There was a time when every major automaker had not one, but many wagons in their model lineups. It was the essential car for the family, offering the big bench seats of a sedan along with voluminous space at the rear for picnic food, camping equipment, beach toys, or even a few more passengers in jump seats.
Now, wagons are as rare as drive-in theaters, the task of family hauler taken over by minivans the size of cargo containers. Has the obesity problem gotten that bad?
Acura does not seem to think so, as the company has one of the few wagons on the market, in the form of the 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon. Similar to those wagons of old, the Sport Wagon is based on an existing sedan model, the four-cylinder TSX. As such, there are few mechanical differences between the two, and few in the electronics, as well.
Simply calling a car a wagon seems to be anathema for marketers today, so this Acura model is named Sport Wagon, similar to the only other car left in the class, the VW SportWagen. But the only way this Acura can lay claim to being sporty is by comparing it to a. Although the TSX Sport Wagon boasts paddle shifters, Acura's V-6 and Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system would have given it greater claim to a performance label.
As it is, Acura manages to get 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, partly because of the magic of VTEC, Honda's variable valve technology. The TSX Sport Wagon, even carrying 129 pounds over its sedan sibling, does not feel slow, making good use of that 201 horsepower.
Beating the EPA estimate
Over a 600-mile road trip, I found the TSX Sport Wagon eminently practical, very simple to drive to the point of boring, and filled with good, but not cutting-edge, technologies. One area where the TSX Sport Wagon excelled was in fuel economy. Acura's EPA tests rate it at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, but after miles and miles of freeway driving, at speeds around 70 mph, the car came through with 31.2 mpg, well over the highway estimate.
The good amount of space in the car helped make the trip enjoyable, the rear wagon space accessible through the wide rear hatch ready to be filled up with any number of suitcases and other luggage. Of course the rear seats fold down to increase the cargo area, but, sadly, we are past the era of rear jump seats in wagons. Being an Acura, leather covered the seats, and the front row was power adjustable. The cabin materials feel good, exhibiting quality, but nothing in the TSX Sport Wagon screams luxury. It feels more like a high-trim Honda.
Still, one thing in particular sets this car apart from its nonpremium co-brand, the ELS audio system, of which I made good use during the long hours pounding down the freeway. Eight speakers and a 360-watt amp do not sound like the ingredients for a top-end automotive sound system, but a lot comes down to the quality of the tuning. This system delivered clear, distinct sound no matter what kind of music I fed it. The ELS tuning favors lighter, acoustic music, but adjusting the bass and subwoofer levels gave it enough thump for my purposes.
I also had a lot of options for music in the car, from the onboard hard drive to which I had ripped a few CDs, to streaming music from my iPhone via Bluetooth. Although for the most part I relied on the USB port, using that to plug in and play music from the iPhone and a USB drive. Using the iPhone was excellent, as I could use the car's interface to browse music by album, artist, genre, and track, or just hit the voice command button and ask for music by album or artist. This system is more primitive with the USB drive, not including a voice command interface over it, and only showing the music library in the folder and file structure of the drive.
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.