SKULL VALLEY, Ariz. -- In this backwater village overlooking the Weaver Mountains southwest of Prescott, where farm machines outnumber street vehicles and sporty cars rarely venture, heads turn and eyes stare in wonder as Acura's slick new sport touring wagon purrs along the two-lane Arizona 96.
Zippy 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, cast on a rigid chassis with a goosy four-pack engine directing all torque to the two front wheels which also steer, stocks all of the components to make a responsive and sporty car, then adds the utility of a cargo-hauling SUV.
The front half of this vehicle resembles a sport sedan but the back half has a long roofline to house a four-door tourer wagon's rear cargo bay.
Wheels are positioned near corners of a rectangular body for a sporty posture, and there's a low hood line to enhance forward visibility for the driver, a front fascia with integrated foglamps and squinty narrow headlamps -- high intensity discharge (HID) low-beam lamps and halogen high beams -- on front corners of a prow crowned by Acura's pentagonal grille in silver paint.
Shapely flanks in monochromic treatment break for exaggerated round wheelwells as two side doors blend into the panels due to blackened roof pillars.
The trailing edge of the long roof mounts a spoiler atop the liftgate, which slopes down to a band of lamps stretched across the tail and twin exhaust pipes protruding below the low body-color fascia.
Five-spoke alloy wheels are capped by Michelin HX MXM4 225/50R17 all-season performance tires.
Acura produced the original TSX sport sedan in 2004 using the firm chassis and unitized body of the European version of Honda's Accord sedan, which measured smaller in track width and wheelbase length than the Accord sedan assembled in Ohio for the North American market.
A Generation II treatment in 2009 brought styling revisions plus upgrades in hardware and electronic controls, while the 2010 issues scored a double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension system to deliver excellent ride, handling and control.
And for 2011 the TSX sedan line expands to include the new sport wagon plus added features and technology improvements.
A quick-ratio rack and pinion steering system on the TSX has electric power steering (EPS) to regulate the steering via a computer-actuated electric motor.
And a brake disc posts at each wheel and links to a four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA).
The wagon also stocks Honda's vehicle stability assist (VSA) equipment operating in conjunction with a traction control system (TCS).
Acura maxes hardware for safety on TSX, with the cabin surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows. Also aboard is an active head restraint system (AHRS) for each front bucket.
Powering the TSX Sport Wagon is a front-wheel-drive (FWD) powertrain in four-cylinder format.
The dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine is crafted from aluminum with a drive-by-wire throttle and Honda's advanced special i-VTEC (variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain to precisely manage engine breathing and combustion in order to maximize horsepower and disperse torque across a broad band.
This plant, lifted from Honda's CRV crossover wagon but worked over with micro-polished crankshaft journals and a larger bore for cylinder liners, earns modifications for intake and exhaust to increase air flow and ultimately elevate power points and torque muscle.
Output ramps up to 201 hp at 7000 rpm with torque climbing to 170 lb-ft at 4300 rpm.
Expect high-rev action from this plant, where the red line appears at 6800 rpm.
It also earns respectable fuel-burn scores with EPA mileage estimates reaching to 30 mpg.
Sole shifter for the wagon is an electronic automatic with five forward speeds plus a sequential SportShift override for clutch-less manual control.
This transmission has a unique "grade logic" shift point governor that selects top gear settings after measuring variables like throttle position, road speed and the rates of acceleration and deceleration. New software programming for the transmission enables the engine to maximize output through a Shift Hold Control device when running through a set of curves.
The five-seat cockpit in the TSX Sport Wagon houses bolstered sport bucket seats clad in perforated leather and a rear bench with 60/40-split folding seatbacks.
Cargo room in the rear bay is vast -- 25.8 cu-ft with rear seatbacks raised or 60.5 cu-ft with the rear seatbacks folded down and the flat load floor stretching to nearly 70 inches long.
The wagon's rear portal height of 28 inches means you can stuff aboard bulky items like the boxed crate of a large flat-screen TV, furniture or bicycles.
Also, the cargo bay has four concealed stow bins.
* One compartment with 2.4 cu-ft below a lift-up hatch sits in the rear load floor.
* A small stow spot with 0.2 cu-ft behind a removable panel tucks in a side panel.
* Two long (13-inch) storage trays also sink into the load floor.
TSX the sport wagon comes loaded with equipment like twin-zone automatic climate controls, leather upholstery with power controls for front seats (driver seat with eight-way power plus memory, passenger seat with four-way power), heat elements in front seats, tilt-and-telescope steering column, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a sunroof, keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity for phone and a seven-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB, satellite radio service and auxiliary audio jack.
Optional for the wagon is a Technology Package which installs a LED backlit VGA screen and navigation system, rearview camera, voice recognition system, 60-gb hard disk drive for digital music storage, power liftgate and ten-speaker Acura/ELS surround-sound system.
The 2011 TSX Sport Wagon lists for $30,960. Selecting the Technology Package adds $3,650 to the bottom line.