Yesterday, we found out why you shouldn't take the 2009 Acura TSX on your honeymoon. Today, we explore the rest of the car, for richer and poorer.
Exterior Design: **
The boldest step the TSX takes, in any direction, is in the "plenum grille" styling. Unfortunately, it's a step in the wrong direction. In profile it's boring, from the rear, mildly attractive and from the front, it's a little scary. It doesn't have to be this way. Check out the Honda Accord Tourer. Same car. Better grille. Whole heap-load less scary.
Interior Design: ***
The interior of the TSX is typical Honda. You've got controls within easy reach, good button feedback and good quality plastics. It's comfortable and ergonomically considerate without making compromises in terms of space or style. Unfortunately, by class standards it isn't luxurious. Even with the well-designed perforated leather seats you feel like you're in a nice Honda Accord, not a premium vehicle.
It's so slow. Ridiculously slow. I drive an old Volvo wagon, and it drives as swiftly as you'd expect. This car simply does not. Step on the gas and you'll slowly, but smoothly, climb toward 4,500 RPM. Then the VTEC system kicks in and you start to feel a little kick of power... and then the transmission shifts and you get to do it all again. This happens until you reach fifth gear and push towards the 7,000 RPM redline. Just kidding, you'll get bored well before you hit 7,000 RPM in fifth.
The Acura's brakes provide a lot of accentuated stopping power with little pedal travel, which takes almost no time to get used to. Of course, if you buy one of these things you'll never drive fast enough to get to use them.
The ride is a decent balance between making you forget the road is there at all and reminding you you're actually driving a car. It's comfortable over multiple surfaces, prompting little jostling and, when stopping, dive is kept to a minimum.
Nowhere is it written that a FWD car can't be fun. Unfortunately, it's written somewhere you can't sell a FWD luxury car in America worth driving. Steering response is surprisingly quick, letting you change direction without much effort. Unfortunately, try to change direction a second time and the wheels will turn but the car won't necessarily go with them. I hope you're not prone to seasickness, because the price of a soft ride is back-and-forth swaying.
Climbing into the little Acura, I was sad to see the automatic transmission but pleased to see paddle shifters on the steering wheel laid out in a common sense way and in an easy-to-find place. Too bad they connect to a tragically underwhelming transmission geared for economy and not response.
When it comes to music, the Elliot Scheiner-designed sound system is just about the best factory unit you'll find. We've driven luxury cars with more expensive, Bose-designed, million-speaker systems unable to match the 10-speaker Panasonic system. It's almost too much sound for the small car. The 5.1 surround-sound system actually surrounds you with noise. Pulling up songs from your iPod is no challenge at all. It's really too bad most people are going to be using it to listen to Duffy.
The extra $3,000 you'll drop on the technology package is worth it. Not only do you get the kicking sound system, but also a navigation system with an 8-inch display which does almost everything. You can pull up directions to a restaurant and its Zagat rating with your voice. The AcuraLink traffic system also gives you heads up on actual traffic conditions around you in a way you can actually use. What's the weather tomorrow? Just click on the weather button and it'll tell you. About to drive into a Tornado Warning? It'll route you away from it. The backup camera is the least-exciting feature, but still fun.
The most entry-level of foreign entry-level luxury sedans, the $32,000 price tag feels more outrageous than it is. It's cheaper than the cheapest Bimmers and Audis and even Cadillacs, but the sacrifices you have to make with the driving experience are too great. If you're going to spend so much money you might as well get something you'll actually want.
By eschewing V8 power and RWD, Acura still had a chance to separate itself from the pack by offering a fun-to-drive premium car at a slightly-less-than-premium cost. Instead, they just gave it a giant, funky grille. I'm not sure what the actuarial tables say about the life expectancy of the average TSX driver, but anyone who consults an actuarial table will probably want one.
• 2009 Acura TSX, Part One