Apr 04,2008 00:00
Although I didn't get as much driving in as was planned, I had an hour behind the wheel on dry pavement, then plenty of snow driving. The car kept me safe, but it also might be too safe and free of emotion.
The 2009 TSX does not go on sale until later in April, and details were released at the New York auto show. Pricing is expected to be $29,000 to $35,000, which is similar to the 2008 model.
The TSX has a taut suspension that on rough surfaces feels every seam and bump. On concrete interstate the ride can be harsh and jittery. On a race track, I'd like it.
The electric steering is also busy. Even on what appeared to be flat surfaces, the steering wheel required little inputs to maintain a straight course. At times the response felt distant and didn't convey tire or road feedback, which is expected in a sport sedan. Several other journalists had made similar notes and generally blamed the electric steering, but the TSX symptoms aren't indicative of all systems.
The only engine choice is a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Peak horsepower is reached at 7,000 rpm, about 500 rpm higher than most in this segment. And the engine seems to encourage high rpm shifts.
There are transmission choices of a six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic with sport mode and steering-wheel paddle shifters. The automatic's shift points are timed for fuel efficiency in Drive, which is a nice way to say mundane. Sport mode extends shift points for performance and locks out fifth gear, but it's still not exciting.
The spirit of Acura speaks through the six-speed manual. The gearbox is so slick that it seems meant for speed shifts. The clutch is effortless, and brake and accelerator pedals are placed for heel-toe shifting. This car could be a lot of fun on dry roads.
The all-season, high-performance 17-inch Michelin Pilot tires are good enough for everyday conditions - including snow - but more aggressive drivers would want to switch to summer tires for more grip in warm weather.
The 40-foot turning circle is too large for nimble parking maneuvers.
The list of standard features is long, including a power moonroof, perforated leather seats and six air bags.
The cabin is tight and solid, but not as sound-isolated as I expected. There is tire noise and some wind noise. But even in these early cars - mine was No. 55 - the quality of assembly was quite good.
The matte finish to the dashboard cover is attractive and the colors are handsomely coordinated. The headliner and visors are covered in a well-done woven fabric. Visors have lighted and covered mirrors but no shade extenders.
The doors close with machined precision. Sightlines and driving position are good, and the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel is large and comfortable. The seats are a standout for fullness and comfort. The front passenger seat has power fore and aft, but no height adjustment.
The back seats are particularly full-bodied, and the center seat also has a head restraint. The exhaust tunnel is not overly intrusive to the center seat foot-room.
The trunk is roomy but somewhat oddly shaped.
The TSX is based on the European Honda Accord and is slightly smaller. The exterior styling is less awkward, but does not generate an emotional, love-at-first-sight response.
I didn't have the usual week to test the new TSX, but I sensed compromise in how the car is being presented. It seems to be losing its Acura edginess. The car is larger and wider than last year's model, but why? And there's no option for a V-6, which is almost expected in this luxury segment.
And there were other questions. The company says there are no plans for a coupe to replace the RSX. Its V10-powered NSX "supercar" is slowly coming back online, but no on-sale date or updates can be determined.
The marketing plan for TSX is to attract younger buyers and lower the average age of owners to 30 years, down from the young 40s, which already is a young-buyer demographic. However in this application, the TSX seems more of an effort to stay relevant to the thousands of young professionals who have bought the previous-generation TSX and who may return, this time married and with young children.
And then the weather created an unexpected impression.
If this driving event had put potential TSX customers through the extremes of weather that the journalists experienced, I expect many consumers would have visited a dealership the next day to order a car. The front-wheel-drive TSX with stability and traction controls, anti-lock brakes, heated seats and outside mirrors, plus real-time weather and traffic updates and rerouting, was as capable or more so than some all-wheel-drive vehicles.
I drove through wind, rain, sleet and heavy, wet snow. Although cars and trucks spun out around me, there wasn't a misstep from the Acura. It was planted and confident, whether changing lanes across a ridge of snow or stopping on a snow-packed downhill with cars ahead and behind.
In these conditions the real-time weather and traffic updates were helpful. Several times the digital readout noted crashes and delays along my route and I was able to find alternate routes as needed. The navigation system is easy to use. As part of the optional Technology Package, it would have more than paid for itself in that situation.
I still don't care for Acura's use of many buttons for the climate, audio and navigation controls, but I used them so frequently on this trip that I became comfortable finding the right one.
With no coupe model to appease many years of Acura loyalists, the TSX had to have a wide footprint of appeal.
It is a rev-happy sport sedan with the manual transmission. With automatic transmission, it is mundane but appealing and capable in all seasons.And, as a bonus, it is a more attractive choice for the Honda Accord shopper who just doesn't want a bigger car.