And what is “this”?
No doubt you’ve noticed it, too. A new/updated version of an existing model comes out – in this case, Acura’s 2011 TSX Sportwagon. A very sharp looker, with everything the sedan version of the TSX has except one thing – its optionally available 280 hp V-6. If you choose the new Sportwagon, you get a four cylinder engine. Period.
The V-6 would fit into the wagon as easily as it does the sedan. If sedan buyers are interested in more-than-four-cylinder power, wouldn’t people who are interested in the (cough) sportwagon want it, too?
The only explanation that makes any sense is that they’re holding back the V-6 so that next year, they can offer something “new” to maintain people’s interest. But what about getting people interested in this new model while it’s still actually new?
WHAT IT IS
The Sportwagon is a wagonized version of the TSX sedan, built to give Acura something to directly compete with other entry-luxury compact sportwagons such as the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3-Series wagon and Volvo V50, among others.
Prices start at $30,960.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
Wagon layout adds versatility/cargo space to the already sporting TSX lineup.
Costs $6,000 and change less than a BMW 3-series wagon or Audi A4 Avant wagon.
“Teched out” interior design/features; lots of stuff to make the Geek Within smile.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
You can’t get the TSX sedan’s optionally available V-6 (or six-speed manual transmission) in the TSX Sportwagon.
AWD isn’t offered, either. (It is in both the BMW 3 wagon and the Audi A4 wagon.)
A Volvo V50 wagon costs about $1,000 less and has more power/quicker acceleration.
UNDER THE HOOD
Here’s what I don’t get – or rather, what potential buyers of the this new version of the TSX can’t get. Acura calls this a Sportwagon yet you can’t get sporty features like a manual transmission – even with the four cylinder engine – or the TSX sedan’s optionally available 280 hp V-6.
The only available engine in the (allegedly) Sportwagon is the sedan’s standard 2.4 liter, 201 hp four. It is not a bad engine. But 201 hp isn’t especially impressive in 2011 – especially when you can get 227 standard in a $29,000 Volvo V50 … or 230 hp in a BMW 328i (211 hp in the Audi A4) and when Acura has a 280 hp V-6 available in the TSX sedan but for reasons that make no sense to me won’t let you order it in the (cough, ahem) Sportwagon. It’s like advertising a double cheeseburger but leaving out the cheese – and one of the patties, too.
If the sedan’s 280 hp V-6 were available, the TSX Sportwagon would vault to the apex of the pyramid as the most powerful compact luxury sport-wagon on the market for around $33k or so, shivving the much more costly BMW 3 wagon and blowing the underpowered-in-comparison 2011 Audi A4 Avant completely out of the water.
It’s not just image we’re talking about here, either. The Sportwagon is slow – for a $30,000 lux-branded vehicle, anyhow. Especially one that has “sport” in its name. The car lazes to 60 in about 8.7 seconds – Toyota Corolla territory.
Also, there’s no way AWD could even be on the table with this car, which of course is why it’s not. The extra weight would probably push the 0-60 time into the double digits, an unacceptable (and Prius-like) case of The Slows.
The good news is that gas mileage is pretty decent in this rig: 30 on the highway and about 22 in town. That’s about 2-4 MPGs better than the BMW and Audi – though the Volvo V50 almost exactly matches the Acura’s numbers (21 city/30 highway) despite having 26 more horses under its hood.
ON THE ROAD
In normal just-poking-around driving the Sportwagon’s four-cylinder engine is not noticeably underpowered; the sharply timed shifts of the standard five-speed automatic help mask the underlying underhood deficit. But if you punch it when you’re doing 70 to try to pass someone, you’ll quickly plumb the not-so-deep depths of this engine’s available reserves. It is completely done-for over 80. By 100, you are near redline in Sport mode and the engine’s truly givin’ her all she’s got, cap’n.
True, this is faster than you can legally drive anywhere in the country, but being able to call on another 40 or 50 horses every once in awhile – having that extra comfort margin when you do run faster than 70 or so – would be nice.
Also – and I didn’t get to try this myself – but it’s worth mentioning: I’d be leery about buying this car if I had to routinely carry passengers and/or fairly heavy cargo.
I found the acceleration ED-like with just me behind the wheel. Add the extra 200-300 pounds of two more people – plus some stuff in the cargo area – and I think it’d be iffy. The car is 3,599 pounds empty. With three people in it, the curb weight would likely be over two tons and that is a lot of bulk for 201 hp four-cylinder engine to be chained to.
Handling is pretty good though there is noticeably more body roll than in the Audi A4 (which I just happened to also be test driving the week I had the TSX wagon) and also the BMW 3, which is probably the pick of the litter in this class given its power/performance/handling and available AWD.
AT THE CURB
It definitely looks sporty, at least. No problems there. Typically superb Acura fit and finish, as well as attention to details – such as the door jambs and inner liftgate areas, which are all clear-coated and lustrous, just like the exterior panels (some manufacturers cheap out here and don’t clearcoat the not-usually-visible parts of the car, which leaves these areas looking faded and dull even though the car is brand new).
Ditto the interior, which has chronograph-style gauges with metallic pewter trim/facings, a stubby – and racy – looking shift knob sits high on the center console and a jet fighter-like spread of buttons, including a central, mouse-like input controller.Older, pre-computer era people may find it all a bit intimidating but one of Acura’s main “sells” has always been its appeal to the cutting edge crowd. They won’t be disappointed. The TSX Sportwagon (and the 2011 TSX sedan) also get a new hard drive-based GPS system and higher-res LCD display unit.
The wagon layout multiplies the TSX’s luggage capacity by more than four-fold, from a Miata-sque 14 cubic feet in the TSX sedan to 60.5 cubic feet in the TSX Sportwagon. This is also about 10 cubic feet more than the Audi A4 Avant has – 50.5 cubic feet – and a dead heat with the BMW 3-Series wagon’s 60.9 cubic feet. The Volvo V50 edges them all out on this score, but just slightly – 62.6 cubic feet.
The Acura’s liftgate has power up and down, which is helpful if you’re short or have shoulder issues. The cargo floor is flat but there’s also a hidden storage cubby underneath, as well as a side “locker” with a power point. Four sturdy – and handsomely chrome-plated – tie-downs are fitted at the four corners and the entire area is covered with high-quality carpet that has the same custom-fitted look you find in the equally nice but more costly Audi A4.
Front seat headroom (37.6 inches) is about three inches less than in the A4 (40.4) but I didn’t find it claustrophobic or notice my head brushing the headliner (and I’m 6ft 3). Legroom for the driver, on the other hand, is about an inch more generous in the Acura (42.4) than it is in the Audi (41.3) and also the BMW 3 (41.5 inches) and Volvo V50 (41.6 inches). Rear seat accommodations in all three cars are about the same with the exception of the V50, which has about an inch more legroom than the rest of them.
The warranty coverage – four years/50,000 miles on the whole car – is par for the segment; same as you’d get in the BMW or the Audi. But Acura gives you more generous long-haul drivetrain insurance – six years/70,000 miles vs. the 4/50 you get with BMW and Audi Volvo has a better basic warranty – five years/60,000 miles – but its drivetrain coverage is exactly the same, so you’re on your on your own a year earlier or 10,000 mies sooner than you’d be in the Acura.
Also worth noting is the TSX Sportwagon is pretty loaded as it sits – including standard seat heaters for the driver and front seat passenger, sunroof, dual-zone climate control AC, Bluetooth wireless and a very good seven speaker stereo rig with MP3 and satellite radio. The main big ticket option is the Technology Package which bundles the new hard drive-based navigation system (with real-time traffic updates), back-up camera and an ultra-premium 10-speaker surround-sound stereo with music storage hard drive. This unit has an additional interesting (and unusual) feature: sound-cancellation technology that makes road noise less audible to the human ear.
So equipped, the sticker price rises to $34,610 – but that’s still about $1,500 less than the base price of the BMW 3-Series wagon or Audi A4, both of which can easily morph into $40k cars with a few options added.
The Acura’s a great value relative to these two – and it’s got more curb appeal, in terms of being a status brand, than the Volvo.
THE BOTTOM LINE
All this car needs is two more cylinders and another 79 hp to be at the top of its class.
Maybe next year?