Editor's note: This review was written in April 2011 about the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2012, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The TSX Sport Wagon makes me wonder why wagons aren't more popular than they are. It's practical, easy to live with and offers more flexibility than a similar sedan would. It also offers rewarding, driver-oriented performance without sacrificing comfort.
The 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon is a strong luxury/performance wagon for people who want something that's both practical and able to stand out from the field of sedans. Even so, it's a bit too small to be a family hauler, and it's never going to blister down any drag strips.
It competes both with wagons, including the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and BMW 328 wagon, and smaller crossovers, such as the Infiniti EX35. Its mileage is the best among that group, getting an estimated 22/30 mpg city/highway.
The wagon is new for 2011, and what's nice is it looks like it was designed from the start to be a station wagon. (Compare it with the TSX sedan here.) In the early 2000s, Subaru and others were making wagons that looked as if they'd left all the structural parts of the sedan in place and glued on a glass section to make a wagon. I never warmed to the look, and the TSX's cohesive design only reinforces my opinion.
Where other cars have thick pillars that obstruct your view when driving, the TSX has slim, dark pillars. It looks more airy and open. Also, the TSX seems to sit very low and appears wider than it actually is. If you like chunky, blocky wagons — like the CTS Sport Wagon — I don't think the TSX will satisfy you. For my money, though, the TSX Sport Wagon is among the best-looking wagons out there.
As much as I like the TSX wagon's exterior styling, I think the driver's area is the car's strongest attribute. It's easy to see out the car, and the controls for everything from the navigation system to the climate control are intuitive. Even though I'm not a huge fan of a cabin with a lot of buttons — and the TSX might be trying for some kind of record in that regard — I'll accept it if it makes my life easier. In this Acura, it does.
Acura also avoided the temptation to place controls for every feature on a touch-screen menu, as other carmakers do. Acura should be commended for this. Same goes for the choice of a knob-based navigation system: It's easy to use and frees the interior of a greasy-fingerprint-covered touch-screen.
The steering wheel has a very satisfying feel to it. It isn't too large in diameter, nor does it have an exceptionally thin or fat rim. It's just right — thick enough to make you feel like you're driving a sports car, but thin enough that you can actually close your hand completely around the rim.
That positive tactile impression carries over through the rest of the controls; all the buttons and switches have a good, solid feel to them. It's a small thing, but it can make you feel like you're literally getting your money's worth for a car.
The TSX offers exceptional visibility. I was almost startled by just how much I could see, especially on the highway. It was extremely easy to judge passing maneuvers, and after a week of city and highway driving I still couldn't find any blind spots worth mentioning.
The big problem with the wagon's interior is that the TSX is a small car. Space for backseat passengers is severely cramped if the driver is on the taller side. If your expectations of a wagon are that it's a large vehicle in which you can shuttle the family across the country, you'll need to look beyond the TSX. If you're not hauling backseat occupants, though, there's plenty of room up front: You won't feel like your passenger is intruding on your space.
The cargo area could also be a deal-breaker, as additional cargo room is often a major factor in choosing a wagon over a sedan. Basically, the TSX wagon's cargo area is like a sedan's trunk. Instead of a large, flat, wide cargo bay, there's a bay that's pinched by two pillars. There's plenty of room — I had no issues with a large grocery run and a trip to Target — but the shape is odd.
You can fold the rear seats flat for even more room, but that doesn't make the cargo area any less oddly shaped. You'll struggle to carry a table, but bags of soccer balls, for instance, would be a breeze.
I wouldn't go so far as to call the TSX impractical — there really is a lot of room back there, more than you'd get in a sedan — but the shape of the cargo bay is something to consider.
If you're the type who wants to go really fast in a straight line, the TSX isn't at the top of the class. That's not because the TSX wagon is underpowered, it's just that the way it makes its power might frustrate people who want to win stoplight drag races. In short, immediate, low-end grunt isn't the TSX's strongest suit. You have to really rev the engine and wind it out to make power.
Setting that aside, I found the TSX to be acceptable on the highway. If I needed to pass, the transmission kicked down quickly enough to spool up the revs to make a quick pass. It was, however, a little weak for my tastes on on-ramps. I found myself pushing the gas pedal all the way to the floor and still wanting a bit more to shoot for a gap in traffic.
One thing that helps alleviate that sensation is the transmission's Sport mode. It holds gears longer before upshifting and gives you the option of using steering-wheel paddle shifters to change gears. When I used that, I was much happier with the wagon's performance.
I like to test a paddle-shift transmission's smoothness by driving through the city, to establish if it jerks to a stop or if the shifts are overly slow. The TSX was very well-behaved in this regard. It anticipates properly when you'll want 1st gear and has it ready. There really wasn't any stumbling or jerking when decelerating, and that's a great thing. Purists will demand a manual transmission, of course, but that's only available on sedan models with the four-cylinder. Learn to love the paddle shifters and you'll be fine.
The ride and handling are very good. As befits a luxury-performance car, the TSX wagon offers a firm but not jarring ride; it's taut but compliant when you hit a pothole.
There's little body roll going through corners, and the brakes are firm and easy to predict. This, plus its great visibility, makes the TSX wagon a comfortable car to go quickly in. I wouldn't necessarily take it out on a racetrack, but it was satisfying on day-to-day drives. It felt like a car aimed at people who want to drive, rather than those who have to drive.
Safety & Reliability
The Acura TSX gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest score, Good, in front, side and rear crash tests. It has not been tested for roof strength.
The TSX wagon is predicted to get average reliability.
TSX Sport Wagon in the Market
The TSX Sport Wagon isn't perfect. There are wagons out there that are faster and ones that offer more cargo room, meaning TSX buyers will have to compromise on at least one count. Competing in a pretty small market, though — not many brands make wagons — even with its few shortcomings I'd put it at the top. It's the only wagon I've been in recently that made me feel immediately comfortable and willing to drive quickly. After living with the car a bit, I came to appreciate the luxury touches and just how nice everything was.
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