While other luxury manufacturers were convinced that 6-cylinder engines were essential for their entry-level models, Acura bucked the trend with the original 4-cylinder TSX. The second generation TSX is a larger sedan than its predecessor, but retains the same powertrain. TSX competitors include front-drive versions of the Audi A4 2.0T and Lincoln MKZ, although Acura also sets its sights on the BMW 328i, Infiniti G35, Lexus IS250, and the Mercedes-Benz C300.
Among luxury marques, Acura has probably the most straightforward model range and option packages. The TSX is available in four variants: 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic; both models are available with the optional Technology Package. Pricing starts at $28,960 (either transmission) and jumps to $32,060 if equipped with the Technology Package. Standard features include heated leather power-adjustable seats, 7-speaker 360-watt audio system with XM and USB/iPod interface, VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist), moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, and HID headlights. The Technology Package adds a 415-watt Acura/ELS DVD-Audio system with MP3/WMA capability, navigation system, voice recognition, rearview camera, and Bluetooth telephone link.
For the second-generation TSX, Acura designed a stylish interior with sweeping curves and materials similar to the more expensive TL sedan. The perforated leather seats are cushioned for comfort, but not too soft for adequate support; shoulder and thigh bolsters fit snugly around the driver. Both front seats have power adjustments: the driver's seat has 8-way settings with lumbar support, while the passenger seat includes 4-way controls. The somewhat cluttered center stack includes buttons and knobs clustered together for the climate control, audio, and navigation systems.
The TSX impressed us with its sharp handling, especially considering its FWD powertrain. The front suspension consists of a double wishbone setup, while the rear suspension is a double wishbone/multi-link design. Disc brakes are at all four wheels: 11.8" diameter (front) and 11.1" diameter (rear). A quick lap around a racetrack revealed minimal understeer around tight curves; we could feel the VSA reduce understeer at higher speeds. Noticeable body roll confirmed that the TSX could use stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, but at the cost of a less compliant ride. The standard Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires (P225/50R17 size) are M+S rated, so dry grip isn't on par with dedicated summer tires (optional 18-inch alloy wheels are available). The suspension tuning favors comfort over ultimate handling, but the TSX retains a firmly damped ride that lives up to its sports sedan billing.
We drove the TSX equipped with the 6-speed manual; the short-throw shift lever has a slightly vague, yet notchy actuation. A low-effort, progressive clutch makes it easy to execute a smooth takeoff, but the somewhat balky transmission impedes quick gearshifts. The 6-speed manual transmission has more closely-spaced ratios and a shorter final drive ratio (4.764:1) compared to the 5-speed automatic (4.438:1). For more relaxed freeway cruising, the automatic is a better choice, while performance-oriented owners will probably prefer to shift for themselves.
Among 4-cylinder engines, the 2.4L unit in the TSX is a gem; it's difficult to believe that such a big inline-4 can be so silky smooth. Unlike other similar displacement engines, this powerplant will rev right to redline with no complaints. The i-VTEC equipped engine cranks out 201-bhp at a stratospheric 7,000 RPM, with 172 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,500 RPM. Fuel consumption with the 6-speed manual is unexceptional: 20/28 MPG (city/highway). Equipped with the 5-speed automatic, the TSX manages a more impressive 21/30 MPG (city/highway); the taller final drive specified with the automatic offers obvious fuel economy advantages.
As the entry-level model in the lineup, the Acura TSX has been surprisingly popular, with sales of over 30,000 vehicles per year. The 2009 TSX promises to reel in current owners, as well as new customers looking an affordable premium sedan. Although the TSX suffers a horsepower deficit relative to some other sedans in its price range, it provides better fuel economy that many of its competitors. Despite its niche player status in the luxury sedan segment, the TSX continues to fulfill its mission to introduce new customers to the Acura brand.