What to wear when you’re up and coming? If it’s automotive fashion, Acura’s TSX sports sedan is a chic pick. Natty. Lean. Electronically savvy. Zippy and with a nod to the environment, the TSX impresses the boss and pleases the performance soul without bragging or brawling. Acura’s carefully rendered second generation TSX retains all the performance while adding better handling, electronics and sophistication.
Because a sports sedan’s lot in life is well-defined, the 4-door-only TSX is optimized with a single 4-cylinder powertrain and pleasantly taut suspension. Additionally, as a premium brand Acura sells only well-equipped vehicles, so the TSX boasts an impressive list of standard features. In fact there is only one major option, the Technology Package. It groups the audio upgrade with a voice-activated navigation, traffic, weather and rearview camera system.
Aside from the Technology Package, TSX buyers need to choose between the equally priced manual or optional automatic transmissions — a surprisingly close choice as we’ll see. Another is to run with the standard 17 x 7.5-inch 5-spoke aluminum alloy wheels and P225/50R-17 all-season Michelin Pilot tires, or opt for the 18-inch wheel upgrade.
Don’t worry if the Technology Package is out of reach. Standard audio is a 7-speaker sound system with CD, XM radio, Bluetooth for hands-free connectivity, MP3 and USB music interfaces. HomeLink remote control is also standard, as is a power moonroof, heated leather seating, HID headlights, fog lights, heated side mirrors, plus front, side and curtain airbags. Base TSXs really aren’t.
Under the Hood
Defining the TSX’s lean personality is its tuned version of parent company Honda’s 2.4-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine. Designed to rev, the TSX mill whips out 201 hp at 7000 rpm and 170 lb- ft of torque at 4300 rpm when coupled with the 6-speed manual transmission, or 172 lb- ft at 4400 rpm with the 5-speed automatic. To keep the TSX lithely responsive there is no V6 option.
That’s no loss, since the 4-cylinder’s sophistication and light weight make a formidable combo. A die-cast aluminum block with iron liners and dual balance shafts is just the beginning. Breathing is via 4-valves per cylinder, optimized by variable valve lift, duration, and intake-cam timing. For 2009 the intake tract has been enlarged and the compression ratio raised to a sporting 11.0:1. The only downside is a premium-fuel requirement.
It’s worth noting the automatic transmission offers paddle shifting and actually nips the manual gearbox in fuel mileage ratings. The EPA says the manual gearbox box scores 20/28 mpg (city/hwy), while the automatic is rated at 21/30. A lower final drive ratio for the manual (4.764 vs. 4.438:1) is the likely culprit.
Acura says the TSX cockpit blends, "luxury, performance and technology in equal measure" and it’s a pretty apt description. Polished aluminum and leather mingle with a mix of digital and analog instruments to form an inviting, comfortable driving space with a high-tech vibe. Standard features abound, from comfort items such as heated seats to techy 12-volt and USB interfaces. Sporting aids include well-placed paddle shifters and dead pedal.
Increased shoulder room, freshened instrument graphics and a thicker, leather-wrapped steering wheel represent some of the detail improvements, but the major upgrades are in the optional Technology Package’s electronic aids. Three interior colors — Ebony, Taupe and Parchment — are offered.
On the Road
Slashing through mountain curves confirms Acura’s strengthening of the TSX’s body shell. This was accomplished via a cross-braced roof, replacement of bolted body junctions with welding, and more high-strength steel. The A-arm front and multi-link rear suspension — along with the subframes to which they attach — are both more rigid and better isolated from the cabin for reduced road noise.
Another improvement is the electrically assisted power steering. It gives intuitive feel and quick response, greatly aided by the inherently light 4-cylinder engine sitting atop the front axle.
As a sports sedan with luxury intentions, the TSX deftly walks a narrow line between handling and a plush ride. New dual-mode shocks seem to do an especially good job soaking up sharp impacts. The latest TSX corners a pinch flatter, with more accurate steering, yet rides at least as well as the earlier-generation TSX.
The new TSX’s underhood personality remains willingly revvy, but is considerably smoother and slightly meatier in the mid-range. The old car’s distinctive jump in power at very high rpm is gone, replaced by a silky tear up to redline. Combined with the chassis’s increased accuracy, the TSX is a thrill to whip through tight turns, yet relaxing on straight stretches.
We sampled both the manual and automatic transmission and couldn’t decide which we enjoyed more. Urban commuters can opt for paddle shifting knowing they aren’t giving up a hint of performance; in fact the automatic feels faster than the manual. Of course, the manual-transmission buyer maximizes the interaction and total control of conventional shifting.
Our final powertrain thought is that the TSX is not really any faster than before — but it didn’t need to be. It is more refined, however, and now gets up to 2 mpg better mileage.
Right for You?
If the $29,000 to $35,000 pricing is within reach, the thought of buying premium gasoline doesn’t deter, and a shot of agile performance makes your everyday driving more fun, then you’ll enjoy the TSX. There are many sport sedan choices in this price range, including the more conservative BMW 3-Series or the turbo-powered Volvo S40. But the TSX’s balanced platform and welterweight personality give it an important place in the hot sedan universe.
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson’s credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.