Our experience with the cell phone integration was less pleasant. The same Sony Ericsson k790a we've had success pairing with almost every Bluetooth-equipped car that's come through the CNET garage, including other Hondas and Acuras, gave us some grief this time around.
Things were fine for the first few days of our week with the car: The phone paired easily and was recognized by the system each time we entered the car anew. The trouble started when, upon leaving the car while on a call, we used the "Transfer" voice command to put the call into the phone. This happened easily, but thereafter we were unable to initiate or receive calls without them remaining in the phone rather than being heard through the car's speakers. Despite repeated attempts to reboot the phone and disconnect and reconnect, the only way we could successfully use the system was if the calls were initiated without Bluetooth active, and then transferred from the phone manually, which forced a fresh Bluetooth connection.
Having consulted a few forums that mentioned similar issues, we realized that a firmware upgrade to the phone might have solved the problem, so it's tough to blame the car. But given the warnings of side effects accompanying instructions for the upgrade, we decided it wasn't worth the risk for a car we wouldn't see a week later. Others who drove the car paired their phones normally and reported no problems, although none tried the transfer feature. No phonebook information is pulled from phones, but the TSX has its own phone book, which can store 50 entries.
We found the audio system generally pedestrian in features and sound quality. An in-dash six-disc changer is nice but nothing out of the ordinary, except that most other manufacturers' now play MP3 discs. We frankly weren't entirely sure whether the TSX was even supposed to play MP3 discs, as little mention is made of them anywhere in the manuals or press materials. Again referencing online forums, we found owners who did successfully get MP3 discs to play, but none of the ones we tried were compatible. Acura does now include an auxiliary audio input in the center console, which did play music off our phone easily but didn't display any track info. We also looked in vain for a passthrough for the cord but had to close the lid on the cord to keep the phone accessible.
Materials inside the TSX were admirable, with perforated black leather on the seats and door inserts and faux brushed-metal accents in our test car. Fit and finish were excellent, in keeping with our expectations for any Acura. Interior storage spaces are convenient and numerous, and the rear seats can be folded for passthrough access from the trunk once unlocked with a keyhole on the rear parcel shelf, although the nav system's DVD player's placement on the underside of the shelf would make loading larger boxes a little dicey.
The steering wheel is positively packed with useful controls including both sets of voice-control access buttons along with the usual audio and cruise controls. The wheel itself is wrapped in perforated leather as is the shift knob for the six-speed manual. A digital display between the main analog gauges shows the odometer, mpg readouts, and status displays for the connected phone.
Under the hood
The 2008 TSX still uses the same 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine all TSXs have had, with i-VTEC variable valve timing. Power is rated at 205 maximum horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 164 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. A drive-by-wire throttle system works in concert with a computer-controlled direct ignition system to keep exhaust emissions low enough to conform to California's minimum LEV II standard.
The power is kept in check with a standard four-channel stability assist system, which can modulate the throttle and brakes to enhance control. Electronic brake assist applies full brake pressure automatically in panic stops.
We usually prefer a manual transmission in our test cars, and the TSX's six-speed is a fun one to use. The stubby shifter and its short, notchy throws were reminiscent of the gearbox we enjoyed in the RSX Type-S we tested earlier. The manual transmission housing is made of magnesium alloy for a weight savings of about 6 pounds compared to an aluminum case.
Handling is helped by a front strut-tower brace, and the TSX feels relatively light on its feet. Powering out of corners is not as dramatic as in some other front-drivers, probably because the TSX doesn't produce enough power to really disrupt the chassis. The steering is precise, using variable power assist on the rack-and-pinion setup.
Fuel economy ratings have gone down from previous years, thanks to the EPA's new test cycle. The 2008 TSX is rated at 19 mpg (20 mpg for the automatic) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. As in previous tests, we averaged between 23 and 24 mpg during mixed driving, according to the onboard computer.
The 2008 Acura TSX is still a contender in its class, but its class has gotten bigger and better since the model's 2004 debut. A navigation-equipped Mazda Mazdaspeed3 would be about four grand cheaper than our $31,005 (including destination charge) TSX, and the Mazda crushes the Acura in terms of performance.
But the Mazda does lack Bluetooth, and the TSX holds its own by virtue of offering all the major tech options and good versions at that. Assuming that the tech hiccup we experienced with our phone isn't widespread, the TSX brings a lot of tech to the table along with a quality feel and the Honda name. This has kept it afloat for years, but a life preserver in the form of a redesign with more power is needed soon.