All-inclusive Tech package
That ELS audio system can only be had as part of the Tech package, which includes a navigation system with live traffic, Zagat listings in the points of interest database, and weather reports. The external data comes in courtesy of satellite radio. Honda is in the process of updating its cars with the new HondaLink app integration service, and I would expect Acura to get something similar, but nothing yet has been announced.
The Tech package adds an LCD at the top of the center stack, along with a dial and many, many buttons to control all the electronics. This interface in the car is not well integrated, and mostly feels like an addition to the dashboard of a non-navigation-equipped TSX. Where this clumsy interface really shows through is with the voice command buttons, stacked on the lower-left area of the steering wheel. The top set activates voice command for the Bluetooth phone system, and the bottom set let me access navigation and stereo voice commands.
Acura's navigation system uses bright and colorful maps, but they only show in a 2D format, either in the direction of the car or North up. The route guidance graphics were useful, showing lane guidance for freeway junctions. I also found it easy to enter destinations, either searching the points of interest database or using voice command to input an address. One thing I particularly like about Acura's voice command system is that all the available commands are shown on the car's LCD at each step.
The most surprising miss by Acura in the cabin tech is that I could not use voice command to place calls to people from my phone's contact list. The car showed the contact list from my paired phone on its LCD, but I would have had to manually voice tag numbers to get voice command for any contacts at all. This Bluetooth phone system is actually a legacy from the non-navigation-equipped model, which Acura does not bother to upgrade with the Tech package.
Ready to drive
As I mentioned above, the TSX Sport Wagon drives easy. I merely put it in drive for city and freeway driving, and away we went. The car uses electrically boosted power steering, which lets the wheel turn easily but lessens the power boost for higher speeds, resulting in more-stable freeway driving. The suspension also proved very comfortable for long hours on the freeway, and handled sections of pavement ripped up by big trucks well. I could certainly feel the suspension reacting to pits and potholes, but the body of the car was hardly affected.
That suspension also let me throw the car around a little, taking the occasional hard corner without showing undue body roll. But the TSX Sport Wagon's limits were also obvious, with understeer taking over at moderate cornering speeds. Not surprisingly, the five-speed automatic did not respond overly quickly to my manual gear shifts with the paddles. However, it was not as slow to shift as some torque converter automatics. Acura uses a lock-up system in this transmission to make the gear changes more efficient, more similar to a manual transmission.
Given the excellent freeway fuel economy I found with the TSX Sport Wagon, this car would not seem to need anymore than its five gears. The 201 horsepower helps in giving each gear a decently wide power band, but the automatic shifts were occasionally more abrupt than they would be in a car with a six-speed. Going up a hill, the car would often have to shift down to third, which would cause a large rpm change. And heading onto a freeway onramp at one point, the transmission was caught short by sudden punch to the gas, shifting with an unpleasant clunk.
Although I would like to see improvements, such as a six-speed automatic in the TSX, this generation may be the last of the line. Acura has only committed to selling the car through 2013, and will likely revamp its lineup. And as goes the TSX sedan, so goes the Sport Wagon. Those who appreciate wagons can only hope that Acura introduces one next to a new sedan model with different letters than TSX.