The redesigned early 2009 TSX sports sedan from Honda's upscale Acura division is longer, lower and wider, although it's far divorced from old large American cars that were continually advertised as being "longer, lower and wider."
The compact, front-wheel-drive TSX is Acura's entry-level sporty car and is overdue for a change. It debuted in early 2003 as a 2004 model, which was a shorter, narrower version of the Honda Accord sold in Europe that was given more power and features for the U.S. market.
The TSX got a freshening for 2006, with new front/rear fascias, a modest horsepower increase to 205 and a jazzier interior. A long list of standard features added to the popularity of the car, which wasn't changed much for 2008.
Declining sales signaled that a revamped version was overdue. Sales of the TSX last year fell to 33,037 cars from 38,035 in 2006 and dipped for the first four months this year to 8,948 units from 11,148 in the same year-ago period.
The new TSX has higher-impact styling and is roomier because it has a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase (distance between axles), 3-inch greater width and is about a half-inch lower and 2.5 inches longer overall. A 2.6-inch wider track gives it a sportier stance.
This Acura loses a little agility because it's about 165 pounds heavier, but it has more technology, additional comfort and enhanced safety. It's designed to appeal to college-educated young professionals, expected to typically range in age from 28 to 34. Customers are projected to be nearly split between males and females, with slightly less than half married.
Rivals of the TSX include the Audi A4 2.0T, BMW 328i, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS250 and Mercedes-Benz C300.
The TSX comes with a slick six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox or five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature. The manual gearbox has superb shifter-clutch feel and the automatic is responsive.
The TSX lists at $28,960 with either the manual or automatic and at $32,060 with either transmission and a Technology Package. The alluring package has a navigation system with voice recognition and rearview camera, an AcuraLink feature that can reroute you around traffic and weather problems -- besides a 10-speaker premium sound system.
There are few factory options because the TSX is loaded with standard equipment. It includes leather upholstery, power front heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 7-speaker sound system, power sunroof, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, split-folding rear seat and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry. Dealer-installed accessories include 18-inch (up from 17-inch) alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.
Safety features include a stability control system and front-side and curtain air bags.
The old upscale American cars had a V-8, while the TSX always has had a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A "four" once was found only in economy models, certainly not in premium ones. However, four-cylinder engines have become far more smooth, powerful and efficient, with such TSX engine items as dual overhead camshafts, extra valves per cylinder and variable valve timing.
Honda long has felt that an efficient four-cylinder engine is sufficient for most of its cars, delivering a good blend of performance and fuel economy.
Acceleration is decent but not neck-snapping (0-60 mph in about 8 seconds). Lots of shifting is needed for the best performance. For instance, my test car needed a downshift from sixth to fourth gear for a good 65-75 mph passing time on highways. Also, engine revs are rather high at 65 mph. Some people would be best off with the automatic transmission, although the manual gearbox helps deliver better performance and is more suited to the sporting nature of the TSX.
Despite a compression ratio bump from 10.5:1 to a high 11.0:1, horsepower has dipped slightly from 205 to 201 so torque could be increased by six (automatic transmission) to eight (manual gearbox) pound-feet for snappier responsive for typical U.S. driving conditions.
Estimated fuel economy is up a few more mpg. It's 20 mpg city and 28 highway with the manual transmission and 21 and 30 with the automatic. Premium fuel is required.
The new electric power steering is quick but lacks the road feel of the previous version's hydraulic steering. A sport suspension with thicker front/rear anti-sway bars and the wider track provide good handling, although the TSX is more nose-heavy and thus inherently less agile than a rear-drive car. The ride is supple and the linear-action brake pedal controls the all-disc anti-lock brakes.
The quieter interior has an upscale appearance. There's decent room for four tall adults, and front seats are very supportive. The backlit gauges are easy to read quickly with "floating" red needles. Thinner front roof pillars increase visibility. But it's impossible to see where the rear of the car ends through the back window; the Technology Package's backup camera and dealer-installed backup sensors thus would be handy.
The large trunk has a low, wide opening with covered lid hinges that won't harm packages or luggage. Cargo room is increased by flipping the rear seatbacks forward.
The heavy hood is held up by a prop rod instead of a more convenient hydraulic strut.
The more stylish new-generation TSX has traded some youth and agility for more maturity and sophistication. Acura expects that should increase the car's sales.
Jedlicka's take: '09 Acura TSX
Likes: Deftly redesigned. Better fuel economy. Slicker styling. Sporty. Well-equipped. Slick transmissions.
Dislikes: Much shifting for best performance. High revs at highway speeds. Diminished steering feel. Heavier.