Friday, January 21, 2011
Road and Track: 2011 Acura TSX Wagon Review
Hatching a plan for sporty, stylish and practical transport.
By Douglas Kott
Crossover carrying capacity
No V-6 offered
No manual gearbox offered
Inline-4 merely adequate
Small, sporty wagons are a little like Elvis or Colin Chapman: By most accounts they’re dead, but occasionally there will be sightings. Truth is, we wonder why there aren’t more of them as they’re likable adversaries to sport utes and crossovers, lacking the tippy “command” seating position and pretense of off-road capability yet endowed with car-like handling and truly useful cargo capacity. Consider that Acura’s latest here has a storage volume aft of the rear seats that’s roughly the same as its RDX crossover, albeit differently shaped. With its 60/40-split rear seats folded down, there’s a full 60.5 cu. ft. of space, which slots the TSX slightly ahead of marketplace rivals Audi A4 Avant and BMW 328i Sport Wagon.
Acura chose not to compare acceleration times in its presentation, as the TSX Sport Wagon comes just one way, with a 201-bhp 2.4-liter inline-4 paired with a paddle-shift torque-converter 5-speed automatic. Let’s just say the combination makes for, er, adequate acceleration with, um, reasonable roll-on torque, the quick-reacting gearbox doing its best to keep the engine in the feel-good upper half of the rev range. Shifts are snappy….with the selector in S, both kickdown reaction and throttle response are really crisp, and shifts summoned by the paddles are laudably fast. The only transmission demerit? There’s no auto-blip on downshifts.
On a twisty road, the TSX Sport Wagon carries its additional 130 lb. and 3.5 in. of length well, the extra rear overhang reducing the nose-heaviness by a couple of percentage points…now 57/43 front/rear, versus roughly 59/41 for a comparably equipped TSX sedan. The electric-assist steering weights up nicely as more steering angle is cranked in, and roll control is excellent, with spring/damping rates definitely skewed toward the sportier end of the spectrum.
The same could be said of looks. With its wedgy beltline, snazzy 17-in. alloys (with P225/50R-17 Michelins) and brightwork for both the sturdy roof rails and side window trim, the Sport Wagon appears anything but utilitarian. Up front, the oft-criticized “Power Plenum” grille has been tastefully toned down—it now has a platinum-look horizontal element ringed with chrome.
Inside, all the standard TSX trimmings are there—thick-rimmed sport wheel, futuristically styled center stack, and great seats with perforated leather inserts and substantial up-high shoulder bolstering. The cargo area is well finished also; dual brushed stainless sill plates for the hatch are a nice touch, as are chrome tie-down hooks and a total of four hidden storage spaces beneath and to the left side of the load floor. The main compartment is square and quite shallow, perfect for shady types involved in the pizza smuggling trade.
Across the model line, all TSXs for 2011 benefit from slightly better fuel economy (the Sport Wagon’s numbers are 22/30 city/hwy) through measures such as low-friction engine coatings, lower-viscosity ATF, an ATF heater (!) and underbody fairings that improve aerodynamics. A noise-insulating windshield and thicker rear side glass are said to further reduce cabin noise. And the Sport Wagon featured here has a generous roster of standard equipment including a power moonroof, heated leather seats, a 360-watt 7-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, etc. Opting for the Tech Package ($3650 dearer than the base Sport Wagon’s MSRP of $30,960) buys the excellent nav system/high-def display screen, the 460-watt ELS sound system with hard drive storage for roughly 3500 songs, and a power tailgate.
Acura’s sales goals are modest for the Sport Wagon, about 4000 units for the 2011 model year. With its slick styling, sporty road manners and considerable utility, this tailgated TSX might jump-start the resurgence of the small sporty wagon. Is it possible that Elvis has re-entered the building?