What can be wrong with a car that's a Consumer Reports' recommended buy, earns top crash test ratings, delivers commendable fuel economy and is competitively priced?
If the car is in the compact luxury sedan class, it better offer a six-cylinder engine in order to be considered a real contender.
This is a key reason why Honda's luxury brand, Acura, adds a V-6 to its TSX for the first time in history.
Company officials expect just 20 percent of 2010 model TSX sales to be V-6 models. But the new, 280-horsepower engine, plus revised suspension tuning and 18-inch, high-performance tires make the TSX undeniably sporty, not just mildly sporty.
Best of all, the TSX continues with competitive pricing in both four- and six-cylinder models.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is up just $150, to $30,120, from the base price for a 2009 model. The 2010 price is for a base, front-wheel drive TSX with 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic.
The starting retail price for a 2010 Acura TSX with 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is $35,660. A five-speed automatic transmission with SportShift, which can be shifted manually without a clutch pedal, is the only transmission for the V-6.
Competitors include the BMW 3-Series with 230-horsepower six cylinder, which starts at $34,425 for a 2009 model with manual transmission. With an automatic, the 3-Series sedan with six-cylinder engine starts at $35,750.
2010 Acura TSX
- BASE PRICE: $29,310 for base model; $32,410 for four-cylinder TSX with technology package; $34,850 for TSX with V-6.
- AS TESTED: $35,660.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact sedan.
- ENGINE: 3.5-liter, single overhead cam, 60-degree V-6 with VTEC.
- MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 186.1 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 106.4 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,680 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Japan.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $810.
The Lexus IS 250 with V-6 generates 204 horses, which is about what the four-cylinder TSX has, but was priced at $32,180 with manual transmission as a 2009 model. The Lexus IS 350 with 306-horsepower V-6 and automatic has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $37,630 for a 2009 model.
Of course, there's still the matter that the TSX is front-wheel drive, while the BMW and Lexus are rear-drive cars. And sports car enthusiasts argue that rear-drive provides true sports car handling.
But there's little doubt that the new TSX is well-equipped, and its federal government fuel mileage ratings are on par with other luxury, six-cylinder-powered sedans.
Standard features on every TSX include seats trimmed in perforated leather, power-adjustable and heated front seats, power moonroof, Bluetooth phone interface, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, XM satellite radio with complimentary service period, and USB and auxiliary jack connectivity ports built into the center console.
In the 2009 IS 350, perforated leather seat trim was part of option packages priced at more than $800, and HID headlamps were another $875 extra. Satellite radio and heated front seats were each a $500 option and a USB connector was a $400 option on the 2009 BMW 328i sedan.
The TSX with V-6 is rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While this is a decrease from the 21/30-mpg rating of a four-cylinder TSX with automatic transmission, it's still competitive with BMW and Lexus six-cylinder engines.
For example, the 2009 BMW 328i sedan was rated at 18/28 mpg, and the 2010 Lexus IS 350 is rated at 18/25 mpg.
The test Acura TSX V-6 had excellent fit and finish, with no body gap or trim piece out of place even a smidgen.
And the engine, with 254 foot-pounds of torque peaking at 5,000 rpm, punched the car forward easily from stop lights.
Even though the TSX with V-6 is some 200 pounds heavier than the four-cylinder TSX, it sure doesn't feel like it. The car feels light and more at ease at high speeds than the four-cylinder TSX, thanks to the increased engine power.
The shifts were smooth through the transmission, unless I worked it manually for even more gusto. The SportShift actually held downshifts so I could use engine braking on downhills.
In city traffic, this Acura got up to speed limits so quickly I had to consciously watch the speedometer to keep from going over.
Unfortunately, Acura still recommends premium gasoline for all models of TSX, even the V-6 version. So filling the 18.5-gallon tank these days can cost more than $50.
The car was quieter than I had remembered its four-cylinder predecessor being. Acura officials said they've updated the old noise-canceling system used to reduce low sounds.
The new Active Sound Control works on high-frequency noise during cruising, and it doesn't try to counter the throaty exhaust sounds that drivers like to hear during acceleration with the V-6.
Still, there was some road noise from the new, larger tires. Note that neither the Lexus IS 350 nor the BMW 3-Series come standard with 18-inch tires and wheels.
TSX brakes were updated for the higher engine power and worked strongly in the test car.
I especially appreciated the work done on the TSX electric power steering, which was adjusted for the 2010 models with V-6 so there's a more direct driver-to-wheel sporty feel.
All controls in the 2010 TSX were well-arranged and within easy reach so it didn't take a lot of time to familiarize myself with the car and start driving.
Front seats, in particular, are nicely supportive. Back seats have decent legroom of 34.3 inches for a compact sedan. And rear-seat headroom of 37 inches is on par with the Lexus IS.
Trunk space, too, at 12.6 cubic feet is good, especially considering the rear seatback splits and folds down for additional cargo room when needed.
All safety equipment, including six air bags, traction control and electronic stability control, is standard.