It's been a while since a Japanese automaker dared to offer a real station wagon, rather than the now-fashionable crossover vehicle. Acura's going the unconventional route by adding the thoroughly conventional TSX Sport Wagon to its lineup for the 2011 model year, and the result is one of the better near-luxury vehicles a family can drive.
We're giving the TSX lineup an 8 in the FamilyCarGuide ratings, with a particular nod to the Sport Wagon model. Its cargo backpack adds real utility, while it doesn't upset the sedan's friendly handling, above-average fuel economy and complements its less-is-more philosophy.
The TSX remains the most compact Acura, and while it doesn't have the heft or outright cubic feet that the larger TL and RL have, it's sized perfectly in the mid-size sweet spot. The front seats are encircled, not put into a noose, by the nicely finished dash, and head room is just a bit better than decent, even with the sunroof. The back seats are less appealing for the biggest users, but the door openings make entry and exit fairly easy for average-sized adults and everyone smaller. There's not a vast excess of knee room back there, but it's quite a usable space for most family uses. In the sedan, the trunk is a reasonable size, good for a few roll-aboard bags; the wagon model feels more like it's carrying a backpack than a big wagon body, but it does come with a cargo divider that lets you keep groceries separate from sports equipment, book bags, and the like.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet tested the 2011 TSX lineup, but it's assigned a five-star rollover resistance rating, based on its mathematical formulas. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards the TSX "good" ratings for front- and side-impact protection, but hasn't measured for roof-crush strength, which means it cannot give the TSX its Top Safety Pick. Curtain airbags and stability control are standard, and so is Bluetooth, but the Europe-derived TSX (it's essentially a European Honda Accord) does not have advanced tech features like blind-spot monitors, though a rearview camera is an option.
2011 Acura TSX
Other features in the TSX mix include standard Bluetooth; a USB port; satellite radio; and leather upholstery. Power heated front seats are part of the base price as well. We'd recommend the Technology package if you're a music fan at all; it comes with Acura's excellent stereo upgrade and a 60GB hard drive for music storage, along with navigation. A power tailgate is another recommended option; until you've used one, you don't quite get how it's more of a safety feature than a convenience piece.
Unlike the rest of the Acura lineup, the TSX isn't hopelessly flawed with the brand's latest front-end treatments. Here, the "bionic beaver" treatment's a little less bothersome than on, say, the TL. It's still overstated, but the trim proportions of both the sedan and the wagon relieve whatever tension that out-of-place grille creates. The interior is filled with high-quality materials, low-interference controls, and a gentle arc to tie it all together.
For performance, there are two engine choices. We're quite happy to soldier on with Acura's 201-hp four-cylinder, the only engine offered in the Sport Wagon. It's more than powerful enough to hustle the TSX around with luxury credibility, though we're baffled why the sweet-shifting six-speed manual on the sedan isn't offered in the wagon. The five-speed automatic's okay, and it's the only transmission in the wagon, an option on the sedan. There's also a V-6 engine option on the sedan; it's coupled to a six-speed automatic, and while it doesn't add that much outright acceleration to the TSX, it does make its power known in the strength and smoothness of its delivery. Ride and handling on both versions are as good as mid-size sedans get, with quick, firm electric power steering and a firm, taut ride that trades plush suspension travel for well-controlled body motions.
Given our choice, the TSX Sport Wagon would handle almost all our daily needs while it delivered 30-mpg highway fuel economy ratings. Coupled to a price tag of about $30,000, it's a compelling proposition for those who'd rather let the crossover fad pass them by.