Evaluating the Canadian-designed, built and sold Acura CSX without mentioning the Honda Civic is no easy task. (See?) Comparisons are so tempting, namely because the latter is an excellent car in its own right. The feeling’s mutual. Honda of Japan loved the Acura CSX so much that it served as a template for the JDM Civic. And why not? The CSX delivers an excellent compact luxury package without the reliability issues bedeviling certain (cough German cough) imports. Said otherwise, the CSX is the penny-pinching—I mean, thinking man’s luxury compact.
Seen from afar, you’d be forgiven for thinking the CSX and the Civic ARE the same car. Given its resemblance to its platform mate, the CSX is a perfect spiritual successor to the Civic EL of yore. My tester’s CSX’s exterior upgrades included chrome wheels and door handles, Acura rims, double exhaust and a re-styled front fascia with the all-important Acura badge. Fortunately for the CSX, the humble Civic’s rakish styling plays well even in the semi-luxury market, giving the car a sporty stance without reducing interior space
The donor Civic’s good genes are also apparent across the interior. Acura preserves the Civic’s futuristic double-decker dashboard and small, deep steering. (Honda drivers who don’t get the whole Star Wars thing need not apply.) On the list of what feels the same: the shifter, parking brake, arm rests, steering, thigh support, and storage areas. Get the idea? The major differences are easy to spot. The Acura’s manumatic comes with flimsy, thin paddles mounted on the steering column. Though crisp and responsive, they feel cheap and demand hand placement at exactly nine and three.
Acura swapped-out the Civic’s plain Jane HVAC set-up for an all-controlling screen and voice-activated satellite navigation, which dominates the minimalist instrument panel. Gloved Canadians may curse the unit’s Chicklet-sized buttons, but they’re sensibly-placed, suitably smooth operators. The Acura’s leather front seats are heated for cold Canadian cabooses. The CSX’s rear seats are spacious; easily as comfortable and commodious as the ones found in the previous generation Accord. Provided you have no more than two car chairs in the rear, the CSX is the Goldilocks of family cars.
The CSX is blessed with a 2.0-liter I4 good for 155 HP. RSX owners know this engine well; the mini-mill revs smoothly operates in tight harmony with the automatic transmission— obviating the need for those cheesy paddles. That said, the wheel-mounted cog swappers are quite satisfying, with very little delay between tap (of the finger) to blip (of the engine) to take-off. Though adequately refined and propelled, the CSX’s accelerative performance isn’t class leading– not by a long shot. The MINI Cooper, Volvo C30, BMW 128i and Audi A3 2.0T all have it outgunned. Not to mention the similarly-priced Civic SI. D’oh!
On the road, the CSX’s chassis’ tuning is the automotive equivalent of the Missouri compromise. The ride’s too harsh for the Lexus crowd, and too soft for the BMW crowd. But it works (for a while). The CSX doesn’t mask any of the road’s imperfections, but does a capable job of reducing most of them to the level of minor nuisance.
Put the CSX through its paces at a normal speed and you’d never think it’s really an econobox wearing a silk suit. There isn’t enough torque or power to make the drive wheels matter. The CSX offers up a healthy dose of sportiness, carving into turns quite happily and with minimal body roll when driven reasonably. Leave the realm of reasonableness (in pursuit of that VTEC cam switchover, perhaps) and the car will betray its roots faster than Pamela Anderson on safari. The unrelenting understeer will make one pine for the better-tuned Si. For a comparable experience, the CSX is only slightly less crisp than the Mazda3/Volvo S40 siblings. That is to say it’s excellent for its price point, but not a selling point.
Given Acura’s failures to follow Lexus and Infiniti up the food-chain, Honda can take the Acura CSX as its consolation prize. By steadfastly refusing to ante-up and offer purpose-built luxury cars with V8’s, Acura’s U.S. sales have been evaporated. Now, Honda finds itself with an excellent, fuel-sipping luxury car built in the NAFTA zone ready to go stateside with minimal delay.
At only a $7k mark-up over a regular Civic, given its appointments, the CSX represents tremendous value. In a time of ballooning gas prices and shrinking wallets, it may be just what the doctor ordered to restore Acura’s sagging U.S. sales. Canadians have made whatever Civic-variant Acura the hottest seller for the premium brand since the days of the EL. Whether the CSX will ever go stateside, though, depends on Honda’s ever-changing aspirations for its luxury brand. But I can’t see it doing any more damage to a brand that never moved beyond “mid-luxury” in the first place.