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By DUNCAN HAIMERL, Courant Motoring Editor

The Acura TSX packs a big punch in a small package, and it mixes in some luxury items to make the journey more pleasurable.

But there are always comparisons with its so-called clone cousin, the Honda Accord - which is downright silly. The Acura is shorter, faster and cuter, so where is the cloning taking place. I hear that in Europe the TSX is sold as an Accord, but that doesn't count here in the United States.

It's like saying that I am shorter, faster and cuter than Arnold Schwarzenegger, so therefore I could be mistaken for Arnie on a movie set. Truth is, the only thing we have in common is our middle name, which is Alois.

The Acura's 200-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine performs flawlessly, especially when it is coupled with the six-speed manual transmission, whether it is negotiating the newly paved Capitol Avenue in Hartford or roaming the Northwest Hills in search of the perfect tag sale.

That's where the navigation system comes in handy; just print out a list of tag sales from the newspaper, then look up the addresses on the destination list.

Driving down the new road you have chosen from the navigation screen, you get instant response from the steering; just a nudge of the wheel can bring you around a curve. It's equally agile in downtown traffic or in parking lots, despite its unusually large 40-foot turning circle.

This is a new model from Acura for 2004, so the company paid special attention to the items that most concern the driver.

For example, the navigation system has an eight-inch screen, so you don't have to squint, and there's an information bar on top that gives you radio settings, time and dual-zone temperatures.

One cute feature is the pop-out door on the lower dash that reveals one of the 12-volt power sockets and what looks like an ashtray - except it is bright red and has a notice that says it is not an ashtray, so you can use it for coins or candy.

Standard 17-inch tires, traction control and stability control give you a sense of being in tune with the road, and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has 166 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.

The TSX is 188.3 inches long and 69.4 inches wide and has a curb weight of 3,241 pounds. The Honda Accord (U.S. version) is longer at 189.5 inches and wider at 71.5 inches, and, strangely enough, weighs less at 3,109 pounds.

Of course, the TSX's six-speed manual transmission might be heavier than the Accord's five-speed manual transmission.

Fuel economy is reasonable, 29 mpg on the highway and 21 in the city.

The 17.1-gallon fuel tank gives you a highway cruise range of 495.9 miles before the fuel is down to fumes.

And the TSX engine, at 200 horsepower, easily outclasses the Accord's 160 horsepower.

I'm not too happy with the TSX's 4.7-inch ground clearance; it doesn't go well with poorly done curbside entrances to stores and the like.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price on the TSX is $28,490, and all the features you need are standard, so the only extra would be the delivery charge of $500. Dealer invoice on the TSX is $25,967.

Because it is new and sought-after, dealers are basically getting the suggested retail price. Edmunds.com's True Market Value average selling price is $28,476, so with snappy negotiations you might save enough for a small family meal at a fast-food restaurant.
 
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