First drive: 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

CNET Car Tech takes a drive in the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
New for 2011 is a wagon version of Acura's TSX model. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The wagon lost popularity in the U.S. for a time but looks to be making a comeback, as people scrapping their SUVs for more economical vehicles still find the need for useful cargo space. Acura hopes to capitalize on this trend with the wagon version of the TSX, new for 2011.

Acura invited a group of journalists to spend a day with the new car in Northern California. Wagons have always been a popular type of vehicle for automotive journalists; the cars can combine sporty driving and practicality. It was a happy group that went out driving.

In some ways, there is not a lot to say about the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, as it is basically an Acura TSX with a wagon body. The Sport Wagon is a couple of inches longer than the sedan. The tailgate swings up high, so as not to be hazardous to foreheads. And, oddly, it has a power closing mechanism, an unexpected luxury on a fairly light and easy-to-move hatch.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
The cargo area of the Sport Wagon is spacious, and the rear seats fold down flat. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The rear cargo area is spacious, even with the rear seats up. With the seats folded down it offers 60.5 cubic feet of space, according to Acura. The rear seats fold flat, making for a cargo area 5 feet, 10 inches long. That's enough to fit quite a few golf bags, or serve as an impromptu bed for most people.

Modest wagon

Although a TSX, the Sport Wagon lacks a few trim levels. Where the TSX sedan can be had with a V-6, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is the only option for the TSX Sport Wagon. And while an excellent six-speed manual transmission is an option for the TSX sedan, the Sport Wagon gets stuck with a five-speed automatic. The engine we can live with, but it's a shame about the transmission.

Like the TSX sedan, the TSX Sport Wagon proved an easy driver. Put it in drive, press the gas, and it moves forward without drama or hesitation. Acura likes to consider itself a luxury brand, but the TSX Sport Wagon's ride quality is not the cushy experience offered by much more expensive cars. Instead it is firm and competent, dealing with the road in a businesslike manner.

From the outset, it was obvious the TSX Sport Wagon used an electric power steering unit, as low-speed turning made a peculiar whirring sound. Acura leans to the side of power with the tuning, making it always easy to turn the wheel, sacrificing some road feel along the way.

Cruising on the freeway, the TSX Sport Wagon proved comfortable, the engine's 201 horsepower enough for passing and merging. Keeping an eye on the trip computer, we saw the average fuel economy hit around 28 mpg after some extended 65 mph freeway driving. EPA numbers for the TSX Sport Wagon are 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
The Sport Wagon handles reasonably well, but can't be pushed to extremes. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Out on twisty country roads, the TSX Sport Wagon was fine up to a point. At speeds that might cause a highway patrolman to glance up from the radar gun, the car held its own, proving stable with no excessive body motion. Getting the speed up to where that same highway patrolman would drop the radar gun, flick on the rollers, and peel out from the shoulder, the TSX Sport Wagon became sloppy, understeering and threatening to chase rabbits through the fields rather than stay on the road.

Given that Acura intends the car for buyers who lead active lifestyles, such as surfers, mountain bikers, and snowboarders, it is surprising that all-wheel drive is not an option. People who head into snowy regions might prefer competitive wagons that power four tires rather than just the front two.

Tech wagon

Acura doesn't skimp on the cabin tech in the TSX Sport Wagon, offering the same technology package that can be had in the sedan. This means Acura's newish hard-drive-based navigation system, which also shows traffic and weather. The system is perfectly usable, and the maps show good resolution, but they are only 2D.

One of our favorite features of Acura's navigation system is a points-of-interest database for scenic roads. Almost every state is represented, although some more than others. Rather than putting the car at one end or the other of a scenic route and guiding it through a series of waypoints, the system merely uses the coordinates for a center point. But it is still a nice way to get a Sunday drive recommendation.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
Acura fits the TSX Sport Wagon with a hard-drive-based navigation system. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

A real high point of the technology package is the ELS audio system, Acura's premium sound option using 10 speakers and a 460-watt amp. For the wagon, Acura includes forward-facing speakers on the car's D pillars along with the center channel and subwoofer. Given the short length of our drive, we were not able to really test the quality of the audio, but if it lives up to that of other ELS systems in Acuras, it will be very good.

Acura includes a full range of audio sources, including Bluetooth streaming, satellite radio, iPod integration, and an onboard hard drive. CDs can be ripped to the drive, which reserves 15GB of space for music.

The TSX also includes a voice command system that lets uses ask for music from a connected iPod by name. Voice command also controls other car functions, such as navigation and climate control.

As with other Acuras, the TSX Sport Wagon suffers from a profusion of buttons on the dashboard. A source of particular annoyance is the double deck of phone and voice command buttons on the lower left of the steering wheel.

In sum

The TSX Sport Wagon makes a nice addition to the Acura lineup, which is dominated by sedans that show too little differentiation. We can certainly understand not including a manual transmission option, or even the V-6, but Acura should have given this car all-wheel drive, which would have made it more attractive to its intended audience.

Cabin electronics are generally solid, with modern features such as traffic and weather integrated with the navigation system. The audio system is also a high point, and the car's voice command makes it very competitive. To improve its luxury image, Acura could clean up the buttons.

 

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