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2011 Acura TSX V6 sacrifices twisties for long-haul cruising

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Acura unveiled the new TSX last year, it was the second model after the RL to get the controversial shield grille, and in the interim we've seen the new proboscis affixed to the rest of the automaker's lineup, from the MDX to the all-new ZDX crossover. Although the new nose has endured its fair share of criticism, a quick glimpse at Acura sales shows the buying public isn't as adverse to the rhinoplasty and, prior to the late 2008 economic collapse, TSX sales have grown over the prior year. Since then, the drop-off has been consistent with the market, and for the first time in years, people are actually talking about Acura styling rather than being wholly unaware of its existence.

Aside from The Shield, the only visual changes on the V6 model are the rear deck-lid badge, an 18-inch wheel package and a slightly larger lower air intake under the front bumper to help cool the larger engine.

The interior carries over from the standard four-cylinder model, which, regardless of what you think of the outside, is largely a good thing. The TSX has the same great seats found in other Hondas and Acuras, making up for the lack of adjustments with plenty of lateral and leg support.

The dashboard is well laid out with independent controls in the center cluster for the audio and navigation system. Acura's control knob system was definitely superior to BMW's iDrive and Audi's MMI when it debuted several years ago. However, the user interface is starting to get long in the tooth both visually and functionally. Newer designs from Ford, BMW and Audi have higher resolution screens and easier to navigate menu structures, but it still serves the purpose and serves it well.

While four-pot variant is available with a six-speed manual gearbox, the six-cylinder model only comes with an automatic. Unlike the Buick LaCrosse, whose lever is too low and too far back, the shift lever is well forward on the console in the same position as the manual unit and falls easily to hand. For those who still want to manage their own ratios, Acura has fitted wheel-mounted paddles with the appropriate left-down, right-up arrangement.

Honda has a fantastic all-wheel drive system in every other model, so why isn't it available on the TSX?
If there's one interior annoyance, it's the automatic locking mechanism. The doors of most contemporary cars either unlock when you put the car in park or when you pull the door handle. With the Acura (and Hondas, for that matter), only the driver's door unlocks, leaving the rest of the occupants to manually fumble with the door switches before extricating themselves.

The V6 in the TSX is the same 3.5-liter unit found in the base TL, meaning 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque are being channeled to the front wheels. Unsurprisingly, the 50 percent bump in torque is immediately noticeable. Unfortunately, the mantra that torque is good and more torque is better is largely targeted at rear-wheel-drive cars, or at least front drivers that know what to do with it. Sadly, the TSX doesn't seem to fit into that category. At the launch event for the TSX V6, Acura representatives identified the BMW 335i, Lexus IS350 and Audi A4 3.2 as the chief competitors for this new model. Leaving the rear-wheel-drive Bimmer and Lexus out of the mix, we've got to focus on the the A4 – although it's no longer available in the U.S. with a V6. It did, however, come equipped with standard quattro all-wheel drive last year. Which begs the question: Honda has a fantastic torque vectoring all-wheel drive system in every other model in its lineup, so why isn't it available on the TSX? This omission is truly unfortunate.

Put the TSX into Drive or Sport and the first thing that happens when you touch the gas pedal is a strong tug to the right on the steering wheel. On most surfaces, this is followed by a squeal from the front tires even with very moderate throttle application. While Acura has equipped the TSX V6 with a larger wheel and tire package, it seems to be one geared more toward long tread life than actual grip. A 40-percent bump in power and 50-percent increase in torque applied through the same wheels expected to manage directional control requires more than just a plus-one tire/wheel sizing. The front geometry of the TSX needs a significant re-work if it's expected to be responsible for this work-load – and some grippier rubber would be at the top of our mod list.

On the other hand, when merging onto the freeway or making a pass on a two-lane road, the increased power is welcome. The extra thrust is easily accessible with a tap of the left paddle and a squeeze of the throttle, although the transmission's responses could be quicker. Anticipating acceleration events with an early down shift helps mitigate the laggard responses, but we're hoping that when Acura rolls out its new six-speed gearbox in 2011, the TSX is one of the first recipients.

One of the few dynamic criticisms of the four-cylinder model was odd steering feel, particularly just off center, where the TSX exhibited a bit of a dead spot. The V6 retains the same electric power-assisted steering system as the four, but it's been re-calibrated and feels notably tighter. The overall sensation of the steering is improved, although the extra weight on the front wheels means the car doesn't feel as nimble as its four-banger sibling. Pushed hard into corners, the V6 exhibits considerable understeer, but it shines rolling down the highway. Cruising along on the open road, the V6 feels utterly relaxed, yet ready to provide ample thrust when needed.

Even with the V6, the TSX still gets pretty respectable fuel efficiency numbers. The EPA calls it at 18 mpg city and 27 highway. In our testing we saw 22 mpg in mixed driving, about what we'd expect in the segment. Our test unit was equipped with the Technology package, bringing with it the navigation system and landing the sticker price at $38,760, including destination – in the ball park with the Lexus and several thousand dollars less than the Germans with similar equipment.

Acura calls the TSX V6 the performance model and while it certainly offers improved acceleration, it feels far less sporty than its little brother. It loses much of the light-on-its-feet-feel of earlier TSXs and seems to want to be a TL when it grows up. Rather than call this the performance edition, in reality, it's another luxo-cruiser. If your commute involves traversing some twisty roads between home and office, the four-cylinder is a better choice. On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time on the highway, the V6 shines as long as you don't gun it until the on-ramp straightens out. But for our money, we'd stick to four cylinders and a manual gearbox.


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