The last time we found ourselves behind the wheel of an Acura TSX it was a 2009 model. We praised its cabin technologies, its direct handing, and its powerful, yet economical, 2.4-liter engine. In fact, if we could change anything about the TSX, it would be Acura's overly complex, and at times confusing, dashboard interface. Give us fewer buttons, clearer organization, and updated graphics, we pleaded. Instead, Acura gave us more power in the form of the 3.5-liter V-6 engine from the base model Acura TL. Now, don't get us wrong. We love power as much as the next red-blooded American gearhead, but there really wasn't much wrong with the torquey four-banger in our previous tester besides its middle of the road fuel economy.
So, in a climate of drivers asking for greener cars, does a TSX V-6 with more power and less economy really make sense for Acura? With the TSX's chunky switchblade key in hand, we aimed to find out.
Test the tech: V-6 good, I-4 bad?
The 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine in the previous TSX tested made 201 horsepower and 172 pound feet of torque, which was enough twist to make torque steer and traction control an issue in the midsize sedan. When paired with a five-speed automatic gearbox, the four-banger could go 21 miles on a gallon of premium gasoline in the city and 30 on the highway.
The 2010 model only goes 18 city miles and 27 highway miles on the same amount of fuel, but in doing so it generates 79 more horsepower and 82 more pound-feet of twisting torque. Would we take a 16 percent hit to our combined fuel economy for a 40 percent increase in power? Sure!
With its newfound power, the TSX accelerates away from traffic lights like nobody's business. Need to merge into freeway traffic? No problem, just give it a little gas and the sedan gains speed in a linear and drama-free manner. There's no more waiting until 7,000rpm for full power, simply press the pedal and go.
Make no mistake, giving the TSX 280 horsepower to play with doesn't magically transform the sedan into a BMW 3-Series fighter. She handles and accelerates well, but not that well. However, the additional power does make the TSX feel less strained, more effortless, and more confident. You gets the feeling that the sedan is a bit more grown-up in V-6 trim.
Of course, the single option automatic transmission takes a bit of the edge off of the TSX V-6's performance credibility, but it does add a good deal of refinement. We expected more torque steer because of the increased power, but because of the gradual application of power and smooth shifts afforded by the torque converter automatic, the TSX V-6 seems to exhibit less torque steer than its manually shifted counterpart does.
In the cabin
The odd thing about the TSX is it actually packs a decent amount of cabin tech. There's a DVD-based navigation system with traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and audio streaming, USB-iPod connectivity, optional satellite radio, and a great sounding ELS premium audio system. Aside from the fact that the navigation system is DVD based, this should be a great assortment of cabin technologies. The problem is that to use all of this tech, you'll have to go through Acura's AcuraLink interface.
This interface is rapidly approaching a decade old and it's starting to show its age. Over the years, it seems that Acura has been piling on new features and shoehorning them into the interface wherever they fit. This results in dozens of buttons on the dash and all sorts of awkward usage situations. Allow us to walk you through what should be the simple process of using a phone in the TSX.
First, the voice command system for the Bluetooth system is completely different from the voice command system for navigation, which means there are two Talk buttons on the steering wheel. Make sure you hit the right one. If you hit the proper voice command button, the Acura will ask you for a command. It won't display the available commands on the screen, but when you're finished guessing commands, it will slowly read you a long list of suggestions.
So you've fought through the pairing process, and now it's time to make a call. However, the AcuraLink system hasn't imported your contacts. The system is capable of importing them, but to initiate the process, you have to first head a few levels deep into the Info menu on the dashboard interface and tell the system to sync your contacts. Once this process is complete, you'll be able to access your phonebook from the Info menu. However, if you want to access your contacts with voice control, you'll have to push the contacts (one-by-one) to the Bluetooth system.
This process is far too complicated. In a Kia Forte, you just pair your phone with a PIN and your contacts automatically are imported for voice access, which is embarrassing when you consider that the Acura is twice the price.
One place the TSX with Tech excels is music playback and audio quality. The system's knob-based selection system is ideally suited to browsing large media libraries on connected iPods and USB devices. When connected to an iPod, it sorts music by Artist, Album, Genre, and so on. However, when used with a USB mass storage device, the Acura sorts the music by folder. Bluetooth audio streaming is also included as an audio source, as is XM satellite radio--which is used to provide the Acura's traffic and weather data--and a six disc CD/DVD Audio changer.
Whatever the source, audio is pumped through a 10-speaker ELS audio system with Dolby Pro Logic II decoding. This is a system that can best be described as strong. Audio is characterized by solid bass response is that isn't too boomy with a flat EQ curve, yet is full enough to be felt in your backside at moderate to high volumes. Mids and highs are clearly reproduced without being overpowered. As far as $40,000 rolling audio rigs go, the TSX and its ELS system are among the best on the road.
Under the hood
We were lucky enough to have tested the 2.4-liter TSX with a fantastic six-speed manual transmission. The TSX V-6 isn't available with that transmission. It's only available with a five-speed automatic transmission that is always in too high a gear in normal mode and too low a gear in sport. Fortunately, there are steering wheel mounted shift paddles for those times when you need a little more control over your revs.
Power is sent through this transmission to the front wheels. Before you go rolling your eyes at front wheel drive, remember that Honda (and by extension Acura) makes some of the best handling FWD cars on the market. The TSX is no exception. While slight torque steer is evident during fast starts, once you get the TSX moving, the handling is rather good. The toss-able sedan is eager to change direction at the flick of the steering wheel and goes where you point it as long as you stay within its generous performance envelope. However, push the TSX too hard and it'll push back with predictable understeer.
The TSX dances so well because of her sturdy legs. Although a bit on the firm side of what's acceptable for a luxury sedan, the TSX's ride doesn't seem harsh or intolerable. Sure, you'll feel the potholes and particularly rough expansion joints, but you'll also get a good feel of the rest of the road, which translates into a fun and involved ride. High-quality sound deadening keeps road noise from being too much of an issue.
So how does the TSX V-6 stack up to the competition?
Overall, we really like the TSX's increased power. The TSX V-6 accelerates quietly, confidently, and without drama when you want it to, and it can put a satisfied grin on your face with its deep exhaust note and nimble handling. The suspension is sprung a bit firm for a luxury car aimed at junior executives, but not so much that it is jarringly uncomfortable or boy-racerish. However, the TSX V-6 can only be had with the mushbox automatic transmission, where the four-banger can be had with a fantastic six-speed manual transmission. The dramatic gains in power also come with a small reduction in fuel economy, which will have the greenies shaking their heads. The result is a wash, resulting in a nearly identical performance score for the V-6 model.
Meanwhile, the cabin tech package is also a mixed bag. While the TSX with technology package earns a high comfort score thanks to a fantastic sounding ELS premium audio system and manages to check a lot of the right boxes for a tech car (navigation, Bluetooth, USB-iPod connectivity, traffic, and so on), the physical and virtual interfaces are ugly, poorly organized, and difficult to use at speed. Acura's cabin tech interface is approaching a decade old at this point and it certainly looks the part. If Acura truly wants to compete with Lexus, BMW, Audi, Ford, and GM, it's going to need a serious interface overhaul soon.