I was one of the many automotive journalists who were rather smitten with the Acura TSX sport sedan when it first debuted as a 2004 model. It sort of broke new ground in what’s known as the entry luxury segment, with class-leading technology and comfort built into a very trim package.
Almost as important as what it had beneath its sheet metal was what it didn’t have. Instead of a V6 engine (considered paramount for cars in its price range), the TSX boasted a smaller — yet very capable — inline four cylinder engine. Acura’s parent company Honda is known for its silky-smooth fours, so the luxury aura wasn’t affected too much by this minimalistic engine choice.
It was kind of refreshing to experience Acura’s less-is-more propulsion choice in this tidy sedan, especially when mated to a wonderful 6-speed manual transmission, which was a no-cost option in place of the 5-speed automatic. American TSX buyers also got to feel rather continental on the road, as this car is essentially what European buyers get when they choose a Honda Accord. (The larger Accord sold here is built specifically for the American market.)
After five years essentially unchanged, Acura brought out a redesigned TSX last year, slightly larger but still with the 2.4 liter four cylinder engine that had always propelled the car. There were a few more horsepower for a total of 205, but otherwise the car felt the same. Further raves ensued from the automotive press, but Acura had an additional trick up its sleeve.
With a nice, powerful V6 engine already used in their larger models, someone upstairs at the company decided that it might be time for the smallest car in the Acura line to get an option for more grunt. So for 2010, the TSX is now available with a 3.5 liter V6 packing a solid 280 horsepower.
To be honest, I think there were some of us who felt a little betrayed. The TSX has always been a great example of the “do more with less” philosophy, and it also seemed like such a sensible choice in terms of consumption. Only the Saab brand (recently unloaded by General Motors in their reorganization) offered true luxury with four cylinder power in addition to the baby Acura.
But, Acura wants to sell as many cars as it can, and someone must have learned that there were potential buyers who rejected the TSX because of its smaller engine. So the TSX V6 was born. Not to worry if you prefer the idea of the four cylinder version, as the new model is supplemental to the line. (You can even still get the 6-speed manual with the base engine, though the V6 is automatic-only.)
The TSX is really transformed with the extra two cylinders and 75 additional horsepower. From the first twist of the key, the silky growl that only a V6 can produce taunts the driver to dip the accelerator pedal a little deeper. In reality, you can actually use less throttle, as the big engine effortlessly gets the car up to speed post haste. Fuel economy numbers also suggest that the V6 doesn’t have to work quite as hard as the four, so mileage doesn’t drop all that much.
In city driving, the 2.4 engine with automatic transmission is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, and 30 on the highway for a combined rating of 24 by the EPA. The V6 checks in at 18 city and 27 highway for a combined number of 21. So, in theory, the larger engine extracts a 3 mpg penalty in every government measurement. Both engines require premium unleaded gasoline, according to Acura.
Some may feel that the extra horsepower and torque of the V6 are worth the extra expense of filling up a little more often, as well as the extra tariff on the window sticker. Base price for the 2.4 model is $29,310 while the V6 starts at $34,850, though there’s a little more equipment on the V6 besides just the engine.
Part of that equipment is an upgraded tire and wheel package that helps transform the TSX into a different kind of car. No more waiting for the engine to spin up to make power; with the V6 it’s right there, right now. The suspension is a little firmer, and there’s a bit more grip from the 18” tires. Essentially, the TSX now feels like a sort of baby TL, Acura’s larger sedan which shares the V6 engine.
While I really enjoyed my time in the TSX V6, including a spirited trip down one of Southern California’s famous winding mountain roads, I’m not sure I’m convinced the larger engine is worth the extra money and fuel consumption. There’s just such a wonderful, almost simplistic feeling to the four cylinder model. It’s rather like the fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare might have been quicker in some ways, but eventually the tortoise won the race.
Anyone considering the Acura TSX would need to drive both models back-to-back to decide for themselves. Do you prefer the rather sedate but still capable inline four, or the more gutsy V6? In other words…tortoise…or hare?
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.