In Europe, this is the Honda Accord. Here, it's the 2010 Acura TSX V6 and it's expected to compete with the BMW 3-series. Can two extra cylinders and 79 more HP really do that?
Based on the four-cylinder 2009 Acura TSX, the new year brings a more powerful engine, stronger springs and firmer dampers to the independent double-wishbone front suspension and adds more feel to the electric power steering. Both are present to accommodate the 210 Lbs of extra weight the new engine brings as well as the additional performance made possible by its 280 HP, 254 Lb-Ft 3.5-liter V6. That engine changes the weight distribution from 60/40 percent front/rear to 62/38.
Also added are a larger brake master cylinder, 18-inch wheels and all-season performance tires, larger front fascia openings for improved cooling and a V6 badge on the trunk.
Where the four-cylinder TSX is a still frugal, albeit slow (0-60 take 8.6 seconds) near-luxury car with a starting price of just $29,310, the V6 is more capable but much more expensive, starting at $34,850 and only available with a 5-speed, paddle-equipped automatic transmission. Figure on 0-to-60 MPH time in the low six-second range and the same limited top speed of 131 MPH.
Adding the "Technology Package" and its Nav system, real-time weather radar and traffic rerouting, 10-speaker stereo and GPS-linked climate control system brings the price up to $37,950. These prices are nearly exactly equal to those of the admittedly less powerful BMW 328i.
Despite its limited performance or maybe because of it, the four-cylinder TSX is a competent car to drive even if it's a bit boring. Its narrow tires and soft suspension mean the limits are relatively low, but it's naturally-balanced and light on its feet. In the quest for greater ability, the V6 sacrifices much of those qualities. The ride is much harsher, but like several recent Hondas and Acuras (the Insight and TL come to mind), that's not balanced by good body control. Drive the TSX V6 over pot holes, ruts and ridges and the steering wheel will jerk in your hands and the suspension will intrusively fail to soak up the bumps, in short it feels like a firm setup. But, drive the TSX quickly around a corner and it will roll, change direction quickly and the roll is more noticeable. Hit ridges or bumps mid corner and the body will wallow, in short, it feels like a soft setup. The end result of the revised suspension is a car that's firm when you want it to be soft and soft when you want it to be firm. Despite that flaw, the revised steering does deliver plenty of feel, which, combined with the lack of torque steer, is impressive for a front driver. Of course, the rear-wheel drive 328i has none of those problems.
The rest of the TSX is as before. It's a right-sized sedan with a little more interior room than the competition and, with the optional Technology Package, is extremely well equipped with the kind of whizz-bang gadgetry everyone but me seems to get excited about. The ELS sound system with the technology package is one of the best sound systems around and the real-time weather — with Doppler radar maps just like you get on your iPhone — is particularly neat. The seats are supportive and comfortable, the interior well constructed and the rear accommodation slightly better than competitors like that 3-series or an A4.
The thing about the V6 TSX is that it asks more questions of the platform than it answers. Sure, it's faster than the four-cylinder, but does that performance justify a price that's on par with more thoroughbred competition? Are the handling and ride sacrifices necessary to install a powerful engine in a front-wheel drive chassis justified by the increased straight line performance? If the 2009 Honda Accord Coupe V6 is faster and comes with a manual transmission, does the Acura brand really justify the premium? Would you buy a FWD Acura over a RWD BMW for the same price?