Another thing Acura has yet to improve is the resolution of its navigation maps. They just don't look that good, especially when compared with a newer system we saw in the Hyundai Sonata. But the navigation system overall is quite good. It is still DVD-based, but we found map refresh and route calculation to be quick. And one thing we've always liked about Acura's navigation system is the complete points-of-interest database, listing every retail shopping location.
Acura has offered XM NavTraffic in various models for a while now, but it takes the integration a step further by having the system intelligently route around bad traffic congestion if you've set a destination. Like other cars we've seen with this feature, it will only route around traffic moving below 20 mph, but it lets you drive into moderately slow traffic. The weather reports we discussed above are also delivered through XM satellite radio.
We were happy to see the ELS brand on the TSX's stereo, an indication that Grammy Winner Elliot Scheiner's company designed the audio system. ELS Surround is a Panasonic brand, the company that supplies the hardware for this audio system. We like how this audio system lets you adjust not only treble and bass, but also centerfill and subwoofer levels. The results in the TSX were very good, but it sounded as if there was a little less separation than we heard in the Acura RDX, the first model to use the ELS system. The ELS system in the TSX uses 10 speakers, including a subwoofer and centerfill, powered by 415 watts of amplification.
Audio sources include a six-disc in-dash changer that reads MP3 CDs and DVD audio, XM satellite radio, an auxiliary input, a USB port that also offers iPod integration, and Bluetooth streaming audio support. Many cars go down to a single disc player when navigation is present, but not the TSX. And we were also impressed that audio streamed from the same phone we had paired as part of the standard hands-free cell phone integration. Even Ford's Sync system hasn't completely ironed out the switch from playing music off a phone to making calls from the phone.
For making calls, the cell phone integration is generally good, although adding entries to the phonebook requires you to push each entry from your phone to the car. We like the system found in the Audi A5 better, which uploads the entire phone book at once.
Another extra in the tech package is a rear-view camera, although it doesn't have any helpful overlays, as found in the Audi A5. We also have to mention our fascination with the speedometer and tachometer, which both use needles that reach over from the outer rim of the dials, instead of being anchored to the front center. The effect is high-tech and cool.
Under the hood
We praised the 2009 Acura TSX's engine at the beginning of this review. This 2.4-liter four-cylinder may not sound like much, but it moved the car along adroitly while delivering an average fuel economy of 23.6 mpg for our mixed city and freeway driving. The EPA gives the car a 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway rating, so we fell near the middle of that range. The engine also brings in a ULEV II emissions rating from the California Air Resources Board, a good achievement.
The engine gets its apparent power by generating 201 horsepower at 7,000rpm, which is right at the car's redline, and 172 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400rpm. We were happy with the accelerator response around 4,000rpm generally, but again, we have to emphasize that the six-speed close shifting manual gearbox makes a huge difference. This gearbox feels good while shifting and lets you get the right amount of power for the job at hand. We haven't driven an automatic version of the TSX, but in other Acuras with the five-speed automatic transmissions, we felt the transmission sapped any possible enjoyment you could get from the engine.
When attempting a fast launch with the TSX, we found that the traction control stepped on us hard. We revved up, dropped the clutch, felt the beginnings of the launch, then the car just bogged down. The torque would have spun the wheels if the traction control hadn't interfered. And as the TSX is a front wheel drive car, it exhibits torque steer, although we found it easy to keep a straight line with a reasonable grip on the wheel.
The handling seems tuned very well in the TSX. We've noticed understeer in previous Acura models we've seen, and plenty more in Hondas, but the steering in the TSX was nice and tight, with plenty of response. The suspension is also a good mix of comfort and rigidity, letting the car handle very well in hard cornering. During normal cornering we couldn't really feel that the TSX's front wheel drive nature, although it became more apparent as we gave it the gas to pull out of a turn.
Acura doesn't really offer factory options--you buy the 2009 Acura TSX with technology or without. Our test car has a set price of $32,060, inclusive of navigation, the sound system, and all of the other tech we mentioned. A $760 destination charge runs the total up to $32,820. You pay the same amount for the automatic version, but we advise against it. You can also get the car without tech for $28,960, but you will be missing out on a lot.
We give the TSX a strong score for its cabin tech, only marred by the mediocre map resolution. In this area, the TSX keeps up with current tech, but isn't breaking much new ground. Its performance rating is also strong, as the engine manages to deliver both economy and power. We would like to see the emissions rating get a little better, as other small engine cars are earning PZEV ratings. It suffers the most on design, as the interface is still muddled with buttons. And while the car looks OK, it's not striking.