A Dazzling Dance Partner
2004 Acura TSX Anna was a short girl from a working-class family in the city's Ninth Ward. She was pretty, but not a standout, certainly not in New Orleans where pretty girls abound. Wearing her red bow, white shirt and pleated blue skirt -- her Holy Redeemer School uniform of the late 1950s -- Anna was easily overlooked. Until she stepped on the dance floor, that is. The little girl could boogie! Had Anna been a car, she would've been the 2004 Acura TSX. It is physically attractive, but neither compelling nor memorable in exterior styling. It looks like other compact, entry-luxury Japanese automobiles currently on sale in the United States. It has a modestly wedged front end, flush headlamps, slightly flared side panels and a high rear. It resembles the Honda Accord, which it is, in fact. The TSX in the United States is sold as the Accord in Europe and Japan, where buyers prefer shorter, slimmer cars. As such, it is smaller than the American Accord. Though it shares the same 105.1-inch wheelbase, it has an overall length of 183.3 inches, compared with 187.6 inches for the Accord. The Accord is nearly two inches wider than the TSX, and it seats five people more comfortably than the TSX, which is best suited for four occupants, despite Acura's corporate claims that the smaller car can carry five. The TSX has a more luxurious interior than the Accord. Leather upholstery, heated front bucket seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are among many standard luxury items. The car's eight-speaker, 360-watt "Acura premium audio system" rocks. But what really distinguishes the TSX from the Accord is the Anna Factor. It boogies big time on the open road. It is tighter, faster. It feels more nimble. If the two cars were available as dance partners, I would choose the TSX every time. Part of the performance difference between the TSX and the Accord stems from the engine. Both cars share Honda Motor Co.'s 2.4-liter, 16-valve, i-VTEC power plant. VTEC means "variable timing and electronic control" of engine valve movement. In the TSX, Honda boosted the engine to 200 horsepower, compared with 160 horsepower in the similarly equipped Accord. Additional work was done to improve the TSX's suspension system, giving it a more sporty feel than is found in the Accord. Accelerating in the TSX was as effortless as swinging Anna across the floor. She responded immediately to every change in the beat, switching hands, changing steps, moving hips as if she were one with the music. The TSX does the same thing through more prosaic means, a drive-by-wire throttle system that responds instantly to every touch of the accelerator pedal. But the feeling is the same. It's Anna all the way, which is nothing short of glorious. Nuts & Bolts Acura/Honda's problem: Entry-level luxury buyers all want the same thing -- distinction at a bargain price. But, as currently styled, the TSX looks too much like the Accord. Driving is one thing. But car ownership in this category is largely a matter of image. Buyers here don't want to explain that their car drives better than it looks. Praise: The TSX drives better than it looks. It's the best four-cylinder Honda Accord that Honda or Acura ever sold. Head-turning quotient: About as exciting to look at as any other Accord. Okay. Not love at first sight. Ride, acceleration, handling: Triple aces. Some people opined that the TSX makes little sense with four cylinders. My opinion is that they never actually drove the car. It can run! Capacities: The TSX seats four people comfortably. Cargo capacity is 13.2 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 17.1 gallons of gasoline. Premium unleaded is recommended for best performance. Body style/layout: The TSX is a four-door sedan. It is front-engine, front-wheel-drive. Engine/transmissions: The 200-horsepower, four-cylinder i-VTEC engine in the TSX can be linked to a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Mileage: I averaged 30 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving. Safety: Front side air bags, curtain side bags, anti-lock brakes and anti-skid control systems are standard. Very rigid body, which means better handling and driver control. Price: Base price on the tested TSX with navigation system is $28,490. Dealer invoice on that model is $25,967. Price as tested is $28,990, including a $500 destination charge. Taxes and fees not included. Purse-strings note: A good car. But a bit of a hard sell for a four-cylinder model that so closely resembles the Accord. For example, the Accord EX V-6 sedan with navigation costs $28,260. Compare with Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G35 and Lexus ES 300.
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