The Acura TSX is easy to live with, regardless of the model, and it's generally an enjoyable car to drive. Both the four- and six-cylinder engines rev freely, encouraging a heavy foot on the accelerator. All models deliver good fuel economy, a good compromise on the comfort/performance continuum, and good feel to the operating controls.
For 2011, the TSX gets mechanical updates across the line, matching those of the new TSX Sport Wagon. The automatic transmission is now equipped with a fluid warmer that ensures smooth shifting for owners in the coldest climates, while all owners benefit from internal friction reductions inside the engines. That translates to lower fuel consumption. TSX mileage numbers, already among the best in its category, increase 1 mpg city and highway. The four-cylinder models deliver up to 22 mpg city, 31 highway, according to the EPA.
What keeps the TSX off many enthusiast drivers' shopping list is its front-wheel-drive layout. While generally good for packaging and fuel efficiency, and the next best thing to all-wheel drive for winter traction, front-wheel drive doesn't offer the handling characteristics, agility or feel of a rear-wheel-drive car, nor an all-wheel-drive car biased to behave like rear-wheel drive, as is the Audi A4 quattro.
That said, the Acura TSX is about as crisp, and as much fun, as front-drive, near-luxury sedans get. It's a bit more deliberate than it once was, thanks to a 2009 redesign that made it larger, more luxurious and heavier. Yet both the V6 and four-cylinder models deliver good response, with composure that makes for an ideal everyday transport. The ride is quite comfortable, but the comfort doesn't come at the expense of mushy reflexes or rowboat wallow. The steering is accurate, and to most drivers it will feel quite racy. With its wider tires on larger rims, the V6 sticks to the pavement a bit more tenaciously, but the lighter, spryer four-cylinder is more fun charging down a winding mountain road.
With 201 horsepower and as little as 170 lb-ft of torque, the TSX's 2.4-liter four-cylinder has its work cut out when it comes to hauling around 3600 pounds of car and driver. This engine is willing and happy to do the job, and rejoices at rpm where others sound stressed. With nice easy clutch action and a crisp shifter, the 6-speed manual transmission is the enthusiast's choice, and it gets the most from the four-cylinder. Figure on 0-60 acceleration in the low seven-second range, and a lot of fun stirring the TSX's rev-happy engine with the manual.
The automatic, we're not so fond of. It has just five forward speeds, where others in this class typically have six or more, and that limits its flexibility and responsiveness somewhat. Even with the electronics in sport mode, the automatic can be slow to react to the driver's demand for more acceleration with the gas pedal. The only way to ensure quick shifts is to undertake them manually, in which case you might as well choose the 6-speed manual transmission. Most drivers will grow accustomed to the automatic's behavior, but the four-cylinder TSX just does not have enough power to exhilarate with this transmission. It's not something we'd look forward to driving, and Acuras are supposed to make us want to get behind the wheel.
The 3.5-liter V6 significantly changes the TSX's character, not least by adding 70 horses and 84 lb-ft of torque and knocking about 1.5 seconds off that 0-60 sprint. Acura's V6 is smooth and linear, and at higher revs it expresses itself with a very pleasant growl. Yet even here the automatic transmission can mute the engine's goodness. It doesn't generate the exhilaration or the involvement factor of the 6-speed manual, which isn't offered with the V6. The V6 model also adds 210 pounds of weight, all over the front wheels, knocking 3 mpg off EPA city and highway ratings. And it needs an extra 15 inches of space for a U-turn.
The brakes are stout in all models, stopping the TSX in short order, with solid pedal feel and an ABS system that virtually eliminates skips and jitters. It takes some fairly heavy abuse before the brakes begin to heat up and stopping distances increase.
Outward visibility is excellent from the driver's seat, especially forward and to the sides. The rear view is slightly hindered by rear headrests, a problem not unique to the TSX. The larger wheels and lower profile tires on the V6 add almost nothing to the minimal road noise that finds its way into the cabin. Wind noise is better muted than ever at highway speeds, and the most prominent noise inside the TSX is the mostly pleasant sound of the engines spinning at high revs. Noise, vibration and harshness control in the TSX surpasses the class standard.
The Sport Wagon? Essentially the same as the sedan in every respect, though buyers will have to be comfortable with the four-cylinder/automatic package, because it's the only combination offered. There is no increase in flex or shimmy in the wagon's body structure and no increase in noise, even as a slight boom in the expanse of space to the driver's rear. And the wagon's extra utility compared to the sedan is hard to beat.