Remember the ’86 Acura Legend Coupe, the definition of elegant muscle? Or how about the ’97 Integra Type R, the weekend racer you couldn’t break? These were Acuras that inspired passion, joy, and a special place burned into my long-term memory. Even though it’s been 24 and 12 years ago respectively since I drove these high points for Honda’s luxury brand, I remember them like it was yesterday. In contrast, I drove a TSX V6 a mere three days ago, and already my primary remaining impression of it is a longing for those Acuras of yesteryear. And my memory isn’t even that bad.
I’ve always liked Acuras. At least the idea of them. I don’t demand rear-wheel drive and V8s in my sport luxury cars. I appreciate the Honda work ethic, attention to detail and sense of assurance. The difficulty is, if you like them, you go to the dealership and wonder where they are. The TSX V6 is the perfect example. It’s a Honda Accord with a pretentious snout and three-times the buttons.
The interior is Steve Jobs personal Hell. Every necessary button comes with an average of four attendants. I stopped counting at five thousand.Things look very nice inside, in the current black and silver style, but nothing generates a ‘wow’. Nothing generates a ‘where’ or ‘what’ either, so I shouldn’t complain.
Ergonomically, everything is pretty much at or near where you’d guess it would be. Every switch and knob feels firm but pliable, like a good assistant or yoga trainer. Which is what luxury’s all about in the end.
Based on the European Honda Accord, the TSX exterior design is more crisp than its underlings. Cues like the hip crease are tense and sophisticated, but overall Acura’s design language has a limited vocabulary. There is not enough to give this car – the whole line, really – distinction. There is nothing terribly wrong with the TSX, it’s just not as attractive as, well, everything else in the class (the Lexus ES being the only possible exception.)
On that pretentious snout rests the Acura crest, a stylized caliper, signifying the company’s devotion to engineering. It is rightly placed over the hood. This is where the discipline shows. The V6 is new for 2010, offering the TSX’s first-ever step up from the four-cylinder. The 24-valve, single overhead cam with variable valve timing puts out 280 horses and 254 pound feet of torque. This is not insubstantial. The engine revs freely, effortlessly and on an easy to understand path. And there’s no shortage of grunt, despite the 3700 pounds.
The five-speed automatic transmission is equally attentive. As opposed to many competitors, this one is a worthy dance partner, never falling behind or stepping on the wrong cog. Downshifts were on time and correct, without the three-blind-mice effect, bumping around in search of the right gear. The automatic clipped to the four-cylinder actually achieves better gas mileage than the manual.
The V6 also comes with enhanced steering, which feels like they added a couple of clock weights to the standard electronic set up. The result is more satisfying than the over-juiced wheel in the base TSX. It is not better, just heavier. Heavier has a shorter learning curve which makes me wonder if I’d get used to the lighter settings, adapt my driving, and not care after a while.
One thing is certain: the brakes aren’t stopping potential buyers in their tracks. They are simply not as good as most of the competition. While not unsafe, they lack the precise feeling and sheer stopping power this drivetrain deserves.
The fact that the suspension is decent makes the inferior brakes even more disappointing. The car’s roll is minimal, keeping you fairly flat, without making your fillings fly out. The car is waggle free. Combined with the frictionless engine and alert tranny, the TSX is hardly short on fun.
But neither are the Audi A4, BMW 3, Mercedes C, Infinity G, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, Volvo S80 . . . All of which have more personality in one department or another. The TSX is a conservative entry in a broad market segment. So while the car is not bad, it fails to stand out against a dozen direct competitors. And I’m probably forgetting some . . . Oh, right, the V6 Honda Accord, this car’s fraternal twin.
The suspension is assembled from the same components (albeit a tad softer.) The engine lacks a mere eight horsepower, though for that compromise your gas mileage climbs by two (city/highway average.) Though nearly identical in exterior measurements, the Accord offers six more cubic feet of cabin space. It might not be of the useful variety, but that’s not the point. It’s eight grand less (our tester stickered at $38,881) and, in many respects, it’s better.
The TSX’s luxury appointments are just that: appointments. The guts are too similar and style too tame. If you’re fond of Hondas and have more money than you used too, buy a V6 Accord, swap out the tires for a stickier set and donate the remaining six and a half Gs to your favorite charity. You’ll be better off, the world will be better off and maybe, in the long run, it’ll help make Acura better. Till then, thanks for the memories.