Discounted trim package adds to appeal of entry-level sport sedan

by: AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO.  - Special Edition package helps the 2012 Acura TSX stand out from the crowd.When a company adds a Special Edition to one of its models, it’s always wise to ask, “What’s so special about it?”

In the case of the 2012 Acura TSX Special Edition, the answer is a big discount on a desirable trim package. The Special Edition includes $2,500 worth of exterior and interior trim pieces, incuding a full underbody kit, exclusive seats and headliner, special stitching on the leather steering wheel and shifter boot, aluminum pedal and foot plates, and bright red paint.

Then the company subtracts $1,500 as a Special Edition Discount, meaning you get all those goodies for a mere $1,000.

The package doesn’t incude any high performance parts, like a tuned exhaust or suspension upgrades. Fortunately, the TSX doesn’t need them. It is already recognized as one of the best entry-level sport sedans — a reputation confirmed during our week of test-driving.

Our TSX came with the company’s high-revving 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine and smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. We’ve always liked this combination for its spiritied performance and reasonable fuel economy. The 201 availlable horsepower is more than enough for such a small car, especially when it’s so easy to stay in the power band.

A 3.5-liter V6 is available that offers 280 horsepower. A five-speed automatic transmission with Sport paddle shifters can also be ordered. Although a V6-equipped TSX is undoubtedly faster — even with the automatic — we think the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission offers more fun per dollar.

While we think the current version of the TSX is a good-looking car, the Special Edition package dresses it up nicely. The larger front spoiler and body side molding make it look more aggressive without going full Boy Racer. The interior changes are also also nicely restrained, with the cloth bucket seats being both comfortable and supportive.

Aside from the stitching and aluminum plates, the rest of the interior is straight TSX, which means well designed. The guage cluster is easy to read and although the center console is a little button heavy, it was not as overwhelming as some cars, especially those with luxury pretensions.

On the road, the TSX was well balanced. Engine power was not overwhelming but easy to manage in all situations. The ride was very quiet and stable, with only minimal road noise on freeways. Cornering was relatively flat and predictable, which encourages spirited but not reckless driving.

The TSX also comes as a Sport Wagon, which features more carrying capacity. The Special Edition package is not avillable on it, however.

Some reviewers have said the TSX is not as good as such competitors as the Audi A4, BMW 3 series or Volvo S60. That all depends on how you define better, we suppose. The TSX is not as expensive as those cars, either, which is something that has to be taken into account. Once again, fun per dollar is a useful standard to apply here.

Surprsingly, Acura has recently released its own competitor to the TSX, the ILX. It is a compact while the TSX is somewhere between a compact and a midsize. The ILX can also be ordered with 2.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission, and it feels slightly faster than a similarly-equipped TSX, probably because it is lighter. But the ILX is also just enough smaller than the TSX that it feels like a younger sibling. A base TSX with the 2.4 and six-speed only costs a little more than similarly-equipped ILX, which can only be ordered as part of a Premium Package that includes more standard features.

But the Special Edition package is not available on the ILX, meaning if you want to save $1,500 on a lot of desireable features, the TSX is the only way to go.

Facts and figures (all models)

Model tested: 2012 TSX Special Edition.

Manufacturer: Acura.

Class: Sport compact – as tested; Sport wagon.

Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

Style: Four-door sedan – as tested; Five-door wagon.

Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 cylinder (210 hp, 170 to 172 lbs-ft, depending on automatic or manual transmission); 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 254 lbs-ft).

Transmissions: Six-speed manual – as tested; Five-speed automatic with Sport shift paddles.

EPA estimated city/highway/average mileage: (engine/transmission): 22/31/26 (2.4/automatic); 21/29/24 (2.4/manual – as tested); 19/28/23 (3.5/automatic)

Price: Beginning at approximately $30,000 ($31,695 as tested).

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