- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

You have to start somewhere. For luxury marques that usually means offering at least one automobile that is affordable enough to lure first-time luxury buyers into the brand. Often compromises are made to achieve that entry-level price point. Those compromises take many forms such as simply putting lipstick on a model from a sister division; using smaller, less sophisticated engines; or offering fewer standard amenities. No matter the avenue taken, an image problem often results.

That’s where the last generation Acura TSX found itself. Although a perfectly capable automobile, it was never completely convincing as an Acura. Acura redesigned the TSX for 2009 with a goal of making it a better fit within the family. For the most part, it was successful.

Rare is the redesign that doesn’t involve upsizing. No doubt there is some psychological explanation for it, but typically we equate bigger with better. Why else would nearly every new generation of a vehicle be bigger than those that have gone before? In the case of the redesigned TSX, super sizing is a better description of its growth spurt than just upsizing. The distance between wheels on the same axle (track) is wider by 2.6 inches while the wheelbase stretches an extra 1.4 inches. Its exterior is 2.2 inches longer and 3 inches wider than last year’s version. It is also about half an inch taller at the roofline. Marginally larger, luggage capacity is up from 12.6 cubic feet to just over 13 cubic feet. It should follow that such increases in iron would translate into a hefty weight gain, but not so much for the TSX. Curb weight is up less than 150 pounds to 3,486.

Gone are the rather vanilla styling cues, replaced by a more sculpted lines. The grille includes the familial chrome knife-blade. A defined beltline runs from the chiseled front fender blister along the side continuing up to the trunk lid and around to the other side. General creases replace the soft corners on the previous TSX. Reshaped tail lights play a part in adding to the more upscale appearance.

Inside, Acura retained the dual-pod layout up front. The basic flow of the dashboard remains as well; however, the new look relies less on bright accents. The mix of materials is more sophisticated and elegant. A dizzying array of buttons, knobs and controls clog up the center stack. Keep the owner’s manual handy.

The tested TSX was the $32,775 edition that includes the Technology Package. There is also a $29,675 base version. Both models feature dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, four-way power passenger seat, leather seating, power accessories, and a seven-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary input jack and USB port.

Well bolstered, the front seats snug around their occupants. The 60/40 split rear seat folds down creating more cargo space. Overall the interior space is generous and all but the tallest rear-seat passengers should be quite comfortable.

For the $3,100 premium the Technology Package commands, comes not only the s ame navigation system as higher-priced Acuras with real-time traffic and weather, but it also includes an advanced Elliot Scheiner-designed 10-speaker surround sound system with a six-disc CD changer, eight-inch subwoofer and voice recognition. XM satellite radio is also included in the package. In this XM application there is a note feature that allows you to store the name, 10 seconds of the song, the XM station on which it appeared and a time stamp of up to 30 songs. So if you hear a song you want to remember, you just hit a button and it’s saved for future recall.

Despite its larger size, the new TSX retains its athleticism. Once again this is achieved through a superbly matched powertrain and a well-balanced suspension. A new four-banger powers the TSX. Displacement is the same 2.4-liters, but horsepower is down four ponies to 201. Peak torque is up a few pound feet, but it arrives earlier in the rpm band for improved mid-range power. Available for hustling engine output to the front wheels is either a six-speed manual or a no-extra-charge five-speed automatic transmission.

The automatic has a manual mode with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Fuel economy is essentially unchanged with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway for the man ual. The automatic gains two additional mpg on the highway.

Acura has built more strength into the frame and body. The result is not only a quieter cabin, but enhanced control. This sedan responds well to the throttle, running true on the straights and cornering with a tenacious grip. The four-wheel independent suspension is tuned more toward the handling end of the spectrum, but ride quality is still very good. The steering is light and responsive. All in all, the last TSX was fun to drive and the 2009 is no disappointment.

Here’s the bottom line: If you liked the 2008 TSX, you will like the redesigned 2009. It is still priced right, fun to drive and shares the Acura cachet. And unlike the previous generation, it seems more at home in the Acura family.

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