The TSX compact sports/luxury model is the entry-level sedan at Honda's upscale Acura division and has revised styling, more power and new features for 2006.
The TSX arrived here in early 2003 as a 2004 model. It was a shorter, narrower version of the Honda Accord sold in Europe and was given more power and equipment for the U.S. market. It's always been aimed at the young and young at heart.
Rivals of the front-drive TSX include the front- and all-wheel-drive Audi A4 and rear-drive BMW 3-Series. The TSX is Acura's second-best seller in America, behind the larger TL sports luxury sedan. It fits between the less practical front-drive two-door RSX coupe and mid-size TL. At the top is Acura's flagship RL sedan.
The TL's biggest advantage over the TSX is its 3.2-liter, 258-horsepower V-6. The TSX has only a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which has a horsepower increase from 200 to 205 for 2006. Otherwise both cars look much alike and have a wealth of convenience and luxury equipment.
Standard TSX items include leather upholstery, heated front bucket seats and mirrors, power sunroof, automatic climate control, the usual power accessories and a premium sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD player and XM satellite radio. There's also a new auxiliary jack in the center console for playing MP3 and other digital music devices.
The leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel has been made thicker to provide a sportier feel; it has wheel-mounted audio, cruise control and, for 2006, voice recognition and HandsFreeLink switches. To make a telephone call, drivers use the wheel-mounted HandsFreeLink button, which connects their phone to the Bluetooth-based hands-free phone system
Acura's HandsFreeLink is a wireless connection for using cell phones through the audio system. Also new is a power driver's seat enhanced with two-position memory
Safety features include anti-lock disc brakes with a new electronically controlled Brake Assist feature for surer panic stops, vehicle stability system, front side air bags and head-protecting curtain side air bags.
The only TSX option is a navigation system with voice recognition for navigation, audio and climate functions. It's been enhanced with expanded memory and a faster processor to provide quicker start-up and route search times, more points of interest and additional features, including access to the Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide.
To ensure proper maintenance intervals and reduce service visits, the TSX has a new Maintenance Minder system that automatically monitors the car's operation and alerts a driver via a multi-information display.
The rather small TSX engine has modest power delivery below 3,000 rpm, so its six-speed manual transmission must be shifted a lot for the best acceleration when, say, merging or passing. The close-ratio transmission works with a long-throw clutch, which would be a pain in traffic except that it has a light action.
An available five-speed automatic transmission stifles performance a bit but is responsive and still allows brisk acceleration. However, it somehow seems out of place in the sporty TSX, despite a manual shift feature.
Four cylinders generally translate to better fuel economy. The TSX provides an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway with the manual gearbox. The figures are 22 and 31 with the automatic.
The TSX looked crisp, but wasn't striking. So the new version has been subtly restyled, with new front and rear fascias with more substantial side sills below doors to accent the new nine-spoke alloy wheels for a sportier look.
Up front is a new bumper, redesigned grille and bumper-integrated fog lights. The rear bumper and taillights have been restyled to give a more aggressive appearance.
The TSX has quick-ratio variable power assist rack-and-pinon steering. Adroit handling results from a rigid body structure and a race-bred four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension with gas-pressurized shock absorbers and large front/rear stabilizer bars. Helping agility are low-profile 50-series tires on the 17-inch wheels. The firm ride isn't jarring, and stopping distances are short.
Four 6-footers fit, although they don't have much room to spare. Up front are supportive sport bucket seats. A tilt/telescopic steering wheel and power driver seat provide a good driving position for folks of various sizes. The short rear seat cushion, though, should provide more thigh support, and rear door openings are a little too narrow for easy entry and exit.
Controls and cupholders are conveniently placed and the backlit gauges are easy to see. However, speedometer and tachometer markings are set at odd angles. For example, the "20 mph" mark is where the "10 mph" mark is on most speedometers.
The roomy trunk has a rather high opening. Split rear seatbacks flip forward and fold fairly flat to enhance cargo space, although activating the seatback releases requires a long stretch from the trunk area. Also, the pass-through cargo opening between the trunk and back seat is only moderately large.
The bottom line with the TSX is that it combines practicality and lots of value with driving kicks.
2006 ACURA TSX
LIKES: More power. Revised styling. Added features. Fun to drive. Very well-equipped.
DISLIKES: Long clutch throw. Odd angle for gauge markings. Lots of shifting needed.