Because of its solid and comfortable everyday driver demeanor, buyers of the new 2009 Acura TSX will probably opt for the five-speed automatic transmission, for ease of driving in traffic and urban settings. And that's unfortunate, because to appreciate Honda's capability to build truly efficient engines that deliver both economy and power, you just need to get the six-speed manual transmission.
Our TSX came with the manual transmission, and it made driving the car a joyful experience. Of course, the many cabin electronics didn't hurt either, if we discount the mass of buttons on instrument panel and steering wheel. Acura evolves its excellent navigation system further by adding weather reports and better integration with live traffic. We also had a pleasant surprise in audio sources, finding the TSX not only adds a USB port, but Bluetooth streaming as well.
Test the tech: Sun chaser
When we sent editor Kevin Massy to San Diego for a preview of the 2009 Acura TSX last February, he got caught in a snow storm during his test drive, which is ironic as one new feature in the car is live weather reports. The weather-reporting feature shows weather icons on the navigation map, including severe weather alerts, and it lets you look up current and three-day forecasts for most cities. For our tech test, foggy San Francisco weather convinced us to seek a sunnier clime.
We hit the Info button on the instrument panel and chose the Weather feature. Santa Cruz, Calif., a town south of San Francisco, seemed like a likely candidate for sun, so we entered the city name and looked up the current weather. It said clear skies, so we chose a Santa Cruz point of interest from the car's navigation system and had it show us the route. Freeways took us most of the way, which meant 70 mph to 80 mph in sixth gear. We were impressed that, even at these speeds and in top gear, the car's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine still delivered some acceleration when we hit the gas.
It took us about an hour to get to Santa Cruz, which was a thoroughly pleasant drive in the TSX, but the sun was clouded over when we got there. We quickly looked up the weather report in the car, and sure enough, it said partly cloudy. Well, the weather reporting in the car was accurate, as far as we could tell. We just didn't count on the weather changing.
Ever diligent, we made another attempt, locating the town of Half Moon Bay, Calif., up the coast where our weather feature said skies were clear and people were happy. Well, we just assumed that latter part. Heading up Highway 1 toward our promised sun, we got to play with the gears some more, because of occasionally slower traffic. The TSX passed other cars with ease, especially when we dropped the gear down to third, its 201 horsepower accelerating the car quickly when we asked for it.
But in Half Moon Bay we saw the same gray skies we had seen in Santa Cruz. And checking the car again, the weather report showed partly cloudy. We couldn't fault the car, as its weather reports seemed accurate for the time they were delivered. We could only assume a partly cloudy sky hung perpetually over our heads.
In the cabin
The interior of the 2009 Acura TSX proves a reasonable antidote to crummy weather by offering a lot of toys, both entertaining and informational. And Acura provides no shortage of buttons to access them with. Acura doesn't really do options, so you can get the car either with technology or without, the difference being about $3,000. If you don't spend the extra money, you still get a Bluetooth hands-free system, also found in the tech version of the car.
Unfortunately, when you move up to the techie car, complete with navigation and a premium stereo, this Bluetooth system isn't integrated well with the rest of the tech. Our ongoing complaint about the tech interface in Acuras is that you get one set of buttons for Bluetooth voice command, and another set of buttons for navigation and stereo voice command. And Acura still uses its big multifunction knob surrounded by a sea of buttons. Although we've reviewed many Acura models, we still had to look for the particular button we wanted.
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.