It’s the last interesting Acura. Well, aside from that other one.
The Acura TSX was introduced to North America in the summer of 2003 as a 2004 model, but as the Japanese and European 7th generation Honda Accord it had existed in some form since late 2002. In the middle of 2008, the car’s next generation appeared, with the chassis code CU2. Mechanically it wasn’t a whole lot different. Physically it was 3 inches wider and an inch lower, and gained about 70 pounds. The base US TSX was equivalent to the Canadian Premium Package; the base Canadian TSX had fewer amenities. (You’d think this would be the opposite, since the TSX was the entry-level Acura in the US for most of its existence, while in Canada the CSX, which served as the basis for the JDM 8th gen Civic, was below it.) As with its predecessor, it was available with either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic. Acura’s ubiquitous Technology Package was a commonly chosen $3100 option, adding a voice-operated navigation system, a rearview camera, and a 10-speaker DVD audio system. In 2010, a V6 was added as an option, and the following year a wagon debuted in the US, the first time an Accord wagon had appeared here since 1997. Both the V6 and the wagon were only available with the automatic, and the wagon was only available with the 4-cylinder. A Special Edition trim came out in 2013, and North American sales ended a year later, when the replacement TLX came out and replaced both the TSX and the larger TL. While JDM sales of the equivalent Accord ended between 2012 (sedan) and 2013 (wagon), when the 9th gen Accord came out and the Japanese and American market Accords became essentially the same car for the first time since 1997 (although Japan’s version is hybrid-only), production of the CU2 Accord continued for a few other markets until 2015.
My journey to the TSX as a daily was a long one, with a starting point of the 9th generation Civic Si. I wasn’t a fan of the 9th gen when it came out, preferring the looks, if not the driving characteristics, of the 8th, but I fell in love with the car after taking an orange 2013 coupe on a test drive in March 2017. I wanted one. I needed one. But at the time they were out of my price range, so I moved on. Living in a place that does get snowfall, I had also thought about a 1st generation CR-V for a winter DD, but with them being the same age as my Prelude and starting to age out, I wanted something newer. I looked at the Element, since it was praised as being dog-friendly, but moved on after noticing that it really doesn’t have much more ground clearance than a car. (Almost all of the extra height is at the top.) I thought about a 3rd gen CR-V, but I ultimately just couldn’t see myself being totally satisfied with one. The next vehicle on my list was the 1st generation Acura RDX, which is more or less a faster CR-V with a turbocharged engine. But I wasn’t sure about DDing a vehicle with a turbo and torque vectoring (particularly the latter after seeing the horrors of what age does to the system in 5th gen Preludes). Still, I was interested in test driving one, and would often check CarMax for them. When looking at my local CarMax’s inventory, one day in early July 2017 I noticed a 2009 TSX with a 6-speed at a decent price, within my prospective budget. I knew 2nd gen 6-speed TSXs are pretty rare, so, even though I was planning to wait a few more months to make a purchase (saving for a down payment), I jumped at the chance. A few days later, I test drove the car, and a day after that I brought it home. It’s a much different car than I’m used to, being larger and more technologically advanced than my Preludes, but I like it just the same.
(Full disclosure: Acura wanted me to drive this car so badly they let its technology get slightly outdated and put a manual transmission in it, so it would depreciate to the point that a pleb like me could afford a good one in under a decade.)
First off, we have to talk about the beak, or as Acura called it, the Power Plenum grille. Is it weird? Yes, of course. But it’s really not as bad as it is on other Acuras. Also, look at the equivalent JDM Accord grille and tell me with a straight face that it’s a definitive improvement. (I may buy a Mugen grille for it at some point.) Now, that said, aside from that it’s a very attractive car, if understated. Yeah, it looks like the XV50 Camry, but this came first, so in reality the Camry looks like this. The Grigio Metallic paint wasn’t my first color choice, but it’s a nice color that has grown on me. (It also isn’t the most original color name. It’s just the Italian word for grey. However, in most, if not all, of the markets where the car was sold as the Accord, the color was called Volcano Grey. That’s a much cooler name, and what I tell people the paint color is.) The paint looks really good despite the neighborhood birds repeatedly using the car for target practice. Two types of spoilers were optional, one flush-mounted and one a small wing. I can’t say I’ve ever seen the wing on a car in the wild, and even the flush mount I’ve only ever seen on an SE. Either way I’ll still look back at the car whenever I walk away from it, and that’s what’s important.
I really, really like the interior of the TSX. Since my entire vehicle ownership history, and most of the vehicles in my family that I’m familiar with driving, consists of things originally released between 1987 and 1996, the late-2000s goodies inside the TSX are a whole new world to me. The layout is still your typical Honda functionality, with everything closely accessible. Above the center console is a fixture that has a couple of map lights, the sunroof controls, garage door opener controls, and a space for a pair of sunglasses. Unlike the 4th and 5th gen Preludes, whose sunroofs open up and then back, the TSX’s slides straight back like the 3rd gen Prelude. The center console has a few hidden pockets to go along with the usual chamber under the arm rest. There are cupholders, a 12V outlet, a coin holder, and storage space in those pockets, and the arm rest chamber has aux, USB, and 12V ports, so at least two people can charge their wireless devices simultaneously. Even three, if you use the USB port as a charger. A fold-out cupholder is between the rear seats.
It has a lot of them, but I don’t have the Technology Package so it doesn’t have all of them. But I’m fine with that because manual cars with the Tech Package are almost impossible to find, so much so that Acura dropped the availability of the combination after a couple years. Still, even without it there’s a bunch of stuff to talk about. (The owner’s manual is 500 pages!) In the middle of the speedometer is a multi-information display that shows such things as MPG, tire pressure, oil life, and more. The low-beam headlights are projectors, which were standard in the US, as were the fog lights. The rearview mirror in the center automatically dims at night to reduce headlight glare. I’ll talk more about the stuff it has in the Audio, Comfort, and Safety sections.
There are two exhaust ports on the back, a tradition carried on from the previous two generations of Japan-produced Accord. It’s a single exhaust that splits into a Y-pipe. The engine is quiet at idle and sounds like your typical Honda 4-cylinder as you climb the rev range. When on the throttle you can hear a whirring sound, which I thought was odd at first, but all research I’ve done said this is normal. The audio system has CD, auxiliary, USB, and Bluetooth capability, along with AM, FM, and XM radio. The Technology Package added a DVD audio system with more speakers, but I’ve read that those speakers have issues. The audio system in the base model still sounds great. Lows and highs come through well, without any distortion, even in the bass-heavy music I listen to.
Accleration isn’t great. But I didn’t expect it to be. It’s literally an Accord. I bought it to do Accord things. Interestingly, despite growing slightly in weight, the 2nd gen TSX actually made less peak power than its predecessor, 201 instead of 205, albeit at a slightly lower RPM. Torque, however, was slightly increased, from 170 to 172, and according to multiple sources the torque band was wider. This propelled the car from 0 to 60 in a decent 7.5 seconds with the manual. The automatic was no doubt slower. Under the hood, there’s lots of space, since there was room for a V6 built in. I’m perfectly happy with the K24, since I’ve wanted a K-series for years. (Also, reviews of the V6 say it doesn’t handle as well as the 4-cylinder version due to the extra weight up front, and as previously stated, you couldn’t get the V6 with a manual.) The 2.4L K24Z3 has a redline of 7100 RPMs, with the rev limiter coming on at 7500, and was the basis for the 9th generation Civic Si’s engine (which, interestingly, redlines 100 RPMs lower than the larger car.) As with all K’s, the engine is driven by a timing chain instead of the more risky timing belt of 1990s Hondas (although the J-series V6, itself initially a 90s design, still uses the belt). It really is a fantastic engine, and it was worth the wait to get one. Overtaking on two-lane roads isn’t too bad, since it has plenty of gears to choose from, but it’s not as easy as with my Prelude. On the flip side, I usually get better gas mileage than advertised, which is a good thing when the car needs premium. I’ve averaged about 29 MPG over six months of ownership.
In my Prelude reviews, this section was just about the brakes, but I never had much to say. So instead I’ll talk about the general safety of the TSX. But first, the brakes. 2009 TSXs (and a handful of early 2010s) were known to have rotor issues, but that issue was solved by 2011 and with 108k on the odometer when I bought it, my car has already had them changed once. The brakes feel fine to me. They don’t grab as hard as the racing brakes in my Prelude, of course, but the upside to that is that they don’t leave dust all over the wheels like the Prelude either. Six airbags are standard: two in the front and four on the sides. Like most late-model cars, the TSX was affected by the Takata airbag recall, but only on the front passenger’s side. My car had its passenger’s front airbag replaced about a month after I bought it. Traction control was standard, and called Vehicle Stability Assist (or VSA for short), and the deactivation button is right by the driver’s hand. It comes on from time to time when I floor it, but hasn’t yet when I’ve been in the twisties. The doors automatically lock when you take off, and unlock when you turn the car off. The previously mentioned projector low-beams make night driving easier. (Well, maybe less so for oncoming traffic. Sorry.)
As with Safety, this is a broader category as opposed to my previous reviews, where I talked about the ride. That’s still covered here, but there’s so much more to talk about with this car. The engine sounds quiet and smooth. The seats feel great, and are heated for extra comfort in the winter. The heated seats have two settings, with high used for warming up and low to keep them warm after they’re warm. They’re great. On the flip side, black leather in the summer in Virginia isn’t too much fun, but the seats are still pretty comfortable in the heat. The driver’s seat has two memory settings, so if you have a second frequent driver you can each set your own seat position. The rear seats have head rests. The glass is slightly tinted from the factory, and the climate control has dual-zone, auto, and manual modes. The ride is overall quite comfortable; I could sit in the car all day and be fine. You can still feel bumps, but they’re not bad, and road and wind noise is only slightly present.
One of the poster children for “wait, you could buy this with a stick?” Long before I bought this TSX, I had driven both the automatic and manual version of the 1st generation. I remember absolutely nothing about the automatic version except that it was red, but the manual was a nice car to drive and the transmission and clutch felt good. I have to say the 2nd gen picks right up in that regard. According to the Acura dealer where I had the airbag recall done, only about 3% of 2nd gen TSXs came with the 6-speed, and it wasn’t available in Japan at all. (To my knowledge, Europe was the only market where the manual was available in the wagon.) The manual still has that Honda magic to it, and contemporary reviews of the car when it was new say the manual version is the one to get. It took me a bit to get used to having a 6th gear. I accidentally shifted from 5th to 4th several times in the first few months of ownership. It’s also a bit weird dealing with a physically (i.e. hydraulically) controlled clutch and an electronic throttle simultaneously, but that’s just how it is anymore. The shifter feels great, with nice short throws. My only complaint is that the knob feels a bit cheap when compared with the rest of the interior. It’s primarily aluminum, but it just seems like they made it an afterthought. The sides of it are rubber with a fake leather look. I could always get an aftermarket one, but it is a minor, minor quibble compared with the rest of the car.
One of the first things I did when I got the TSX was drive it out to a back road to see how it handles. I didn’t expect it to be a 3-series, or even a Prelude, in the curves, but it holds its own. It still has that traditional Honda all-around double wishbone suspension. Body roll is present, but it’s not too bad. A front strut tower bar is standard. For all the bad things I hear about electric power steering, I don’t mind it. Yeah, steering feel is decreased, but it feels lighter and more even than the hydraulically-assisted power steering of my Prelude. It’s enjoyable on twisties, but I wouldn’t autocross it.
Early 2nd generation TSX prices range between mid-to-high 4 figures to low 5 figures, depending on mileage. Newer models, of course, are more expensive. For the money, you get a reliable, comfortable car with many modern features, as well as a hint of sportiness and a style that appeals to many (beak notwithstanding). I would absolutely recommend one to anyone who’s looking for a mid-sized sedan, especially if you can find a 6-speed model.
They’re good cars, Brent.
Engine: K24Z3 2.4L DOHC i-VTEC I4
Transmission: 6-speed manual (5-speed automatic with Sport Shift was available at no cost)
Power/torque: 201 HP/172 lbft (a 280 HP V6 was later added as an option)
Curb weight: 3385 pounds
0-60: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 135 MPH (drag-limited)
Seating: 4 or 5, depending on whether the rear console is down
MSRP in 2009: $28,960 (base), $32,060 (Technology Package)