Thumbs Up: Comfortable, capable and relatively entertaining.
Thumbs Down: Even with a racing pedigree, it lacks soul.
Buy This Car If: You like your entry level luxury with a dose of sport.
In 2006, I was commuting 110 miles per day, in New York City rush hour traffic. My two year old BMW 325 was turning into a reliability nightmare, and with the warranty about to expire it was time to find a new ride before my 3 Series did indeed “Break My Wallet”. I started by narrowing the search to a sedan, since I needed the 4 door people-hauling capability. It had to be relatively fuel efficient, since I was putting on over 30,000 miles per year. It had to be comfortable, since I was spending a minimum of 3 hours per day behind the wheel. Finally, it had to have a shiftable automatic and had to provide at least some entertainment value.
The Acura TL made my short list, since I’d very nearly purchased one two years earlier. A test drive reminded me why I didn’t: the TL was comfortable and had decent power, but it was just too big. In corners, the TL was prone to heavy understeer, even at moderate speeds. I’d stop short of calling the steering vague, but coming from a 3 Series BMW it was “less than communicative”. Even the TL’s incredibly good audio system and obscenely comfortable seats weren’t enough to close the deal. I’d initially crossed the TSX off my list, since it “only” came with a four-banger back in 2006. Still, I was at an Acura dealer, so it seemed prudent to at least take a TSX for a spin before moving on to the next brand.
It only took one drive to convince me the TSX was the perfect car for my commute-from-hell, and five years later I still own it. It gets great fuel economy, especially on the highway, and the interior is luxury-car comfortable. The handling is decent, and the car is much more engaging to drive than the larger TL. Power from the 2.4 liter inline four is adequate, but the TSX is more about the ride than getting anywhere in a hurry. Plus, it’s got legendary Honda / Acura reliability: in five years, it’s seen the inside of dealership twice (once for a recall, and once to change the brake pads). Aside from oil changes and tires at around 40,000 miles, it’s asked me for nothing.
When Acura asked if I’d like to drive the latest TSX, equipped with the 280 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6 and the Technology Package, it didn’t take me long to say “yes, please”. I was eager to see how much the car had changed in five years, and to see if the V6 could transform the TSX into a legitimate sport sedan contender. I’d heard good things about the interior and the 10 speaker Acura/ELS surround sound audio system. Most importantly, I wanted to see if the new car had a soul, something the first generation TSX seemed to lack.
For 2011, Acura has toned down the harsh and controversial lines of the 2009 TSX re-design. The new front end is pleasing, where the 2009 variant was puzzling, as if Acura thought controversial styling would help distinguish the TSX from its competitors. Like the original TSX, the 2011 now blends in a bit more with the crowd, but I view that as a positive in the TSX’s favor. Unlike the original, which was based on the European Honda Accord, 2009 and later TSX models are based on the American Honda Accord. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective: the new cars have more interior room, but they’re also longer, wider and a bit heavier.
Inside, I’d call the 2011 TSX a step up in quality from the first generation cars. Front seats are larger, but still offer sufficient bolstering for enthusiastic driving. The seats are heated but not cooled, standard in luxury cars at the TSX’s price point. The leather appears to be of better quality than that used in the first generation cars, which was prone to premature wear and scratching. Only the driver gets a manually adjustable lumbar support, but I doubt front seat passengers will complain. I’ve done more than one cross country trip in my TSX, and either front perch is all-day-long comfortable.
Rear seats now have a few inches more legroom than in my car, and carrying three in the rear is far more comfortable. Rear seats aren’t heated, and I have to give points off for this: if the Koreans are now including heated rear seats in cars without luxury aspirations, then other manufacturers need to step up their game, especially at this price point. Rear seat passengers do get their own HVAC vents, so it’s not likely that drivers will get many complaints about cabin temperatures.
Some have panned Acura for the number of buttons on the dash, but I say “well done”. They’re not confusing at all, once you learn the layout, and many offer redundant controls for the audio, nav, or HVAC systems. I’d rather be able to change a preset radio station at the touch of a button, instead of having to scroll though three menus on an infotainment screen. Maybe I’m old school, but I have to give Acura two very enthusiastic thumbs up for interior layout and design. Just like the 2006 Acura TSX, the interior of the 2011 is enough to sell a lot of buyers on the car.
Another selling selling point is the 280 horsepower V6, which finally gives the TSX decent power instead of merely adequate power. You’ll give up some fuel economy, but even the V6 isn’t a particularly thirsty one. The EPA rates a V6 equipped TSX at 18 MPG city and 27 MPG highway, and I saw an average of 23 MPG in a mix of city and highway driving. If you like the rush of acceleration, the V6 is easy to justify; if you want the best fuel economy, Acura still offers the TSX with the 2.4 liter inline four. If you like to row your own gears, the TSX is still available with a manual transmission, although only mated to the inline four engine.
On the road, the V6 easily erases the added size and weight of the newer car. It does make the TSX a bit more front-heavy than the four cylinder model, but Acura counters this with a stiffer suspension and tightened up steering on V6 models. Even under heavy acceleration, torque steer is negligible, which makes the TSX V6 easy to drive with enthusiasm. There are paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel, but since shifts are leisurely they do nothing to enhance the sporting nature of the car. Even factoring in the additional power and handling enhancements, I’d stop short of calling the TSX V6 a true sport sedan, but it is closer than any TSX variant they’ve built to date. If you’re looking for a solid commuter, but still like to drive the occasional twisty road, the TSX V6 won’t disappoint. If you want to embarrass your buddies 330Ci or G37 at the local autocross, the TSX V6 isn’t up to this mission.
As with all Honda products, the Acura TSX V6 doesn’t have option packages. Step up to the V6 version, and your only decision is whether or not to include the Technology Package, which includes voice guided navigation, the Acura/TLS surround sound audio, a rearview camera and real time traffic and weather. It’s an expensive option, adding $3,100 to the price of the already expensive TSX V6. My tester, which came as loaded as you can get a TSX, stickered out at $39,110, including a destination charge of $860. For comparison, a similarly equipped Infiniti G37 Journey would sticker at $41,875, while a comparably equipped Lexus IS 250 would sell for $42,060.
Even for the car’s flaws and high price, I’d shop it as a replacement for my current TSX if I had the same set of circumstances to contend with. I’ve never met anyone who was truly disappointed with their TSX, and maybe that’s the car’s fatal flaw. When something works the same way every time you use it, ages gracefully and doesn’t ask for a thing in return, perhaps its human nature to condemn it as “soulless”. To that end, the TSX wouldn’t satisfy my sports car jones, but it certainly would satisfy my need for comfortable and reliable transportation, year after year. I’d call that peace of mind, and that by itself makes the TSX (which starts at $30,470) worth the price of admission.