Acura was founded by Honda 25 years ago to be an aspirational brand for Honda owners who wanted something more. Folks loved their Civics and Accords (both of which were significantly smaller and less powerful than they are today), but Honda wanted to grow and expand and felt that prospective buyers would be put off by a larger, higher-priced car wearing a Honda badge.
Despite its head start as the first of the Japanese luxury marquee spinoffs, Acura, along with Nissan’s Infiniti brand, has lagged in perception below Toyota's luxury line, Lexus, which has been the most successful. But their cars are definitely worthy of your consideration.
The TSX is an important car for Acura, sitting in the Entry Premium category ($30K - $40K). It's neither too big nor too small. It’s essentially the European Honda Accord --smaller and sharper than the now lumbering Accord sold (and built) in the U.S. In Europe, this is a sizeable vehicle, although it's fairly compact by American standards.
The main competitors include the German trio of favorites: Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. There are Japanese competitors from Lexus and Infiniti, too, and the Volvo S60 could be considered part of the group as well.
The TSX recently became available as a lean and handsome Sport Wagon (tested last year), which lets it compete directly with cars like the Audi A4 Avant.
My tester came with Acura's well-regarded 201-horsepower, 170-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but there's also a potent, 280-horsepower V6 available, too. The four averaged 25.9 mpg during its stay with me, which matches up nicely with what the EPA awards it – an average of 26 mpg, with 22 City, 31 Highway. The six is rated at 23 mpg average--not that much worse for its significant power gain. The availability of a V6 helps the TSX match up with the V6-powered versions of the above-mentioned cars, which is important if you want to reach that entry premium buyer.
The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the four-cylinder engine with automatic a 6 for both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas, so it slips into the SmartWay recommended category. The manual-equipped model, however, drops to 5 for Greenhouse Gas, losing that distinction.
Some models of the four-cylinder car are offered with a choice of a five-speed paddle-shift automatic or a manual six-speed. This also helps keep parity with the German trio, but the six-cylinder model comes only with the automatic.
My test car was a Silver Moon TSX with Technology Package – the four-cylinder car with automatic. That popular shade helped it blend into traffic. Its smooth, quick power availability had me checking under the hood to verify it was the four cylinder and not the six, even if the fuel economy gave it away. A 201-horsepower engine is plenty for a car weighing 3,470 pounds, although 280 delivers that extra oomph that some buyers demand.
Acura has always emphasized its technological features. The Technology Package brings an upgraded 415-watt sound system, with 10 speakers and a 15 GB hard disk memory. It also includes XM Radio with the Note function music reminder and Acura’s Navigation System, which give Zagat restaurant ratings, real-time traffic information, weather, voice recognition and more.
I like nice cars that drive well and have good sound systems and are filled with electronic goodies. The demographic for the four-cylinder model is age 28 to 34, college educated, about evenly split male/female. Two out of three’s not too bad.
The TSX has a nicely crafted ambiance inside, with lots of buttons all over the console, dash, doors and steering wheel, which makes it feel a little like the cockpit of a private jet. The exterior wears the requisite edginess that Acura is using to define itself these days--but the shovel nose has been toned down a bit.
Acura has introduced the Special Edition for 2012. It features a more aggressive front spoiler, a new rear bumper fascia, unique side sills and an exclusive "Special Edition" badge on the trunklid. The alloy wheels are polished. Inside, the seats wear perforated black Lux Suede® inserts with red backing. Unique red stitching appears on the seats, steering wheel and the shift knob. There’s red in the instrument panel, overhead and footwell lighting; you’ll find race-inspired aluminum pedal covers and a black headliner.
The base car starts at $30,695; the top V6 model with the Technology Package hits $39,335. My test car came to $33,795.
If you're willing to look at the whole package, a TSX could be a nice alternative to the German car you've dreamed of owning. The extreme front styling, an interesting experiment, has been toned down nicely, but the overall high level of aesthetics and responsible performance remain.