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"What time do you get off work?" my traveling companion wanted to know.

He wasn't talking to me. He was talking to our car, a 2004 Acura TSX test vehicle with a voice-recognition system for navigation, ventilation and audio controls.

"Set temperature to 86 degrees" came the system response, delivered in a curt female voice. Sure enough, the temperature setting on my companion's side of the car was automatically reset to 86 degrees.

"I don't think she likes you," I said, trying to stifle my laughter at his sudden heat wave.

Maybe the voice recognition system on Acura's new four door invites playful silliness. But much of the rest of the TSX is intriguing road machinery for shoppers looking for an entry-level luxury sedan.
A spring 2003 addition to Acura's lineup, the TSX ranks as the luxury brand's lowest-priced sedan with prices ranging from around $25,000 to $30,000.

The TSX slots just below the V6-powered Acura TL, which has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of just under $30,000.

Expected to sell in relatively low volumes of around 15,000 a year, the TSX is basically an Americanized version of the Honda Accord that's sold in Europe.

But the Accord there is different than the one we have, and the TSX's drivetrain, interior, features, tires and styling are modified further for American drivers.

Acura officials portray the TSX as a BMW 3-Series fighter. But I think savvy BMW fans will point out the TSX is front-drive, not rear-wheel drive as BMWs are, and the TSX comes only with a four-cylinder engine, not a six, as the 3-Series cars have. In addition, while rear styling on the TSX has some BMW similarity and is quite attractive, the front end of the TSX has the ho-hum Acura family styling that's not really as forceful as a BMW front end.

Still, I expect the Japan-built TSX to have the kind of quality that has put Acuras among the top brands and above BMW in annual J.D. Power and Associates quality studies.

And when shoppers compare all they get for the price in the TSX vis-à-vis other cars in the entry luxury category, it may be easier to eschew that BMW or even Mercedes-Benz nameplate.
Example: While the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine in the TSX may not sound like much competition for the 2.5-liter, inline six that's in the lowest-priced BMW 3-Series sedan, the 325i, the TSX powerplant puts out 200 horsepower. This compares with 184 horses in the 325i. The TSX's torque of 166 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm isn't quite as much as the 175 at 3,500 rpm in the 325i.

But the sporty, short-throw six-speed manual in the TSX makes getting the max out of the four cylinder a real joy, especially if a driver keeps the car in the higher revs.

Note the redline in the TSX tachometer is 7,100 rpm, and the TSX is the first Acura with drive-by-wire throttle control system.
The system combines with standard skid control and traction control to tailor the car's response to a driver's throttle pedal movements and incorporate driving conditions in the process. In the test car, the response and feedback was most comfortable -- and comforting -- during the test drive, and the fact the TSX is the first Acura with a bottom-hinged accelerator pedal -- the better to drive heel-and-toe -- added to the fun.

Another example of the effort to make the TSX special: The car comes standard with seats trimmed in an attractive perforated leather. Leather is optional -- and more than $1,400 -- on the base 325i sedan.

Heated front seats are standard in the TSX, too. They're optional -- for more than $600 -- on the Mercedes C230.

Too bad, though, that the front passenger seat in the TSX doesn't offer power adjustments, and I felt like I was riding a bit low to the floor in that seat.

Other standard items on the well-equipped TSX are Xenon High Intensity Discharge headlights for low beam driving (bi-Xenon lights are optional -- some $700 -- on the 325i) and power moonroof (which is part of an option package priced at some $1,600 on many Mercedes C-Class sedans).

The TSX trunk has an impressive 13 cubic feet of space and that's before you push down the rear seatbacks and slide long items inside to the passenger compartment. This compares with 12 cubic feet in the Mercedes C-Class sedans and 11 cubic feet in the 325i.

Now, if only something can be done about that Acura voice recognition nav system. I changed the female voice to a male's -- one of the settings provided in the system. But you know, that guy wasn't interested in getting together after work, either.

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