2004 Acura TSX Review

2004 Acura TSX - TSX: small, sporty sedan.


Acura left its small, sporty sedan customers in the cold when it replaced its entry level Integra coupe and sedan with its rakish RSX coupe in 2002.

The early 2004 TSX sedan thus is meant to attract former Integra sedan fans, some of whom chose hot small sedans from Acura rivals when the Integra four-door was dropped.

The TSX thus fills a hole in the Acura lineup. Those who liked the Integra coupe can get the RSX, and those wanting a slightly larger sedan than the TSX can opt for Acura's best-selling TL four-door model, which is 9.2 inches longer. Annual TSX sales are expected to total 15,000 units.

Honda's upscale Acura division also hopes the front-drive TSX will draw potential buyers of competitors such as the Audi A4, Lexus IS 300, BMW 325 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Those Lexus, BMW and Mercedes models have a more-balanced rear-drive design, and you can get an A4 with all-wheel drive. But the $26,490 TSX has superb handling despite a design that makes it nose-heavy. For the most part, modern suspensions and tires largely compensate for added weight up front.

"Also, many customers like the added traction of front-drive during certain driving conditions,'' said Acura spokesman Mike Spencer.

The TSX actually is an upscale, Americanized version of the smaller, more performance-oriented Honda Accord sold in Japan and Europe. But it's superior to the foreign Accord, being more powerful and luxurious for the U.S. market. It also has a different interior and a stiffer suspension because it's marketed as a sports sedan here.

TSX styling is clean, but should be sexier for such a sporty car. Just look at the racy RSX coupe. However the TSX has rigid construction and extremely good aerodynamics for low wind noise and better fuel economy. Acura even worked hard to make sure the doors close with a solid "thunk.''

The TSX comes in just one trim level and is so well-equipped that its only option is a $2,000 navigation system.

Standard equipment includes leather seats, with a power driver seat and heated front sport seats. There's also a power sunroof, AM/FM/CD with in-dash CD changer, automatic climate control with separate driver-front passenger controls, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, remote keyless entry, power mirrors and power windows with an automatic up/down driver window.

Voice recognition is linked to audio, climate control and navigation systems so a driver need not remove eyes from the road.

As for safety, the TSX is the first Acura to have standard side curtain air bags.

The TSX offers a slick, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature for no extra cost. For the first time on an Acura, the manual gearbox case is made from magnesium alloy, a material usually reserved for racing applications to save weight and provide more rigidity. However, Acura estimates that about 70 percent of TSX buyers will opt for the automatic transmission.

The TSX has a smooth, sophisticated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with everything from dual overhead camshafts to variable valve timing. It's fairly large for a four-cylinder and generates 200 horsepower and quick acceleration (0-60 mph in about seven seconds).

The engine loves to rev, with a high 7,100 rpm limit. Revs at 70 mph are a rather high 3,000 rpm in overdrive sixth gear. But the variable valve timing provides a broad powerband that allows decent punch at mid-range speeds.

Still, the manual transmission calls for a fair amount of shifting to get the fastest acceleration. At least it's a slick, close-ratio unit seemingly taken from a sports car. The clutch has a long throw, but a light action.

More low-end torque for faster initial acceleration would be nice, but lazy drivers can mope along in town at 30 mph in fifth gear without engine protest.

The TSX delivers an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 29 on highways with the manual transmission and does even better with the responsive automatic: 22 and 31. Premium fuel is required.

The quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering is very responsive. And a firm-but-supple fully independent suspension provides a good ride. The track-tuned suspension has gas-pressurized shock absorbers and large stabilizer bars. It works with the car's robust structure and wide tires on large 17-inch wheels to deliver sharp handling.

A standard Vehicle Stability Assist system with traction control is linked to such things as the standard anti-lock brakes and lateral acceleration sensors to keep the TSX pointed in the right direction if a driver, say, enters a turn too quickly. Strong brakes have good pedal feel and provide short stops.

Front seats help hold occupants securely in place during sporty driving, and there's room for four 6-footers in the quiet interior. However, narrow rear door openings impede quickly entering or leaving the back seat.

The cockpit looks upscale. Controls are nicely placed, and the backlit gauges have large markings. But speedometer markings are a bit odd; for instance, the "20 mph'' mark is where the "10 mph'' mark is found on most speedometers.

An eight-inch dashboard screen comes with the navigation system. It displays information for the audio, climate control and navigation systems.

The large trunk has a rather high opening, but the inside of its lid has a handy pull-down bar to assist closing it. The split rear seatbacks flip forward and fold fairly flat to considerably enlarge the cargo area--although activating the seatback releases calls for a stretch from the trunk area.

The TSX offers a lot for the money. The car's conservative styling won't leave neighbors impressed, but TSX owners will know they have something special.


Fast. Fun to drive. Well equipped. Standard manual or automatic transmission.

Needs sexier styling. Long-throw clutch. Narrow rear door openings.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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