With its efficient engine, mundane exterior, and high-tech cabin electronics, the 2007 Acura TSX makes a perfect commuter car for sensible IT professionals and accountants. The small engine gets good mileage, but doesn't deliver impressive acceleration. Our test car was equipped with a five-speed automatic, which works easily and unobtrusively. And the body styling definitely won't turn any heads, unlike the Audi A3 we had in recently.
On the other hand, Acura TSX drivers can impress their geeky friends by telling the car where they want to go, what temperature they want, what radio station to tune in to, and what phone number to call. This is one conversational car, which will follow your dictates (as long as they come from the car's list of available commands) without fail. We didn't think the stereo was anything to write home about, and we're surprised that no premium stereo upgrades are available. But the car's navigation database is excellent, even including a built-in Zagat Guide for restaurants.
Test the tech: Restaurant run
The Zagat Guide gave us the idea for testing the TSX tech. We weren't going to do zero-to-60mph runs, as we did with the Audi A3, or attempt to drive to Los Angeles and back on a single tank, as we did with the Mercedes-Benz E320. The TSX's engine is neither that fast nor that efficient. Instead, we decided to navigate a route marked out by Zagat-rated restaurants in San Francisco.
We blocked a fire hydrant for this picture in front of Rotee.
And we hit our first snag. Although we could find plenty of promising restaurants in the car's database, the navigation system wouldn't let us easily program them all in. Once you input a destination, you can search for places along your route, but you can't put in way points for places that are far off your route. Nor can you put in one destination, then add more after that one. So we had to select our first restaurant, go there, then select our second, and so forth.
We set out on a sunny Friday at lunchtime, with the idea of picking up some grub along the way. The first restaurant that sounded promising in the Zagat database was Rotee, an Indian/Pakistani eatery in the Lower Haight. The navigation system calculated its route and we set off. We overruled the route guidance on a couple of streets because we thought we knew better. No problem--the system just recalculated quickly and quietly, letting us take our preferred streets. Unfortunately, the navigation system won't find you a parking space, which was the problem we ran into at Rotee.
The first Pasta Pomodoro we stopped at was out of business.
So we found our next destination, Restaurant Gary Danko. This restaurant, and the next one we tried, Acquerello, only serve dinner. The Zagat information in the TSX doesn't show hours of operation, although we could have used our Bluetooth-connected phone to call ahead. So we finally settled on Pasta Pomodoro, a local cheap Italian place perfect for lunch. The first, and closest, location we tried, on Post Street in Japantown, had gone out of business, something we didn't fault the car for not telling us, since it appeared to be a recent change. And we made it to the next closest Pasta Pomodoro in 15 minutes, so lunch was still served.
In the cabin
With our stomachs full of pasta, we were able to evaluate the rest of the car. The materials in the TSX's cabin are nice, but not particularly luxurious. Unlike Toyota's Lexus brand, Honda isn't shooting for the stars with Acura. The refined materials all have good fit and finish, but only feel a small step up from what you find in a Honda. In fact, the interior doesn't feel much different than that found in Acura's top-of-the-line RL.
Acura has a very interesting method of packaging its cars: you either order the TSX with navigation or without. There are no real interior options, just some trim elements listed as accessories. Bluetooth with voice recognition is standard, as is a so-called premium stereo system with XM satellite radio. We're not sure if you can label a stereo system as "premium" if you're not upgrading from a lower-end version. Maybe, this being an Acura, there is no low end.
We've mentioned it in reviews for the Acura RDX and the TL, but we'll make the point again: we love Acura's voice-recognition system. You can tell it to make calls, what temperature to set, and what station to tune into. As long as you use the correct commands, its voice recognition is very accurate. Our only issue with the voice-command system is there are two sets of buttons, one set for making phone commands and one set for everything else. We would prefer better integration.
Knowing which buttons to use for which commands takes some getting used to.
One new thing about the voice system we've noticed in this year's crop of Acuras is the car holds up its own end of the conversation better. It reads out the names of upcoming streets on which you need to turn when route guidance is active, and it even read out the names of the restaurants we selected for our lunchtime tour. After we heard it pronounce "Acquerello" (surprisingly accurately), we spent some time looking for more difficult names to pronounce. It met our challenges, although Ton Kiang sounded more like "Ton Klang".
The navigation system itself is as good as we could want, although it doesn't have the live traffic reporting offered on all other Acuras. It's a touch screen system that offers excellent route guidance, showing good graphics for upcoming turns and, as mentioned above, reading out the names of streets. Its database of restaurants and businesses is as complete as any yellow pages. Our big gripe with the TSX's navigation is that it was slow, with maps taking longer to be drawn than we've seen in other Acura models.
The "premium" stereo didn't impress us. We liked its XM satellite radio interface, and it also included an auxiliary input tucked away in the center console. But the six-disc changer doesn't read MP3 CDs, a real oddity considering Acura's high-tech reputation and something that could have your geek friends making the "L" sign on their foreheads. We also can only consider the sound quality OK. It's not bad, but it didn't open up any new dimensions in our music. Separation was mediocre, especially in the midranges, and the bass had no richness, while the highs were somewhat muted.
We had no difficulty pairing our Motorola V551 phone to the car's Bluetooth system, and on subsequent pairings the car quickly connected to the phone. Call quality was very good--we found it easy to carry on conversations while in the car. The TSX has an onboard phonebook, but you have to make each entry one at a time--it won't copy over your phone's numbers, nor will it show recent calls, as in the Audi A3.
Under the hood
There is little driving excitement to be had with the Acura TSX. The 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine puts out 205 horsepower, enough to get the car where it needs to go at a reasonable pace. It's designed to be an efficient engine, so we were a bit surprised to see the trip computer calculate our average economy at just around 14mpg during our initial intensive city driving. Although downtown San Francisco will challenge any engine's efficiency, with its heavy traffic and short distance between stoplights, we expected closer to this engine's city EPA-rated 22mpg.
Initial heavy traffic driving didn't show off very good fuel economy.
Time spent on the freeway soon changed our average, as we expected, giving us an observed 23.9mpg for our total time with the car. Its highway EPA rating tops out at 31mpg, a number that could probably be improved with a better transmission than the five-speed automatic that came with our car. We really were hoping for the six-speed manual, which we know and love from last year's Honda Accord. The TSX's powertrain isn't particularly green, earning it an LEV II, or Low Emissions Vehicle II, rating from California's Air Resources Board. It's not bad, but there are small sedans that do better. Check out our roundup of the 12 greenest cars for some examples.
Our 2007 Acura TSX came with the navigation system and five-speed automatic, a configuration that comes for a set price of $30,090. It's the same price with the six speed manual. Without navigation, the TSX goes for $28,090. With a $670 destination fee, our TSX topped out at $30,760. An iPod adaptor is available for an extra $214 as a dealer installation.
The Acura TSX has nothing to do with driving enthusiasm, so stay away if you want to zip around the twisties and tear off from stoplights. The Audi A3 can be had at a similar price and will satisfy all these desires. The TSX measures up as a good car for gadget freaks, for people who will never get tired of the fact that they can talk to the car and it will do what they ask. The real measure of the TSX is its value, as few cars offer navigation and Bluetooth for this price.