Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
That the 2011 Acura TSX wears the least-prominent beak in the Acura lineup is reason for rejoicing. That it's now available as a wagon with a practical, stylish, hatchback hind end is reason for straight-up celebration.
After all, its TL and RL brethren, bigger cars with bigger price tags, succumbed to the Acura brand's now-iconic schnoz several years back, but the TSX — even through its transformation into a wagon — has remained remarkably beak-free.
Regardless of your position on Acura's brand-identifying proboscis, the TSX is, and has always been, a well-equipped sport sedan. And for 2011 Acura is offering a wagon version as an alternative for those who want the utility of a wagon without the burden of a taller SUV.
Burden, you say? Yes. You see, we're car fans here. And short of a few stiffly sprung German exceptions, SUVs, even crossover SUVs, rarely handle as well as cars. And when they do, they really aren't all that fun to drive. We'll forgo the Newtonian physics needed to explain this phenomenon. Trust us here. SUVs aren't cars. And some people want cars with utility. Us included.
This combination, unfortunately, isn't always well received by American buyers. Lexus tried it back in 2002 with the IS 300 SportCross. It was cool, utilitarian and even looked pretty good. But Americans, firmly entrenched in SUV mania, refused to shell out for a wagon.
Acura doesn't seem to care, instead it is pressing on with blatant disregard for history and a solid commitment to people who prefer cars. Nice.
The Performance Cost/Benefit
But it's not 2002 anymore. Gas costs about a buck per gallon more than it did then, plus fuel economy in this SUV alternative should be better. And in the most painfully apparent observation in this story — it is. The EPA rates the TSX Wagon at 22 city/30 highway/25 combined — we recorded 24.3 mpg over 987 miles in our test car.
Infiniti's EX35 — a crossover that lands roughly in the TSX Wagon's price range — is rated at 17 city/ 24 highway and 19 combined mpg. We recorded an average fuel economy of only 17 mpg in our last test of the EX35.
Certainly, the Acura's better fuel consumption comes with a penalty — namely that it's considerably slower than the V6-powered EX35. Our test car, with its 201-horsepower 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder and five-speed automatic transmission (the only powertrain available in the wagon) hit 60 mph in 8.8 seconds (8.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip).
The quarter-mile, too, requires more time in the TSX. Its 16.5-second pass at 84.9 mph is slower than every luxury crossover SUV made today. The power deficit is most obvious during throttle-position changes, which catch the engine outside its power band. Subtle moves accomplish nothing. Be subtle with the gas pedal and not much happens. You need to wood it to get any real reaction.
Sport mode helps by holding onto gears longer, as does manual shifting via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. An additional gear entirely would make an even bigger difference, but we don't expect to see a six-speed anytime soon.
Braking distances are long for a car with a sport sedan legacy to uphold. At 127 feet from 60 mph, the TSX requires 6 more feet than the decidedly unsporty Toyota Venza. The 2011 BMW X3 requires only 116 feet.
But Wait. It Handles, Right?
Still, those seeking only utility and luxury might have less interest in its outright acceleration. Maybe you're after a carlike handling experience and simply don't need the speed.
And the TSX, for the most part, delivers. It zipped through our 600-foot slalom at 64.6 mph and circled our 200-foot-diameter skid pad at 0.83g. These numbers are better than a Toyota Venza or Chevy Equinox, but not as good as the best-handling luxury crossovers.
Still, we're not going to pretend the TSX Wagon is tuned as a driver's car. There's not as much feel or feedback through the electric-assisted steering as we'd like, and its chassis stops being enjoyable long before its limits are reached.
There's adequate damping to keep the small wagon from wallowing over surface changes on the freeway, but not enough to offer genuine control on a less-than-perfect road. And for a car with some sporting intentions, the numbers — and the subjective experience — could be better. The upshot is that comfort is quite high and the ride frequency is tame on most any surface. This is a civilized wagon, not a sports car. It will serve you well as long as you're more inclined toward country cruises than you are to back-road thrashings.
Will It Fit?
When it comes to simple cargo volume, the TSX Wagon offers as much as most crossover SUVs. With 25.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seats and 60.5 cubic feet of space with them folded forward, it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. The more expensive Audi Q5 offers 57.3 cubic feet with its seats down, while the Toyota Venza offers 70.1 cubic feet.
The second-row seats don't fold completely flat, but Acura makes up for it with three bins (two small, one large) beneath the rear load floor. There's another bin built into the driver-side rear panel, which contains a 12-volt power point. There are also steel tie-downs in the cargo area to lock your heavy goodies to the floor — something conspicuously absent in many hatchbacks. Wagons equipped with the Tech package supply a power-operated hatch via a button on the driver door, a button on the hatch or from the key fob.
There are no remote release handles for the second-row seats. Folding the seats is accomplished by reaching inside the hatch or going old-school through the back doors.
The driver seat offers standard eight-way power adjustment and a manual lever on the side to manipulate lumbar support. Heated front seats are standard. Our 6-foot-1-inch copy editor stuffed himself in the backseat after adjusting the driver seat for his preferred position. His knees touched the seatback, but there was ample headroom. He'd tolerate a ride across town this way, but not much farther.
Otherwise, this is standard TSX fare. Leather covers the seating surfaces, steering wheel and shifter. There are steering wheel buttons for the audio and cruise controls, as well as for the standard Bluetooth phone connection. The center stack — all 40 buttons of it — is fairly busy, but we found it relatively easy to access critical functions. An auxiliary jack and a USB connection for your iPod are standard.
There's a sense of quality inside the TSX that falls somewhere between the sensible Mazda CX-7 and the luxurious BMW X3. Everything fits together nicely, the materials are high quality and road and engine noise are kept largely at bay. Even at high rpm the i-VTEC four sings a refined song. Sure, you'll have to work to get it there, but it sounds pretty good when you arrive.
Our test car, equipped with the Tech package (which includes navigation, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker premium audio system with a 15GB hard drive and the power liftgate), rang up a $35,470 total. That pricing positions the TSX Wagon at the bottom end of the luxury crossover spectrum and a few hundred dollars more than a similarly equipped Toyota Venza.
And by our measure, that's exactly where it should be. It's not powerful enough to compete with more expensive luxury crossovers, yet it's more appealing on the inside than your average Equinox or Venza. Acura isn't expecting big sales numbers and neither are we. Still, we're glad to see it offer this wagon anyway, as it's only a little more power and a better transmission away from being truly desirable.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.
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