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2009 Acura TSX
A four-cylinder luxury car? Is Acura mad?
By Michael Banovsky, Mar. 11, 2009

Luxury cars. Obviously they’re not just about options, toys, and an interior swathed with leather. They bridge the gap — figuratively and literally — between the “haves” and “have-nots” on our roads. First they were mostly produced by American stalwarts Cadillac and Lincoln and now by the German carmakers Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. The Japanese, with Infiniti, Lexus, and Acura have also all produced one or two luxury cars that have broken into the “luxury” fraternity.

FAST FACTS

1. The TSX is powered by a 201hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder that gets 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

2. The TSX is front wheel drive and offered with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

3. At $29,160 to start, the TSX is $4,440 less than a base BMW 3-Series and $4,090 less than a base Infiniti G37 Sedan.

But some models, like the TSX, have been banging their head against a glass ceiling.

For $29,160 you have the choice between a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission; power, heated, leather sport seats, a 360-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system, USB Audio Interface with iPod integration, Bluetooth audio, Bluetooth wireless telephone interface, dual-zone automatic climate control system, steering wheel-mounted controls, LED backlit gauges, trip computer, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, and 12-volt outlets scattered about the cabin.

$32,260 gets you the “Technology Package” that — with navigation, a better stereo, and a GPS-linked climate control system — still undercuts the base price of a BMW 3-Series.

You want more in a car? Are you crazy?

THE RUB: SHARED PLATFORM MAKES FOR A GREAT PRICE

Some of those items are optional on its luxury car competition. Some of them aren’t available at any price. But the TSX has a dirty little secret: it’s actually a Honda Accord.

In Europe, where Slimfast seems to run through everyone’s veins, the Accord is correspondingly trim: smaller, sportier, and more efficient than the North American model. So when Honda’s luxury car division needed an entry level model for our roads, what better idea than selling a Euro-tuned sport sedan?

Being “just” an Accord isn’t a detriment to the TSX at all; in fact, it keeps the vehicle cost low (both to buy and to maintain), allows buyers to choose an economical 4-cylinder engine, and still drives as well as its German counterparts. Well, almost.

HIGH REVING AND WELL-BALANCED

Performance is good, and very Honda-like, meaning that with i-VTEC on board, the engine really comes to a boil at about 5500rpm — just about where you’d be letting off the gas in one of its German competitors. Redline is a high 7100 rpm, meaning that if you’d like all of the TSX’s 201 horsepower, you’re going to be stretching the throttle pedal to 7000rpm. Fun, but the downside is your passengers will think you’re Speed Racer.

Handling is nice and balanced — kudos goes to the lightweight 4-cylinder engine up front that doesn’t put too much stress on the front-wheel drive system. From the driver’s seat, it feels bigger than the last TSX (because it is), seemingly growing just to match the competition without really providing too much additional space inside. Some cars can grow on the outside and still “feel” small on the road, but not this sedan.

Fuel economy is a very competitive 20 city / 28 mpg highway with the manual transmission, and 21 / 30 using the automatic.

LUXURY INTERIOR BUT DATED-LOOKING CONTROL CENTER

I listed the options up top, and best to review them now. Why? Well how many buttons do you think it’d take to run all that stuff? There are something like 16 on the steering wheel alone, and it’s nearly at the point where it’d be more convenient for the car to come with its own concierge, occupying one of the rear seats.

The navigation, audio, and a few vehicle functions are controlled by a circular gearstick that juts out of the dash. It moves up, down, left, right — and diagonally between each — plus includes a movable ring that scrolls through menu options.

The system works well, but takes some getting used to if you’re used to BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI. The TSX isn’t better or worse…just different.

Unfortunately, you’re ultimately controlling a screen that’s likely based on — as a member of one of the world’s most popular Acura owner’s forums told me — Windows CE. The fonts are awful, the colors are awful, and the whole system looks like it was designed way back when it took a phone line to connect to the ‘Net and video games had to be blown into before they’d work.

Aesthetics be damned, I suppose.

THE VERDICT

While it doesn’t wear the badge of a German car, only snobbish types should ignore this car. The TSX represents incredible value, even though stuff like the car being front-wheel drive or only available with a 4-cylinder engine will turn off even more buyers. But why? What else do you need in a car?

Oh, the safety data: the TSX earned five stars in both NHTSA and IIHS crash tests.

The best part of the TSX? You’ll be too busy investing the monetary difference to pay any mind to being ignored when among “other” luxury cars. In this age of daily financial meltdowns, it’s nice to make a responsible choice — even if it means being stuck under the glass ceiling for a few more years.

PLUS

Efficiency
Interior look and technology
Feels like just as much car as you’d ever need

MINUS

Too many buttons inside
New 280 hp V6-powered TSX out this year, likely to be too much motor
Nearly zero image compared with other luxury cars