On paper, many of us thought the pending arrival of the 2004 Acura TSX would be a bit underwhelming. It was, after all, a slightly massaged version of the European-specification Honda Accord.
Because Europeans like smaller cars and smaller engines, we knew the TSX would be less powerful than the American Honda Accord V-6, less roomy and more expensive.
Not a lot to get excited about, right?
And then when we actually saw the 2004 Acura TSX. Well, that wasn't a big help. It was attractive, sure, but its styling was nothing special.
And then we drove it, and thought: Hey, this isn't a bad little car at all. It still seemed a bit overpriced for what you get: In terms of materials and technology, it really had nothing at all on our domestic Honda Accord. But it did have a certain measure of that European handling -- more like a Volkswagen Passat than a BMW 3-Series, given the Acura's front-wheel-drive layout -- and its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine loved to rev.
For 2009, we get a new TSX, and Acura did not see much reason for major changes. Not that Acura had a lot of say in the matter: Our TSX is still very similar to the European Accord, and because that car is a lot more important to the company than the TSX, changes made mostly reflect what Europeans wanted.
Which, interestingly, are some changes I wanted, too. The last TSX seemed short on elbow room, so the extra 3 inches in width of the 2009 is more than welcome. Overall length has increased 2.4 inches, and wheelbase -- the distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the rear wheels -- is wider by 1.3 inches.
Fine. We have grown used to the fact that nearly every new generation of a vehicle is bigger and heavier than the last generation. What we aren't much used to is that the 2009 TSX still has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but horsepower is actually down from 205 to 201. Not a big deal, but any decline in horsepower in a new model is, well, odd. Still, torque -- that's the measure of pulling power -- is up slightly, so you won't notice the reduced horsepower.
The little engine is still willing and eager, but so is that 190-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder offered in our domestic Accord. Sorry, but I keep coming back to our Accord, a car I like a lot that may not be quite as sporting as the TSX, but it's no slouch.
Anyway, the TSX is a lot of fun to drive. Typically Acura, it comes in just two basic models: the regular TSX, and the TSX with the "Technology Package" that includes a superb update to an already good sound system, plus a navigation system, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, voice recognition, a rearview camera and several other features. The base TSX -- with a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual, your choice -- starts at $28,960. With the tech package, it's $32,060. And there's a $715 delivery charge. There are a handful of mostly dealer-installed options, but nothing I'd particularly want.
The test car had an automatic transmission -- which, incidentally, can be shifted using a pair of little flipper switches behind the steering wheel -- plus the technology package, for a total price of $32,775. Interesting is that the automatic gets better mileage than the manual transmission: 21 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, compared to 20/28. Premium gas (91 octane) is recommended, but the test car ran fine on regular.
On the road, the TSX handles as well as any front-wheel-drive car in its class. Steering is precise but slightly less so than before, as it now uses an electric boost instead of a conventional hydraulic boost. The throttle system is also "drive-by-wire," meaning that there is no cable actually connecting the gas pedal to the throttle. It's pretty much becoming the norm.
Weighing in at 3,470 pounds, the test TSX is no bantamweight, but you don't feel the extra pounds this larger model gained over last year. The 17-inch tires and wheels are fine, and there are plenty of safety helpers, including anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, and side and side-curtain air bags. Standard features include leather upholstery, xenon headlights, fog lights, a power moonroof and plenty of other items that are usually optional.
Outside, styling is handsome, if a bit inorganic for my taste. Inside, the TSX is typically well-conceived, with one of the best nav systems on the market, logical gauges and switches and very comfortable, redesigned front seats. Rear seat room is acceptable, as is the trunk space. On balance, the 2009 TSX delivers what the last model did, and a little bit more.
And it may be undeniably a right car at the right time: That 30 mpg on the highway is pretty darn good for a car that is this much fun to drive, and admittedly, I don't miss the 3.5-liter V-6 offered in the domestic Accord at all.
And speaking of fuel mileage: The TSX will be offered with a diesel four-cylinder engine next year, as Acura becomes the first Japanese luxury brand to go that route. It will be a version of a 2.2-liter diesel already sold overseas, and we should expect mileage to beat this gasoline four-cylinder by at least 10 mpg. Of course, the high price of diesel fuel has caught everyone, including Honda, by surprise, but that extra per-gallon cost should be amortized by the improved mileage.
Personally, as a diesel fan, I can't wait to drive the diesel TSX. And until then, this gasoline version works just fine.
Orlando Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at email@example.com, or through his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/onwheels
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