After the 2013 model year, the Acura TSX is set to meet its demise and with it goes a line of cars — starting with the Integra, followed by the RSX and ending with the TSX — that were very good studies in how to make a small car fun... along the lines of a Golf GTI or Civic Si.
Unfortunately, the “hot sedan” reigns over at Acura are now left solely in the hands of the ILX, a model which shares many sporty components with the TSX, but fails to combine them as successfully, and completely unsuccessfully if you select anything other than the 2.4 Dynamic trim package.
Yes, the TSX is bigger than those (it’s the Honda Accord in most markets, after all) but after recently testing the latest version, I’m nevertheless reminded of what made the smaller cars great.
The first thing is obvious; when I collected by tester, the stubby gear selector stood out like a beacon of driving fun. The six-speed manual is shared with the Civic Si, and it is one of the best in the game, second only, really, to the Mazda MX-5. The throw is short and positive, the slots well defined and the clutch just bity enough without scaring off manual-newbies.
Yes, it takes awhile to get used to the urgent pedal pick-up but once you do, you’ll be able to engage the pedal with little more than a flex of your big toe.
Whatever; all you have to know is that the driver/transmission interaction is spot-on, a calling card of what separates cars that have “driver engagement” as job #1 (the TSX, BMW 3 Series, VW GTI) from those that are simply “fun-to-drive” in small bursts (Chevy Sonic RS, Fiat 500).
Aspect #2 on the “driver engagement” scale is not the engine, as you may think—we’ll talk about that later—but more so the steering. Once again, Acura hits the nail on the head with the TSX, thanks to a direct rack, some real weight as opposed to an artificially-stiffened EPAS system (I’m looking at you, BMW) and a feel that eclipses that which is found in more expensive options like the Audi A4, for example. Plus, the TSX has a perfectly-sized leather-wrapped steering wheel to further encourage the driver to hold on tight and give it the beans.
The five-link rear suspension and wishbone front set-up, meanwhile, help show the chunky wheel to be less window-dressing, more “path to handling greatness.” Like a Golf GTI, you get that impression that tells you an FWD car shouldn’t feel this pointy and grippy, but it’s the truth. Remember: Honda has been doing FWD right since the beginning of time, and all that knowledge is not wasted on this car.
Of course, we must speak of the power on hand; that’s 201 hp and 172 lb-ft (170 if you select the auto; don’t) but you have to wring it out to ensure you make the most of the i-VTEC valve timing—peak power comes at a sky-high 7,000 RPM, peak torque 2,700 revs before that.
Of course, what this means is that the streetable TSX’s aural report comes closer to that of the TSX race cars making the rounds on the Canadian Touring Car circuit than a luxury-branded car should.
And you know what? Good for them. Good on Acura for having the minerals to give their entry into the mid-size luxo sedan a little more anger, a little more in-your-faceness than a 3 Series or C-Class.
Plus, all the necessary luxury pieces are here; wing-backed leather seats, an infotainment system that handles everything from climate to music with the twist/bump/press of a centrally-mounted control wheel and optional navigation.
Granted, it’s starting to look a little dated in here (especially when you consider what Ac’s doing with the RLX and MDX) but when a car compels you to focus so much on the driving, you tend to forget about the slight over-use of plastic on the dash or the digital clock face that appears to be lifted from the alarm clock on your bedside table.
The base price also makes these facts a little easier to overlook; at $34,050, the TSX starts at less than the German luxury entrants (A4, 3 Series, C-Class), less than a Lexus IS (you can’t have a manual in the Benz or Lexus, but you do get RWD in both) and just a hair more than a GTI or Jetta GLI, but with more bells and whistles.
There is a ton of fun to be had, here, and more if you’re willing to go the aftermarket route, of which there are numerous options at Honda prices.
So, until we see a new Acura performance vehicle (one that’s attainable; the upcoming NSX doesn’t count) — possibly after Honda rejoins F1 for the 2015 season — this is your best bet, one that I strongly suggest you make.