Enthusiasts rejoiced when Acura first introduced the TSX (Touring Sportscar eXperimental) 10 years ago. Based on the European Honda Accord, the TSX checked off all the right boxes for Honda’s faithful with a tautly styled body, high revving four cylinder engine, slick shifting manual transmission and, of course, handling responses that have no business being found on a front-wheel drive car.
|1.The TSX is available with either a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with the choice of a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, or a 3.5L V6 with the 5-speed automatic only.
2. Our test vehicle is the Special Edition 6-speed manual, which just happens to be the choice for enthusiasts.
3. Starting at $30,510 our test car (including destination) costs $32,405.
4. The 201 hp 4-cylinder is rated at 21/29 mpg (city/hwy) with the manual or 22/31 with the automatic.
Standard on the TSX since day one has been a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine currently producing 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. For 2013 it comes standard with a 5-speed automatic transmission but for those who want a little more driver engagement, there is a 6-speed manual available on higher trimmed ‘Special Edition’ models. Since the 2009 TSX redesign, there has also been an optional 3.5-liter V6 that puts out a healthy 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque that, unfortunately, is mated exclusively to a 5-speed automatic only.
REWARDING TO DRIVE IN THE RIGHT TRIM
For an enthusiast, the most rewarding TSX combination is of course the 2.4 L four-cylinder with the 6-speed manual transmission, which was how our test vehicle came equipped thankfully. Opting for the 6-speed will bump engine torque by 2 lb-ft, but will also decrease economy; 21 MPG city and 29 MPG highway for the manual compared to 22 MPG city and 31 MPG highway for the automatic. We averaged 25 MPG during our week with the car.
Blame this fuel economy penalty on the 6-speed’s short gearing that has the TSX screaming at 3,050 rpm in top gear, when travelling at 70 mph. Despite this frantic revving, the engine is fairly quiet, and only really makes itself audibly known to the driver near redline. It never boarders on thrashy, however, which is fitting for a vehicle with luxurious pretentions.
The 6-speed is still one of the smoothest manual transmissions on the market; especially for a front wheel drive car. It effortlessly slides into gear and feels like its internals are made of grape seed oil. Tied to the terrific 2.4-liter engine, the drivetrain becomes a perfect match for the chassis. It does not overpower the front wheels, but still has plenty of torque and response for spirited driving. It really does make the V6 redundant in this car as the four-cylinder isn’t lacking for power, and the added weight of the six-pot completely throws off the vehicle’s balance.
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Which brings us to the TSX’s real forte: handling. Acura has been able to harness the same magic that MINI does in creating such a neutral, well balanced machine that performs way beyond what your brain thinks should be possible for a front-wheel drive vehicle. Toss it in a corner, and the base 225/50R17 tires easily handle the 3,415 lb. TSX as it sticks to the road like an unsigned indie band. It takes a lot of ham fisted driving to get this chassis upset.
MORE THAN JUST A SPORTS SEDAN
But this isn’t just a sporty special. It also plays the part of entry level luxury quite well. The ride is compliant, the front seats are comfortable and the interior materials are premium enough, except for the soft touch dash that resembles packaging foam. The rear seats are spacious enough for even our 6’+ tall reviewers and the trunk features a decent 14 cu-ft of cargo space.
Being a lower trimmed Special Edition, our TSX test vehicle lacked navigation, rear parking camera or anything even remotely resembling a touch screen user interface. Out of date by today’s standards, the controls are refreshingly simple to use.
Speaking of out of date, there is the TSX’s styling. We’ll skip over the much lamented beak on the grill; everything that could be said about that styling misdemeanor has been. On sale now for five years since its last major redesign, it could use an overhaul. Although its general shape is not offensive, it is not all that distinct either and some styling flair is in order, perhaps even the inclusion of some ever trendy LED lighting; a me-too must for every luxury vehicle these days it seems.
A CLASS OF ONE?
With a starting price of $30,510, it may appear on paper that the TSX wouldn’t be a good choice over the slightly smaller, yet far cheaper Acura ILX; especially since the ILX is also available with the 201 hp four-cylinder and 6-speed manual transmission. However, the ILX lacks the driving engagement of the TSX and can’t match the TSX’s chassis dynamics when it comes to the handling and comfort balance. Add in the fact the ILX is only $1,310 cheaper and it’s the TSX that begins to feel like the bargain.
See Also: 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 Review
Internal battling aside, the TSX really does not have any clear cut competitors. It undercuts the larger and less sporty Lexus ES and Lincoln MKZ, while the similarly priced Audi A3 and Lexus CT200h are both small hatchbacks. That just leaves the Buick Regal and Volvo S60 T5, vehicles that arguably compete with the larger TL.
Classifiable in the marketplace or not, it is safe to say the TSX has found many a niche in the USA; over 30,000 units have been sold in 7 of the past nine years. It is the perfect evolutionary step for all the people that grew up driving modified Acura Integras and Honda Civics. It mixes the secret Honda recipe that made those compacts the icons of the tuner world, but adds a layer of maturity, sophistication and space.