Driven: 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition

By Seyth Miersma

January 04, 2012

—Chicago, Illinois
It’s probably fair to say that, from the perspective of the typical driving enthusiast, the four-cylinder, manual-transmission equipped TSX is the second-most cohesive product in Acura’s lineup today. We love the TSX Sport Wagon for its form factor (we’re charter members of the Wagon Geeks Support Network, what can we say), but the lack of a manual trans option kills it for many enthusiasts. The bigger TL SH-AWD can be had with a brilliant 6MT, and is a more powerful, graceful vehicle, and clearly our favorite Acura to drive. But even there, the higher starting price of the TL allows for more and interesting competitors, and the combative design makes the TL a non-starter for many.
Power-hungry motorists will point to the 280 horsepower afforded by the V-6-engined TSX, and call BS on our preference for the four-banger. We’d counter that the 201-horse four rarely left us wanting for acceleration, save for a few times on the freeway when trying to execute a passing maneuver at 70-plus miles per hour and in top gear. Of course, those experiences only taught us to shift down into fifth or even fourth gear, where power reserves were sufficient to pass dreaming commuters.
And of course, Honda’s six-speed gearbox is a really good reason in its own right to opt for the 2.4-liter over the 3.5 V-6 (which can only be spec’d with the automatic transmission). Typical light, accurate, and quick throws accompany a clutch that’s also light, but easy to fall in love with.
As good at the MT is, it sadly cannot alter the fact that Acura’s small sedan is front-drive only. We’re not your typical “wrong wheel drive” snobs, we can handle different opinions, but there’s no getting around the fact that the TSX is less smooth when accelerating from a stop quickly (even with the four-cylinder, torque steer is in some small evidence), and a bit less fluid when tackling great roads. We appreciate the fast turn-in of the TSX and the lack of float in the suspension when driving through quickly successive corners, but the nose-heaviness undercuts the car relative to (for instance) the new BMW 328i.
On the positive side, the TSX does offer a pretty high level of road feedback from the wheel and the floorboards­—the car doesn’t feel quite so isolated as many luxury compacts.
In terms of the subjective areas of interior/exterior styling we’ll remain nearly silent, save telling you that our relatively bare bones tester (no Technology Package) felt sufficiently techy, leathery, and soft-touchy in most places to justify its $30K-ish price point.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out the rather excellent performance we experienced in terms of fuel economy. We drove the car from Ann Arbor to Chicago, a trip of about 250 highway-miles, with no less than five fully grown adults in the car. (Before you ask; this wasn’t the original plan. A larger car was taken suddenly from your writer, and he made his flexible friends make do with the accommodations at hand. There wasn’t too much complaining from the back seat, but the people back there were close friends—we’ll leave it at that.) Even with all of that human flesh packed in, the TSX was able to hit its 31 mpg highway rating. Even after cruising in Chicago’s stop-and-go traffic for a few days, and then making the trip home in a slurry of snow and ice, the final average consumption figure was over 29 mpg.
VS: BMW 328i
We’ll be honest, the all-new 3er is a tough matchup for the plucky TSX. The 328i’s turbo four is a better powerplant in every respect (power, fuel economy, sound), its handling more subtle and competent, and its luxury features a bit richer and laden with technology. Still, the Acura is good in its own right, and thousands cheaper. And, until we have a chance to drive a 6MT-equipped 328i (our experience has been auto-only as of this writing), we’ll assume the TSX’s gearbox is better.
VS: Lexus IS250
The IS250 may have an extra two-cylinders and 100cc on the TSX, but with only 3 more horsepower it never feels a good deal quicker. Rear-drive handling is smoother than Acura’s front-drive setup, but the rest of the involvement equation favors the TSX, hugely. Where the IS is ultra detached from the feeling of the road, and supremely light in steering effort, the TSX is more connected and a bit more weighty. That the Lexus starts at about $5K more than the Acura doesn’t help much, either.
2012 Acura TSX Special Edition 6MT
Engine: Four-cylinder, 2.4 liters, 16v
Output: 201 hp/172 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3415 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 21/29 mpg
Cargo Volume: 14.0 cu ft
Base Price: $30,810