Automotive journalists love wagons because they mix sport sedan handling with the practical interior space of an SUV. It comes as a great surprise to us that there are not more wagons available. But Acura just upped the count by one with its 2011 TSX Sport Wagon.
As the model name suggests, this car is based on Acura's TSX sedan, using the same engine and cabin tech. But Acura added the wagon format to the model line, keeping its five-seat capacity but adding a spacious cargo area. Fold down the rear seats, and the cargo area gains considerable length.
Following the TSX sedan's recent styling update, the TSX Sport Wagon gets the same "Transformers"-like grille and angular headlight openings, the front of the car showing a mecha face straight out of Japanimation. In creating the rear hatchback, Acura designers did an excellent job seamlessly blending it with the sedan front, and adding some attractive curvature along the roofline.
With its tech package, the TSX Sport Wagon features very modern navigation, phone, and stereo systems. Acura fits a hard drive into the dashboard to store maps for the navigation system as well as reserving some space for music storage. The result is a system that responds quickly to user input, and quickly recalculates routes after a missed turn.
Acura's interface controller works well, but doesn't help the car's luxury image.
Sitting below the car's LCD is the familiar Acura interface controller, a protruding joystick/dial that, though ugly, is very usable. Past Acura models have an addiction to buttons across their dashboards, but the TSX Sport Wagon shows an honest commitment to cut down.
The onscreen interface is a refreshing change from days of old. Although it uses a similar paradigm, the look is much nicer than on the previous generation, which can still be seen in the Acura RL. Instead of gray buttons with jagged lines, the new interface shows higher-resolution graphics with a more pleasing color scheme.
Although the navigation system's maps have a higher resolution, they are still 2D-only, with no perspective view or 3D elements. Under route guidance, the system does not read out street names, either, but traffic data is incorporated into the system, and it will attempt to keep you clear of traffic jams.
Some particularly nice things about the navigation system are the Zagat restaurant guide included with the points-of-interest database and the listing of scenic routes throughout the country. Both of these features make the TSX Sport Wagon an excellent road trip car. Weather data is also a useful feature.
The Bluetooth phone system is full-featured, downloading a paired phone's contact list and making it possible to dial by name with the voice command system. And another advanced feature Acura has been rolling out in its various models is what it calls Song By Voice, a feature that lets you request music from a paired iPod or the car's own hard drive by artist, album, or song name. This feature works well and had no trouble with a difficult artist name such as Blitzen Trapper.
Acura's new voice command allows music requests by song, artist, and album name.
Along with hard-drive storage and iPod connectivity, the stereo also offers satellite radio and Bluetooth audio streaming. But the two former audio sources offer the best indexing and voice command capabilities. The car's disc player also reads DVDs.
The TSX Sport Wagon, with the tech package, also gets Acura's ELS audio system, which includes a 360-watt amp and eight speakers. This system produces a rich sound and is capable of delicate high frequencies, such as acoustic guitar strumming or satisfying bass. Cranking up both the subwoofer and the bass levels delivers chest-thumping sound.
Eager to run
The engine, a 2.4-liter four cylinder, is less cause for chest thumping. With 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, it doesn't offer much in the way of bragging rights, but from behind the wheel it feels surprisingly eager. Put the five-speed automatic transmission in Drive, and it feels like the brakes can barely hold the TSX Sport Wagon back.
Beyond Acura's i-VTEC variable valve timing, this is not a technically advanced engine. There is no direct injection or turbocharger, but it offers reasonably efficient operation and no-fuss acceleration. The EPA rates it at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, not exactly reaching for the stars but within most drivers' expectations.
This engine feels like a V-6, given the TSX Sport Wagon's get up and go.
Acura has just begun to increase gears in its other models, but the TSX Sport Wagon lags behind the pack with its five-speed automatic. With the engine running above 3,000rpm at freeway speeds, the car could use a sixth gear. This transmission features Sport and Manual modes along with standard Drive mode. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel make for easy manual shifting.
In keeping with its model name, the TSX Sport Wagon does drive with sporty flair, but it falls short of hard-core performance. Casual drivers will enjoy its acceleration and the transmission's readiness to downshift under braking while in Sport mode. Manual shifting turns in satisfying gear changes that are quick enough to keep the power up while cornering.
As one advanced piece of performance tech, the TSX Sport Wagon uses an electric-power-steering unit, making for uninterrupted power assist no matter at what speed the engine is running. Acura tunes this steering unit exceptionally well, giving it plenty of road feel and tight response.
The suspension is tuned to a compromise between comfort and sporting capability. Never soft, the suspension damps out bumps reasonably and never suffers from oscillation. When putting the TSX Sport Wagon into a corner at speed, the suspension allows a limited amount of body roll.
The 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon's cabin tech, with its hard-drive-based navigation, advanced voice command, and ELS audio system, earns the car an excellent score for electronics. The car offers a full range of audio sources and external data including traffic and weather.
The performance tech is mostly average, although we do like how well the engine and suspension are tuned. The car earns extra credit for just being easily drivable. But its electronic-power-steering unit is the most advanced feature when it comes to driving gear.
The electronics interface is very refreshing, especially after having recently tested the Acura RL. Acura still overdoes it with the buttons. The exterior aesthetics are quite nice, although the car falls short of stunning. Its wagon body style is what really earns it design points.
|Model||2011 Acura TSX|
|Powertrain||2.4-liter four cylinder, five-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||24.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD/DVD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||ELS 360-watt eight speaker audio system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$35,470|