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Acura TSX Part 1: Design Review

With this bold and progressive new sedan, Acura sheds its conservative image

By Emile Bouret   
The all-new 2009 Acura TSX presents Acura's Keen-Edge Dynamic design language in a four-door sedan for the first time. We first saw Keen-Edge Dynamic on Acura's Advanced Sedan concept car at the L.A. Auto Show in 2006. It wasn't exactly embraced by the motoring world, as its bold and progressive styling was perhaps a step, or even several steps, too far.

The Acura MDX showed us Keen-Edge Dynamic styling in a production application for the first time and now with the new TSX, we have Acura's next take on its design language. How does it translate? Let's use an analogy to illustrate.

Have you ever had a friend try to set you up on a blind date? It usually goes something like this: "Hey there's this girl I want to hook you up with. She works in Jane's office and she's got a great personality..." That's about where you tune out and decide you're not interested. Let's face it, we all know what that means. She may be nice, but she's no looker.

In the case of the new Acura TSX, however, if you pass up considering this car because it doesn't move you with its looks, you'll be missing out on what is a competent, well appointed sport-luxury sedan.

The last TSX was a well-liked car with no shortage of reviews complementing its sharp handling and its eager if slightly underpowered engine. The only complaint levied against it was that it was a little too conservatively styled. In the design world we would call it "good boy" design - no risk, very safe aesthetics that won't offend anyone. The flip-side of course is that you end up with somewhat boring, indistinctive car designs.

With the new TSX, you get a sense that Acura decided they had to do something drastic. And as you can see, they have. Where the previous model had simple, if slightly boring lines, the new TSX gets very techie-looking. Some of the surfacing looks machined or milled, and there's a precision to the chiseled lines that conveys Acura's "Advance" message. It's all very modern and bold, but somehow, it doesn't come together exceptionally well. Now look, I know that taste is a highly subjective matter, but in my opinion the TSX doesn't pull off the Keen-Edge Dynamic styling nearly as well as the MDX.

For starters, the wheels - at 17 inches in diameter - seem small and are tucked-in too far, hurting the stance of the car. This could easily be resolved with a TSX Type-S and its obligatory larger wheels, if Acura decides to build one.

Continuing with the side view, we see the sheer surfaces intersecting at the main character line that runs through the side of the car, as well as the machined looking fender flares. These elements do a great job of conveying the technology and precision of the Acura brand.

Less successful is the rear view, where we find random lines gathering at the corners of the car that don't seem very well thought-out. In particular, the intersection of the tail lamps with three different secondary character lines is just plain busy, and nowhere near as good as the resolution of secondary character lines seen from the side or front views.

Speaking of the front view, that's where we see Acura's corporate grille in its latest evolution, looking as if it hasn't quite found a happy home yet. While it's not as pronounced as it is on the MDX, it's still not exactly what you'd call handsome.

Acura has answered the critics who said its cars were too bland by moving away from the plain vanilla styling of the first generation TSX and deploying its full arsenal of Keen-Edge Dynamic styling on this model. The hope is that the car's design conveys both a dynamic driving experience, as well as the advanced technology the brand is known for. The reality is that perhaps they've tried a bit too hard and in the process, over-styled the car. While some of its surfacing does in fact deliver the corporate message, other details just get lost in translation.

Watch the video
Read Part 2: Interior & User Experience
Read Part 3: Performance

Acura TSX

Performance
- Acceleration: Only adequate for this class - surprising for a Honda VTEC engine
- Handling: Still the TSX's strongest performance characteristic - nice ride/handling compromise
- Braking: Perfectly acceptable, but would benefit from more performance-oriented tires

Design
- Exterior: As we've all been taught, if you can't say something nice...
- Interior: Where you'll spend most of your time, and thankfully, very nicely done

Utility
- Comfort: Great seats and ergonomics - back seat passengers haven't been forgotten - nice place to be all around
- Space: Good amount, especially considering exterior footprint - decent trunk size

Safety
- Dynamics: Sporting moves compromised by all-season tires, but otherwise, excellent dynamics
- Technology: Everything you'd expect from a brand that touts its technological prowess

Value
- Price: Lots of content for your dollar, and excellent Acura re-sale value - very sensible transport
- Mileage: Class leading numbers and clean as well - it is a Honda after all...

Emotional Appeal
- Heart thumpin' factor: Unfortunately, it's lost much the first generation TSX's enthusiast appeal
- Fun to spank: Not encouraged

SPECIFICATIONS

Layout: Front engine / Front wheel drive
Engine: 2.4 liter, Inline 4 cylinder
Power (SAE): 201 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 170 lbs-ft @ 4300 rpm
Redline: 7000 rpm
Gearbox: 5 speed automatic
Curb Weight: 3486 lbs.
0-60 mph: 7.0 sec.
1/4 mile: 15.8 sec.
Top Speed: 134 mph
Mileage: 21 city / 30 highway
Base Price: $29,720
Competitors: BMW 328i, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C30

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