Detroit has a long, sad history of self-delusion when comparing its cars to premium imports. Could you tell the difference between the Ford Granada and the Mercedes-Benz 280SE? Murilee’s take: people on ‘ludes should not drive. But what choice does Buick have? The Regal Turbo I reviewed a few weeks ago lists for $35,185. So they’d prefer that people not compare it to the Sonata 2.0T. Rather, the Acura TSX. And so, ever the agreeable reviewer, I did.
The first-generation Acura TSX lacked the striking good looks of the half-size-larger TL, but it was cleanly styled and wasn’t an unattractive car. The current TSX, with its chrome beak, chunky wheel openings, and fussy detailing? The surprisingly tasteful Buick scores an easy win here. The situation is much the same inside the two cars. The Acura’s cabin, with a faux tech vibe, generally seems less solid and more plasticky (though the door panels are nicely upholstered).
Acuras no longer have remarkably low instrument panels, but visibility from the TSX’s driver’s seat remains at least as good as in the competition. The windshield has a reasonable rake, and its pillars aren’t overly thick. The rear seat is tight and too close to the floor, but this is typical of the class. One place Acuras continue to shine: the front seats are aggressively bolstered yet are also very comfortable. Even though the Buick’s buckets benefit from four-way power lumbar adjustments (compared to two-way manual), they don’t compare.
For the Regal’s uplevel engine, Buick opted for a 220-horsepower turbocharged four rather than a V6. Rumor once had it that the second-generation TSX would similarly receive the RDX’s 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter four. But it did not. Instead, in its second model year it gained the TL’s 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. A V6 might not be fashionable, but it’s simply better. Especially this one. Responses are stronger and more immediate than with any turbo four, and a lusty soundtrack rivaled by few other sixes (much less any four) encourages frequent trips to the 6,800 rpm redline. Unfortunately, Acura’s excellent six-speed manual is not an option with the V6. The mandatory automatic transmission has an industry-trailing five ratios, but with so much engine to work with and an aggressive “sport” mode this isn’t a major disadvantage. Up two cylinders and down a ratio, the TSX V6’s fuel economy should suffer. But according to the EPA it slightly outpoints the Buick, 19/28 vs. 18/28.
Enthusiasts didn’t often buy the first-generation TSX because of how quickly it accelerated. Rather, they prized its handling. The current TSX has a smaller, sportier steering wheel than GM seems willing to fit to ANY of its cars, much less a Buick. Partly as a result, the TSX’s steering initially feels reassuringly firm and aggressively quick. But it’s all downhill afterwards. Despite its heft, the electric-assist steering isn’t communicative. Partly because 62 percent of the car’s 3,680 pounds reside over the front wheels, understeer arrives early and builds rapidly. Suspension tuning is supposedly firmer than in the base TSX, but it’s still considerably softer than in a TL SH-AWD. So there’s also quite a bit of lean in hard turns. The first-generation car’s tight, precise feel is more present in the Buick.
Though there’s still some tire noise on concrete, the TSX V6 is quieter inside than past Acuras. The quality of the noise that intrudes generally supports the premium branding—the TSX sounds more upscale than the Regal. But, while the TSX V6 filters out pavement irregularities better than the fidgety TL SH-AWD, the Regal rides better still, especially over larger bumps.
Acura charges dearly for the V6: it lists for $36,010. The Technology Package (nav, upgraded audio) adds another $3,100. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool indicates that, when both cars are similarly equipped, the Buick Regal Turbo lists for about $5,500 less—nearly the same amount the V6 and its attendant plus-one wheels add to the Acura’s price. This is somewhat justified, as the Regal’s acceleration falls closer to that of the four-pot TSX.
Nevertheless, the V6, nice as it is, costs too much. Another $3,705 will get you into an Acura TL SH-AWD. The larger sedan’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and firmer suspension much more effectively transfer the V6’s power to the pavement and induce grins on the driver’s face. And, if you want a manual, one is offered. For enthusiasts, the TL SH-AWD is the clear choice among Acura’s sedans. For non-enthusiasts, what’s the point of the V6? Same as in the Accord and Camry, I suppose. But American drivers increasingly realize they don’t need the extra cylinders to safely merge onto the freeway.
Ultimately, no mind-altering substances were needed to legitimately compare the new Regal to the Acura TSX. The latter feels stronger and more responsive with its optional V6, but the Buick is priced against the four. The Acura also has better front seats and quicker steering, but in just about every other area the Buick does at least as well, and often better. Most notably, the Regal handles more precisely, rides with more composure, feels more solid, and is easier on the eyes.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t only reflect how good a job GM did with the Regal. Acura’s strategy over the past two decades has been to take whatever qualities led people to buy its cars—and eliminate them. The Integra and Legend nameplates? Gone. Tasteful styling? Communicative steering? Faultless ergonomics? Gone, gone, gone. The glorious V6 and supportive front seats remain, but for how much longer? If Acura had instead built on its early successes, the target posed by the TSX would have been higher.
Suburban Acura in Farmington Hills, MI, provided the car. They can be reached at 248-427-5700.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.