Acura, Honda's upscale division, has been around for more than two decades. Its mission is to win customers from the sport/luxury competitors from Europe and Japan while still retaining Honda virtues of reliability, high resale value, and, as much as possible, fuel economy and environmental responsibility.
All of Acura's alphanumerically-named vehicles have their targets. The TSX attacks the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class, not to mention its Japanese rivals from Lexus and Infiniti, among others.
What the newly edgy 2009 TSX lacked until now, however, was V6 power. Despite a punchy 201-horsepower four-cylinder, the other guys offered the bigger mills. With the 2010s, the battlefield is leveled.
The 2010 TSX now offers a 3.5-liter V6 with a respectable 280 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. Road and Track, in its September 2009 issue, hit zero to sixty in 5.9 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds. Those numbers are identical to the test results for a 2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro with a 3.2-liter, 265-horsepower V6 that the magazine tested in their May 2009 issue.
Despite its power, the TSX V6 earns EPA numbers of 18 City, 27 highway. I averaged 21.0 mpg in my Grigio Metallic test vehicle. EPA Green Vehicle numbers are 7 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas-a little above average.
The four-cylinder model ups those numbers-but not by a whole lot, and the 201-horsepower four has a very different voice and feel from behind the wheel. The four does come with a six-speed manual transmission, which is not available with the V6. Its exclusive gearbox is an automatic that you can shift manually with steering wheel paddles. Armed with Grade Logic Control and Shift Hold, it knows where to be in any situation and makes mountain driving a lot more pleasant.
Acura interiors are well crafted and are becoming more visually complex and compelling. Sharp edges and varying surface textures in carefully-matched neutral shades keep it interesting. In regular day-to-day life, the TSX is a fine daily driver, with standard power front seats in leather and automatic climate control. Automatic headlamps keep you illuminated even if you forget, and you can't leave your lights on overnight-they'll turn off by themselves. Bluetooth for your phone (hands-free) and a USB port for your iPod complete the picture.
Exterior styling of the TSX, along with all new Acuras, is how the brand is attempting to differentiate itself from its Honda relatives and from the other luxury brands. It wears the sharp creases preferred by the Acura styling staff, many of whom reside in the U.S.
The beaks on recently introduced Acuras could elicit some comments-they're pretty brutal and frankly edgy-not pretty-but you'll know they're not BMWs, Audis or Mercedes-Benzes. But think of it-those three brands all have distinctive faces, in the case of BMW and Mercedes, long established. So it may take some time to get accustomed to that nose.
The V6 TSX gets more than just more power. Its wheels grow from 17- to 18-inchers and the suspension behind them is upgraded to handle the extra 79 horsepower and 210 pounds. The suspension receives firmer springs and recalibrated shocks. Braking is enhanced as well, with special rear brake pads, a revised pedal ratio, a larger master cylinder and a brake booster. All this means that you can stop as well as you go.
Prices are meant to be competitive. The four-cylinder TSX with manual transmission starts at $30,120, including shipping charges. The V6 begins at $35,660.
If you really want to trick out your car, order the Tech package ($3,100). It adds a voice-activated navigation system with some remarkable and helpful features. It not only knows your exact position and tells you where to go, but with Realtime Traffic and rerouting ability, it can change its instructions to react to traffic problems ahead. I didn't need it with the TSX, but I did use this feature in another car recently and it's a big time and aggravation saver.
The Tech package also offers Realtime Weather and upgrades your audio to a booming 415-watt system with 10 speakers and surroundsound. Of interest is the Note feature, which lets you save 10 seconds of up to 30 songs, which the system automatically identifies for you. So-if you're driving down the road and hear something unfamiliar, Note it and follow up on it later, without taking your eyes off the road.
Acura buyers may be satisfied Honda owners stepping up, or general sport luxury comparison shoppers. Or, by now, they could be returning Acura customers, too.