Car reviews, much like annual performance reviews, can be tricky to write. Love the car and you’ll be labeled a fan-boy. Hate the car and you’ll be labeled, well, a hater. Most writers find a few things they love, few things they hate, throw all into the mix and bam, a review. A writer whom I respect calls it “The Wobble” and chances are that at some point we all have all been guilty of doing it.
It’s easy to be a critic, but it’s tougher to be a constructive critic. I just spent a weekend with the Acura TSX Sport Wagon, and as a critic I’m tempted to write simply that I liked it – but I couldn’t love it. As a constructive critic, however, I’ve decided to offer a solution that would change my opinion, and perhaps the opinion of others as well, from “like” to “love”.
The idea stemmed from looking the TSX over and just realizing that it could look so much better with so little effort. Don’t get me wrong. This is a great car. It drives smoothly. It corners well. The engine and transmission combination is more than adequate. The interior is nice, and if it is not opulent it is at least high quality. The seats are very comfortable, and there is plenty of storage room. Frankly, there isn’t much wrong with the TSX wagon. Still, I couldn’t help imagine how much better it could look with some simple changes.
The fact that Acura launched a wagon version of its popular TSX sedan is a rather brave undertaking considering that wagons are typically not appreciated in the United States. This Sport Wagon comes with a four-cylinder engine matched to an automatic transmission and propelling the front wheels. Dig around the internet a little and you’ll find reviewers asking for a V6 engine, or a turbo engine, a manual transmission, and/or all-wheel-drive system. Forget it. It’s not going to happen.
Adding a V6 engine and/or the AWD system would drive the TSX Wagon’s price into the $40,000 range. Acura would need to replace their badge with four rings or a blue-and-white propeller in order to move more than a handful of them off the dealer lots. A manual transmission by contrast, would cost less than the automatic does – and it’s already available with the sedan. The question becomes: does it make financial sense to offer a low-volume model such as this wagon with two different transmissions?
The simple answer is that it does not, due to costs of EPA testing and production, and that is why Acura is not offering it. However, after spending a long weekend with the TSX Sport Wagon, I am convinced that the Sport Wagon needs a manual transmission. In addition, the car could benefit from a whole sport treatment, not unlike that of the Audi’s S-Line or Acura’s own Type S version. The really good news is that this treatment does not have to cost a significant amount of money but it could lead to a significant increase in sales. It would also increase brand perception to people between thirty and forty years old. Those buyers – the same people who owned Integras, Civics, and Preludes in the 1990s – have walked away from Acura/Honda in the past few years.
My idea of the more appealing and not much more expensive TSX Sport Wagon is this:
- Remove all chrome/silver trim from door-handles, fog-light bezels, and around windows. Chrome, or this polished metallic trim, has been out of style for decades now, so why is it on a Sport Wagon? Replace with black, gray or body color (as applicable).
- Remove the roof-rack and the visual weight that goes with it. I love the utility of a roof-rack but a vast majority of people will use it once a year to transport their Christmas tree. Make it an option or accessory. This would also reduce production and overall costs (one less part to make and install).
- Paint the grill in body color, and paint the trim around it in deviating dark gray.
Having done all that, it would be rather simple to add a few more elements of sporty appearance:
- Add larger, 18-inch (vs. 17-inch), wheels, also painted gray. I used ’07-’09 Acura TL Type S wheels in the graphic for the sake of simplicity and OEM appearance.
- Lower the car. I could not find any information of payload limits of the wagon vs. sedan but it is fair to assume that they are similar; therefore there are no tricks in designing the suspension to be able to accept additional weight. BMW installs air-suspension on their 5-series Tourings but there is no need for that here. Adjust spring rating and shock valving, done.
- Look carefully at the altered image and you will see the multi-piston calipers from the TL Type-S (and RL). Since those are already in the Honda parts bin, might as well throw them on our improved wagon. The three people who will actually autocross or track this wagon would appreciate them, while the rest would show them off on internet message boards and everyone would be happy, at a very low cost.
The above alternations can be accomplished with minimum research and development costs. While the result would lack the power and more secure handling which a V6 engine and SH AWD, respectively, would provide, it would take a nice wagon and give it a more sporty character. My untrained eye sees the cost of this “package” (the whole treatment could be an option, such as the S-Line or M-Sport Package on German cars) at no more than $2000 added to the wagon’s base line of $30,960.
This brings us to the topic of price. At $31,820 base price (with “destination” charge) and the only option being the technology package at $3650, the TSX is a great value. Its nearest competitors start at $37,650 and $38,575 for the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 328iT, respectively. Start checking off option boxes and the Germans can swell into the $45,000 range. However, the most unlikely contender to the TSX could be Honda’s own Accord Crosstour, which stickers at $34,000 with a V6 engine and AWD system, albeit not Acura’s Super-Handling one.
The TSX Technology Package includes a nav system, power tailgate, back-up camera, and an awesome sound system with a 15GB hard-drive. I am not fully convinced that it is worth the money; the car is small enough for anyone to manually operate the tailgate and the visibility is good enough to confidently maneuver in reverse. The nav system is nice, and in a typical Honda fashion overflowing with buttons but it’s nothing you can’t get used to. Did I mention how awesome the ELS Surround audio system is? It should be standard.
Knowing its limited market share, Acura played it safe with the TSX Sport Wagon and offered a car that would appeal to a majority of buyers. This created a car which lacks the ability to live up to the sporting image which was baked into the Acura brand from the moment the first Integra arrived on American shores. The TSX Sport Wagon, with the emphasis on “sport”, has the potential to call out to those lost sheep and bring them back into the fold. Acura needs those people if it wants to regain the credibility it once had.
Big thanks to Dan Lee, a Communications student at Penn State University who is responsible for creating these photoshoped images. The images are based on Acura’s stock photo and all changes correspond to the above bulleted list. Please see Dan’s amazing pictures at www.dleefoto.com. Also a big thank you to Michael, Jack, and Bradley for help with editing. -KK