Luxury touches and safety features increase appeal of sporty sedan
by: L.E. BASKOW, Acura ups the ante by adding its potent V6 to the 2010 TSX option list.

Back in the 1960s, the Big Three American automakers invented the muscle car by stuffing a big V8 into a midsize car. The most famous ones were two-doors, like the Pontiac GTO based on the Tempest coupe and the Super Sport version of the Chevelle coupe. But customers could also order big engines in some of the four-door versions of such cars, creating fast sedans that most police wouldn't look at twice.

Acura has done the same this year with its compact TSX sedan. The base engine is the same as last year, the 2.4-liter inline four that cranks out a respectable 201 horsepower. But now the TSX is also available with a 280-horsepower version of the 3.5-liter V6 found in midsize Acura TL.

The result is a world-class sports sedan that looks more like a stylish economy car - a plus if you like to go fast without attracting undue attention. The low air dam and 18-inch alloy wheels are just about the only signs the TSX is a sleeper.

The four-cylinder version of the TSX has been a favorite of automotive writers for a lot of reasons. It is a well-balanced machine that mixes attractive lines with a quality interior, good handling and a supple ride. The standard six-speed automatic transmission features steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for maximizing performance without sacrificing fuel economy.

The V6 version retains all of those qualities while adding more power, routed through a five-speed automatic transmission that also includes paddle shifters. The additional ponies are immediately felt during even moderate acceleration, gently pushing riders into their seats. Thoughts of four-door muscle cars spring to mind during heavy acceleration, however, when the engine feels like it's going to rev forever.

But unlike fast sedans from the 1960s, the TSX V6 is easy to control. Cornering is flat and predictable. And the four-wheel-disc brakes are more than up to the task, something that wasn't always - or even ever - the case in Detroit's glory days.

Driven normally, the TSX feels refined and solid under all conditions. Power flows out of the engine and through the transmission smoothly. The ride is also smooth, even on rough surfaces, where the suspension remains responsive while still keeping disruptions to a minimum.

Some reviewers have objected to the angular chrome front ends that characterize the currently Acura line-up, including the TSX. On the other hand, it flows nicely back into the sweptback headlights, crisp side lines and high trunk with integrated spoiler.

The TSX also has one of the most pleasant interiors available. The dash is a series of interconnected curves that sweep down into a center console that houses the leather shift knob and handbrake lever. The analog gauges are large and easy to read. The climate and entertainment controls are logically laid out and large enough to be found without drivers having to take their eyes off the road for long - a welcome change from the confusing micro-controls in some cars these days.

The interior materials are high grade and well fitted. Our test model came with a light grey leather interior that featured two of the most comfortable and supportive heated front seats on the market today.

Our test model also came with a tech package that included an excellent stereo system, a voice-activated navigation system and a real-time traffic and weather connections. It also came with a pocket-size guide to the tech package made it easy to study up on during coffee breaks and other down times - a nice improvement over some of the thick manuals we've seen that require computer backgrounds to understand.

Downsides are hard to find with the 2010 TSX V6. The EPA average fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon could be better, but probably not without sacrificing some of the performance. Road noise is noticeable, but that may be more related to the all-weather tires than the car itself. The lack of a hatchback version limits the carrying capacity (think Mazda3), but the trunk is surprisingly large for a compact. It is the only Acura not available with all-wheel-drive. And the $38,760 price of our test car might seem a little high to some, but it included every possible option and competes against such even more expensive brands as BMW and Mercedes in terms of overall quality.

Acura is the luxury/performance brand of Honda. It currently offers six passenger cars and SUVs with a wide range of advanced features, including turbocharged engines and its exclusive Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. In 2009, Acura became the first car company to receive Top Safety Picks designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for every one of its vehicles, with each earning the highest possible score on frontal, side and rear crash tests.

The 2010 TSX V6 should only add to that reputation.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 TSX.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Compact sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door, four passenger car.

• Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 (201 hp); 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp).

• Transmissions: 5-speed automatic; 6-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 18/27 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $30,000 ($38,760 as tested).

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