When we reviewed the 2005 Acura TSX last year, we had few complaints. The car's interior was up to the high standard of more upscale Acura models--with voice-activated navigation, heated leather seats, and an LCD touch-screen interface for most onboard controls--and Honda's 2.4-liter, 200-horsepower i-VTEC engine provided the luxury sport sedan with enough zip to make the ride interesting. Aside from a few goofy design elements, the only major faults we found with were the car's limited standard stereo capabilities and sound quality, as well as its lack of Bluetooth integration.
For the 2006 TSX, Acura has tweaked the four-cylinder engine to put 5 more horses in the stable, while refacing a virtually unchanged body with a more friendly-looking front grille and headlight arrangement. Inside, one of our gripes with the 2005 TSX has been addressed, with the inclusion as standard of Acura's Bluetooth Hands Free Link (HFL) system, but despite the addition of an all-purpose auxiliary jack as standard, the '06 TSX stereo still sounds ropey.
Nevertheless, the Acura TSX represents one of the best-value cars on the market, considering its impressive lineup of standard features. Our Royal Blue Pearl six-speed manual test model came with all the bells and whistles, including navigation, and carried a sticker price of $29,890, excluding delivery.
In the cabin, the 2006 Acura TSX presents a clean-cut, stylish appearance. Leather seats, soft plastic surrounds, and chrome accents welcome the driver and the front passenger. A crisp, bright instrument panel houses startlingly clear electroluminescent tachometer and speedometer gauges, and a steering wheel crowded with buttons and switches lets the driver know that this is going to be a high-tech ride. The six-speed manual's slender, chrome-topped shifter suggests the entertainment will go beyond the electronic gadgetry. The TSX is a compact sedan, and its compactness is very apparent on the inside. The front seats provided a snug fit for our scrawny frames and will present a challenge for more portly drivers. Space in the back is also limited, and rear passengers taller than six feet have little clearance from the sloping rear window. The 2006 TSX comes with all that Acura's technowizards can offer: navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth HFL, dual-zone climate control with air filter, and a proprietary stereo system with integrated XM Satellite Radio and an auxiliary input jack for portable MP3 players.
As we found with upgraded Honda models, the navigation system in the Acura is scarily competent at recognizing voice commands; in addition to being able to plot destinations by address or street (with text-to-speech technology giving road-specific turn-by-turn voice guidance), the system allows voice control over the air-conditioning temperature and XM radio channel and will even tell you the time (just say, "What time is it?"). Despite its nearly flawless performance, the navigation system's LCD touch-screen interface is beginning to look dated in comparison with newer units, especially the resolution of its map rendering and basic color-coded keys for points of interest. The display also suffers from glare in direct sunlight, giving the maps a washed-out appearance, and the square joystick used to set directions by a crosshair on the map feels a lot more primitive than other systems, such as the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid's.
While Acura's navigation system has excellent voice-recognition capabilities, its map rendering is beginning to look dated.
One of the most significant differences between the interior of the 2006 TSX and its 2005 predecessor is the addition as standard of HFL, Acura's Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. Available with Acura's TL and RL models for the past two years, HFL is an intuitive Bluetooth interface, which is operable only via voice command. Pairing our LG VX8100 to the Acura's HFL hands-free system was straightforward (say, "Phone setup," then "Pair"), and it took less than a minute for car and phone to find each other. HFL overrides the voice guidance and stereo systems and is operated via two rocker switches on the left of the steering wheel, with menus and other information displayed on the Acura's dot-matrix multi-information LCD. A number of neat setup options for HFL include selecting a ring tone or a prompt for incoming calls and lock-enabling the system. While system setup is straightforward, sound quality for hands-free calls through the front speakers is buzzy and distorted, and we experienced considerable voice echo. From the other end of the line, we sounded better, according to our buddy John, although still a little muffled.
The 2006 Acura TSX comes with Bluetooth hands-free calling as standard; paring phones is straightforward, but incoming call sound quality is poor.
As with the 2006 Honda Accord EX V-6 and the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid, our major disappointment with the Acura TSX is the stereo system. Despite its eight speakers (two more than the Accord), the TSX has weak stereo sound quality, with the bass distortion setting at a relatively low volume. The six-disc changer had no idea what to do with MP3 and WMA CDs. Also, the auxiliary input jack in the center storage console will present a problem to the driver who wants to plug in a portable MP3 player; it's impossible to see the exact position of the port due to the rubber cap that hinges upward, blocking the already awkward view. A simple, uncovered auxiliary jack in the head unit would have worked just as well and been a lot easier to use. An optional MP3 player is available on the TSX for an extra $459, which is disappointing, especially seeing that many lower-end nameplates offer built-in MP3 playback as standard.
Situated in the center storage console, the auxiliary input jack is difficult to access.
Our car did, however, come with XM Satellite Radio (owners get free activation and three months of free service). Along with the dual-zone climate control, it's voice controllable, and both XM channel and current cabin temperatures are displayed in an information pod on top of the dash.
For its 2006 model year, the Acura TSX has had a face-lift, with its 2005 open grille replaced by a more upturned, smiley front end incorporating xenon HID headlights and fog lights. Acura has tuned the 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve i-VTEC engine to squeeze out an extra 5 horsepower, bringing the cavalry to 205 ponies. For a car with such a small engine, the TSX delivers a formidable amount of acceleration and pickup, especially when pushed north of 3,000rpm. The four-cylinder TSX is able to punch above its weight due to Honda's variable valve-timing technology, which uses an advanced valve-control system to adjust valve overlap and to maximize torque according the engine's load demand.
Honda's i-VTEC variable valve-timed engine allows the TSX to punch above its weight.
Gear ratios are tight, and the shifter slots into its gates with a satisfying snick. Around town, second gear is particularly fun for maneuvering the compact TSX into gaps in the traffic, while third gear is what freeway on-ramps were made for. The Acura TSX is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and we experienced some torque steer when steaming off the line, although the car's drive-by-wire throttle system regulated our attempts to spin the wheels on launch.
The chrome-topped six-speed shifter delivers crisp engagements.
One of the most satisfying elements of the Acura TSX is its sporty agility. Variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering provides crisp turn-in, while firm four-wheel double-wishbone suspension and P215/50 R17 high-performance all-season tires gave us the confidence to throw the TSX into corners.
On the highway, the Acura TSX behaved like a larger sedan, especially when left in sixth gear, which lets the car cruise at 70mph and exactly 3,000rpm. One reminder that we were not in a larger car was the amount of engine and road noise seeping into the cabin; at 60mph, we recorded a reading of 78dB, which is relatively high for a car of this caliber.
The other disappointment with the Acura TSX was its gas mileage. Despite the EPA readings of 22mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway, we recorded an average of 19mpg over 165 miles of mixed metro driving, with at least half of that on the highway.
Nevertheless, thanks to its i-VTEC technology, the 2006 Acura TSX is classified as a LEV2 low-emission vehicle.
The 2006 Acura TSX comes with a good bundle of active and passive safety features as standard, including ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and seat-belt pretensioners. Acura's four-channel vehicle stability assist (VSA) also helps to keep drivers on track by adjusting brake pressure and engine power to help correct understeer and oversteer. Driver and front passenger get dual-stage front, side, and side-curtain air bags in the TSX, while the LATCH system can be used to secure smaller passengers in the rear seats. Crash ratings for the TSX are impressive for a car of its size; the NHTSA awards it a maximum five stars for frontal and driver side impact and four stars for passenger side and rollover. The 2006 TSX comes with Acura's six-year/70,000-mile drivetrain warranty and a four-year/50,000-mile limited vehicle warranty. The car also comes with Acura's total luxury car (TLC) roadside assistance and concierge service, as well as a lifetime seat belt guarantee.