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Acura Impresses w/ Gizmos & Technology
By TOM VOELK / Special to KING 5 News

Video: Driving Northwest: Test driving the Acura TSX

Americans love their imported cars - just ask GM, Ford and Chrysler. Some buyers prefer Euro brands, and others lean toward Asia. Resorting to gross stereotypes, German cars offer terrific soul-stirring handling and road feel that enthusiasts savor. The Japanese? Reliability and high technology. Is it possible to put the two together? On paper the 2009 Acura TSX should offer the best of both worlds because for Europeans, it's their Honda Accord. That's right, the Accord that we get in the states is just too big for them, as is the Double Whopper with cheese, Venti Carmel Macchiato Frappachino, and Rush Limbaugh's ego.

If you remember, Acura was the first premium Japanese brand to set up shop in America. Lexus and Infiniti, with its rocks and trees ad campaign, came later. While Toyota and Nissan's upscale divisions have embraced performance concepts like V8 power and rear wheel drive, Acura has stuck with front drive when not using Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and their cylinder count limited to six. While there's something altruistic about squeezing more power out of fewer cylinders, Acura's marketing people most likely look enviously at rear drive Infinitis and Lexi, let alone BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac. So it's no surprise this Acura is a front driver with no option for all-wheel drive. Ultimately this is the Achilles heel of the TSX.

Everything about the TSX sheetmetal says sporty, even the great looking door handles. Certainly styling is objective but to my eye the TSX, with its cleaner more purposeful lines, has a more attractive body design than our Accord. The only controversy is the grille. Against the deep Vortex Pearl Blue paint, the shield-like air intake is quite the statement, doubling as a full length mirror in a pinch. It appears more comfortable on a body swathed in steel-like colors such as Palladium Metallic, Polished Metal Metallic, and Grigio Metallic. This opinion from a guy who could use Garanimals for Grown-ups.

Honda does engines very well and the TSX is no different. A smooth 2.4-liter 201 horse iVTEC inline 4-cylinder engine provides the motivation here. Pricing is the same whether you choose the crisp 6-speed manual that I'm testing or a 5-speed automatic with steering wheel paddle shifters for manual control. Acceleration is brisk. With the right foot heavy on the go pedal, the steering wheel will tug as a result of that darned front-wheel drive torque steer. If the TSX is like other Honda products, switching to the automatic gear box will eliminate a good deal of it. Want a diesel? Move to Europe. Over there TSX gets engine choices we don't, at least for now.

On the road, the second generation TSX feels more grown up now but it's less nimble in the corners. Gen one was fun and flingable, gen two is more what Acura may be interpreting as upscale. Fuel economy is better, even though the TSX is now larger. I'm averaging 25 mpg in mixed driving weighted more toward the highway side. Ride quality is firm; remember this is a sport sedan. Compared to the more expensive competition the steering is light and on-center feel is a little twitchy. Road-trippers take note - the cabin noise is on the higher side. Standard anti-lock brakes are average, after a few panic stop tests they begin to exhibit signs of fade. It is doubtful many drivers will autocross their TSX though.

TSX's interior is different than the Euro Accord. The cabin, which is larger now, has lots of buttons to learn and that aggressive Acura jet fighter cockpit look about it. Storage cubbies are well placed. Front leather chairs with side impact protection are standard, firm and supportive. The wheel tilts and telescopes and has even more buttons on it for voice activation and Blueooth phone connection. In fact this car practically has an entire Sharper Image store worth of gadgets installed in it. Priced at $32,060, my tester has the Technology Package. The voice activated satellite nav system can alert you to traffic problems, provide the weather forecast and should there be sunshine, find a Zagat rated restaurant with outdoor seating nearby. The same screen provides the image for a backup camera. While the user interface takes awhile to learn (and for some reason Honda voice activation doesn't like my silky tones) it's manageable and certainly not iDrive.

More tech? Stability control is always nice. The upgraded DVD Audio surround sound system is terrific and Acura includes XM satellite radio. Move between DVD audio and XM and you'll realize the compression that satellite radio uses to get all those channels streaming. Standard on all TSXs is a USB connection in the center console for full iPod integration and control using the big knob on the instrument panel. A little plug here - I expand the video reviews you watch here and put them on Apple's iTunes store for free. Yes, free! It's called Drive (just search for "car reviews" at the iTunes store). I tried playing one on the TSX screen but alas, only get the audio portion. And yes, I was parked.

If you're a family considering the TSX, bring the whole clan to check out the back seat. The outboard positions are very comfortable but don't provide a lot of foot room for my size 11s. The center position is raised up in the oh-so-sporty way so it's no surprise I hit my head on the headliner. Like I said, check it out.

While The TSX is bigger now it doesn't seem to apply to the usability of the trunk.

The outgoing TSX scored a 6 in the Costco Toilet Paper Test. The new one? The same. The toilet paper does not lie folks. America is denied the wagon version of this car so seat backs that split and fold are handy. FYI, America's Accord does not get the split feature, just the folding ability.

Gripes? I prefer touch screens to Acura's slower knob based interface. Acura throws a lot of tech into their cars but doesn't offer keyless ignition option. Heck, I can get that on an $18,000 Suzuki SX4. And while other materials look and feel great, you'll know the interior door handle latch is plastic every time you leave the car.

This Acura impresses with its gizmos and features. In that way it does the Japanese side of the TSX very well. However, drivers who demand top notch German grade handling won't be satisfied with the front-wheel drive chassis dynamics. If you're looking for a budget Bimmer, sorry this isn't it. Acura just doesn't execute that balance between exceptional handling and comfort the way BMW, Mercedes and Infiniti do. Still, the TSX is a good value which the others can't match. Honda fans who find the new Accord too large have an option with the TSX and they don't have to move across the pond to get it.


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