Badge engineering is the bane of the pistonhead’s existence. Or is it? Actually, bad badge engineering is the pistonhead’s pariah. Most adventures in grille-swapping produce soulless cash grabs like the Mercury Monterey and Chrysler Aspen. But some automakers “leverage synergies” in such a way as to respect– dare I say advance– the identities of the brands involved, and produce a genuine bargain. Case in point: the Acura TSX.
The Acura TSX is nothing more than a Euro-market Honda Accord Type-S with the Acura calipers affixed to its grille, trunk lid and steering wheel hub. It’s badgineering at its best/worst. But as I threaded my test TSX through the Oakland hills, snicking its six-speed with thumb-and-forefinger flicks, teasing the magnificent motor’s 7100 rpm redline, the car’s quiet urgency quelled any bitching about bloodlines.
Stylistically, the TSX is all Acura. Parked next to its step-up siblings, the Japanese uber brand’s family resemblance is unmistakable. The TSX stares you down with the same squinty, clenched visage as the TL. It sports similarly crisp, wedgy bodywork. Compare this sensual sheetmetal sleight of hand to Mercury’s efforts, where the products wear varying expressions of surprise (Montego), malice (Milan), and torpidity (Grand Marquis), loosely united by their splashy waterfall grilles.
Most badge jobs stumble fatally at the second hurdle; they try to cover their trailer trash genetics with miserly applications of upmarket switchgear and gussied up dashboards. The TSX’ Euro Accord’s cabin shares virtually nothing with its cheaper, chubbier U.S.-spec cousin. Thanks to the TSX’ shorter wheelbase and narrower track, it offers a far cozier and more intimate workspace than the Accord.
Perched atop hip-hugging seats, TSX pilots survey a lean, understated instrument panel rendered in pliable polymers. A narrow ribbon of aluminum highlights its contours, flowing seductively from one door panel to the other. The TSX’ cabin appeals to both Type A and B personalities; anal retentives will marvel at the budget luxury ($28k msrp) while slackers will get off on the svelte surface grains and subtle switch clicks.
Bargain pricing relieves the TSX of any obligation to drive as well as a BMW 3-Series. Which is just as well, as it doesn’t. Without turning a wheel, the TSX’ front wheel-drive configuration cedes the dynamic game to BMW. Speed demons would also do well to remember that the TSX is built on an Accord Type-S, not a Type-R.
That said, the TSX’ road manners are not without merit or, shall we say, “fun.” Most Hondas and Acuras are “low-fat” cars: poised, light on their feet, breezily responsive to control inputs. The TSX expresses these familial genes. But it also turns the screws down just a bit tighter, while dialing up refinement. The result is more reassuring than it is involving, but the TSX’s switchback savvy is undeniable.
Much of the TSX’ confident nature stems from its steering. While it can’t match the 3-Series’ pointiness or tactility, the TSX’ tiller is quick and expertly-weighted with virtually no slop through the bends. There’s also no torque steer to challenge directional stability. Why should there be, with no torque?
Gutless, rev-happy fours are another Acura hallmark, established by two decades of Integratude and RSXedness. The TSX’ 2.4-liter mill is muffled and refined to anonymity at everyday revs. Less wonderfully, it never feels as strong as its 7.2 second zero to 60mph time suggests. Some adrenal adventurers will enjoy reaching for the 7000 rpm power peak; others will wonder why they didn’t try to swing the payments on a V6 TL.
Never mind. Who needs torque when you’ve got the sweetest shifter this side of a Honda S2000? The TSX’ interface’s action is as oily as a Buick salesman and as precise as a Leicaflex. No rival– front-wheel-drive or otherwise– plays snick-or-treat like this transplanted Honda. (Anyone opting for the optional automatic should know that the little “D” stands for “dull”).
And speaking of sensible, the TSX’ lineage guarantees a bounty of prosaic pleasures. Spacious, well-lined trunk? Check. Prudent fuel economy? Check. Reliability? Red dot at the ready. Talk about a peace [of mind] Accord…
Fortunately for Acura, the company’s badgineers enjoy a unique advantage over Detroit’s denizens: you can’t diss the heritage of a brand that doesn’t have any. That said, while Acura may not struggle with the historical baggage weighing down Lincoln, Mercury, Chrysler, Saturn and other platform pimpmeisters, it still lives or dies by its products’ inherent appeal. Accord or no, the TSX ticks all the right mass-market boxes.
So, Detroit boffins and beancounters, repeat after Acura: “I will only capitalize on overseas products IF I can maintain stylistic and tactile continuity to the brand for which it stands. I will not seek solely to enlarge my brand’s lineup, but to enrich it.” In other words, the TSX is proof positive that badge engineering needn’t be a bilious bean counting bonanza. Hey, who knew?