up to more than the sum of the parts. First, the 235/45R18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires make up in handling balance what they lack in overall grip. Then the slightly more aggressive rates for the springs and dampers plus a fractionally stiffer front antiroll bar (meant to compensate for the V6 car's added 200 pounds over the TSX four-cylinder) all manage to keep the suspension from plunging to its bumpstops in the corners.
Even the recalibrated electric-assist power steering isn't too bad, providing accurate action and furnishing a reassuring amount of effort even though it's not exactly talkative about what's happening to the tires. And we even managed to keep the TSX V6's brakes from catching on fire — always a possibility when you're going downhill on Latigo Canyon Road.
Motoring in the American Way
The 2010 Acura TSX V6 has its American car thing pretty together on the highway. It's pretty comfortable, pretty composed and pretty undemanding. Yet like the TSX four-cylinder, it has a peculiar mix of soggy damping at low speeds that lets the car bob and weave more than it should, while the suspension calibration at freeway speed feels too lively, as if someone had put 80 psi of air in the tires. The TSX V6's added weight over the four-cylinder settles the car a bit, but the chassis still seems slightly unfinished, as if someone had sent its ride-and-handling engineers into exile before the job was done. Plenty of road noise doesn't help things, either.
So probably it's a good thing that the interior of the TSX is such a fine place to be. Even as its premium-label competition tries hard to bring more style to the interior of their cars, Acura continues to make a stronger statement with simple, strong function. The Honda-style format for the driving position continues to give you a comfortable sense of control enhanced by great visibility, and the TSX's seats are just terrific. We've come to like the layout of the center stack controls, while the voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic information continues to set the standard for intuitive use. And the DVD-audio capability of the ELS audio system puts a lot of fancier labels to shame.
The 2010 Acura TSX V6 will make up about 20 percent of the TSX mix, and Honda says that since most TSX buyers live in urban areas, there's no demand for a manual-transmission option. And since the TSX V6 seems suited to an everyday life on the American road, we'd have to agree. It's a nice car, and it comes from the Acura division's urgent need to expand its American audience, as its Euro-theme cars like the previous-generation TSX have been greeted with deafening indifference.
Yet this change in the character of the Acura TSX comes just as the changing economy is making all of us appreciate the traditional Honda-style values of the Acura brand — efficiency, practicality and affordability. The TSX seems one bounce behind current events, more American just as European values gain greater currency. It's bigger, fancier and more comfortable just when smaller, smarter and more personal is what we want. It should be the Acura TSX — not the Audi A4 — that makes a four-cylinder sedan seem like the best car in the world.
When Honda and Acura vehicles were first introduced, the hope was that they would change American car buyers. With the introduction of the V6-powered TSX, it looks as if Americans have instead changed Honda.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says:
I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed after my first drive and subsequent testing of the all-new TSX last year. Compared to the classically proportioned, neat-as-a-pin style of the car it replaced, the new look came off as forced and none too handsome.
What's more, the dynamics felt watered-down and the driving experience was far more distant. The four-cylinder car I drove felt labored, the brakes faded noticeably and the road noise wasn't appropriately isolated for a luxury-branded car. Moreover, the TSX had lost the one quality that made people like me recommend it to friends and acquaintances and audiences like you: feel.
That's why I'm pleased to say that Acura seems to have taken at least some of these criticisms seriously. While the slab-sided, corporate-grilled styling remains for 2010, the barely adequate engine and electric steering issues have been addressed. The addition of a V6 to the lineup not only lops a full second off the TSX's acceleration performance, but it also relieves that, "C'mon already" feeling that tainted the driving experience before. The V6 doesn't feel racy-quick, but simply appropriately quick for a car of the TSX's stature and mission.
The previously numb steering has become weightier and more adept at telling the enthusiastic driver what's happening where the rubber meets the road, helping to make the chassis feel far more stable and confident at higher speeds. It no longer feels like a digital device for making the car change direction.
Unfortunately, the car's tire-sourced road roar and subpar brakes still need some improvement. It seems like a summer tire option would address both of those related concerns simultaneously. One more midcycle refresh, and the TSX will go back on my backyard barbecue recommendation list.