The newest generation of Acura's entry-level sedan, the compact TSX, is now arriving at dealerships as an early 2009 model.

Unveiled in late March at the New York auto show, the TSX has been updated throughout, but prices have been raised just 4.3 percent on average over the 2008 model, officials of Honda's premium brand said.

The base TSX is priced at $28,960 (plus $715 freight), while the TSX with the Technology Package is $32,060.

Because the TSX is designed and marketed as a sport sedan, Acura offers a choice of a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, and there is no extra charge for the automatic.

The changes in the new model are numerous, and Acura hopes that the car can help revive the brand's sagging sales. It's one of two redesigned Acura models coming to market this spring. The other is the flagship full-size RL sedan, which was shown in February at the Chicago auto show.

"The all-new TSX is loaded with more technology, better performance, additional comfort and enhanced safety to make it one of the most desirable sedans in its class," said Dick Colliver, Acura's executive vice president for sales.

Acura calls the TSX's new exterior "Keen Edge Dynamic" styling, intended to give it a cutting-edge appearance to resonate with the youthful consumers the car is intended to appeal to - typically, young, single professionals or couples.

The car is 2.4 inches longer and 3 inches wider than its predecessor, and it has a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase. For greater stability, it has a 2.6-inch wider track, which adds to the car's sporty driving experience.

Under the hood is a normally aspirated, double-overhead-cam, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque (170 with the automatic). This is the only engine available, but who needs more power than that when gasoline is spiking to record levels daily and $200 a barrel oil is predicted by summer.

The automatic transmission gives the car the best fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon city/30 highway. With the manual, the EPA ratings are 20 city/28 highway. Actual mileage will vary based on driving conditions and habits, of course.

The TSX comes with a new suspension system engineered to give the car great handling along with improved ride quality - two features that often are at odds with each other. Tuning a suspension for crisp handling usually means making the ride rougher, and premium cars often have to emphasize handling or comfort, rather than embracing both fully. Although I haven't driven the TSX yet, reports are that the car's balance between these two attributes is remarkable. But don't expect it to ride like a Buick. That's never going to happen in a TSX.

Even at the base price, the TSX is very well equipped. Standard amenities include leather interior, a power moon roof, high-intensity headlights, Bluetooth hands-free phone link, and a great audio system with standard XM satellite radio and USB connection point.

As with all other recent new vehicles from Honda, the TSX comes with the automaker's Advanced Compatibility Engineering front body structure, designed to minimize damage to other vehicles and injury to pedestrians hit by the car (at low speeds, of course).

Acura has a consumer base that loves high-tech features, so to please those customers, the Technology Package brings a variety of gadgets.

They include a GPS-based navigation/communications system with Voice Recognition, Zagat restaurant information, and an integrated rearview camera; the AcuraLink satellite communications system; real-time traffic with a new rerouting function; AcuraLink weather; a 10-speaker Acura/ELS premium sound system with multi-format, six-disc DVD-audio changer; and a GPS-linked, solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic-climate-control system.

The upgraded audio system is named for and designed by Grammy award-winning sound engineer Elliot Scheiner. Acura says the sound from DVD surround-sound audio discs played on this system is 500 times clearer than from a traditional compact disc.

Other high-tech features on the new TSX include a drive-by-wire throttle system, which has no direct mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine. Fuel is delivered by a computer-controlled programmed fuel-injection system.

The automatic transmission has a manual sport-shift feature that allows the driver to choose when to shift, without having to worry about a clutch.

Among standard safety features are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake assist; electronic stability and traction control; front seat-mounted side air bags; roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows; front and rear crumple zones; and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

The perforated leather seats include heaters for the front buckets. The driver's seat has eight-way power adjustment, and the passenger seat four-way power adjust. The steering wheel is leather wrapped.

Interior trim can be either alloy or a wood look, Acura says. Carpeted floor mats are standard.

There is room for up to five people, and the rear bench seat has a 60/40 split-folding feature that allows for expansion of the trunk into the passenger compartment for bulky cargo.

Also standard are torque-sensing variable power rack-and-pinion steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Power windows/mirrors/door locks are included, along with cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a universal garage/gate opener.

As usual with Acura products designed for younger buyers, several dealer-installed options are offered, including interior trim kits, spoilers and 18-inch alloy wheels. People who buy these cars like to dress them up.

The new TSX officially went on sale April 24.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him