Tech-friendly 2009 Acura TSX

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The unobtrusive Acura TSX entry-level sedan doesn't look so mild-mannered for 2009.

This Acura with the lowest starting price also has better fuel economy and is larger than ever, having grown 2.4 inches longer and 3 inches wider than its predecessor.

But what's particularly attractive is a new, weather feature that provides up to three days of forecasts and a map that looks like it's direct from the local television newscast. The weather information is visible on a larger-than-before 8-inch display screen in the middle of the dashboard.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, front-wheel drive, 2009 TSX is expected to be around $29,000 for a manual-transmission model. Prices are likely to extend to nearly $35,000 with the added Technology Package, which includes the weather feature, awesome sound system as well as navigation with voice recognition, and a five-speed, SportShift automatic transmission.

Acura officials said they won't release final prices until closer to the on-sale date in late April.

But the TSX appears to remain a lower-priced alternative to other entry-luxury sedans such as the 2008 BMW 3-Series sedan that starts at $33,175 and 2008 Infiniti G35 sedan that starts at $32,565. Note the 3-Series and G35 have six-cylinder power and are offered in rear- and all-wheel drive.

The 2009 TSX continues with the 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder engine of its predecessor and is front-drive only.

It is based on the version of Honda Accord sold in Europe but with a changed suspension, a more luxurious interior and more power. Honda Motor Co. owns both Honda and Acura brands.

No doubt the front-drive handling is a turnoff for some choosy luxury sedan buyers, and Acura officials acknowledged that TSX customers said they wanted more expressive styling and better fuel economy. They get the latter two in the new model.

Where the 2008 TSX looks rather tired and conservative in its styling, the 2009 TSX has a pronounced, larger-than-ever air dam at the front and headlamps that extend farther out onto the side fenders. Even door handles are more expressive.

Overall, the look is bold -- at least for Acura -- and it ties in nicely with Acura's most popular vehicles -- its MDX and RSX sport utilities.

But the same can't be said for the new TSX rear end, where a mix of design lines makes it difficult to figure out what brand the car belongs to.

The larger size for this four-door car provides improved shoulder room in front and back seats. But front and rear legroom remains about the same as before, and the open space at the floor of the rear door openings, where passengers slide their feet as they enter and exit the car, still is small.

In the test TSX, there was an airy feel to the interior as the dashboard seemed streamlined and well-organized.

Seats, with standard perforated leather trim, were comfortable without feeling overly cushioned. The front passenger seat could have used more lumbar support, however.

Trunk space is a tad smaller at 12.6 cubic feet. But a wider trunk opening makes loading items easier.

Instrument panel gauges are appropriately sized and easy to understand, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls are standard.

A welcome aspect of the TSX is how many features are standard. Among them: heated front seats, Xenon High Intensity Discharge headlamps, fog lights, turn signals integrated into the outside mirrors, USB ports, carpeted floor mats, curtain air bags, traction and stability control and power moonroof.

The four-cylinder engine can be buzzy when pressed really hard, but the test car's five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic worked well, especially when I managed the gears manually via paddle shifters on the steering column.

In the test car, however, steering felt numb and kept me on edge during mountain twisties. The car's body, though, remained composed, thanks in part to new dampers in the suspension.

Government fuel mileage ratings are expected to rise from 2008's 20 miles per gallon in city driving to 21 mpg for the 2009 TSX with automatic. On the highway, mileage rises from 28 mpg to 30 mpg, according to Acura.

But in the test drive, predominantly on country roads and highways, I managed just 23.1 mpg.

Premium is the recommended fuel, and the tank now holds 18.5 gallons, up from 17.1 gallons in the 2008 TSX.

But TSX horsepower is down to 201 from 2008's 205, while torque is boosted from 164 foot-pounds to 172 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm with manual transmission. It's lower -- 170 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm -- with the automatic transmission.

The new TSX is more than 100 pounds heavier than the 2008 model, but the car still is one of the few in the segment to feel exceptionally lightweight during acceleration and in handling maneuvers.

This doesn't mean it's flimsy.

It incorporates Acura's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure for improved crash worthiness. And it's the first TSX to come with a special cross-braced roof and anti-whiplash front head restraints. The hood also is designed to minimize pedestrian injuries in the event of a car-pedestrian crash.

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