"Smart and Agile" was the theme used for the development of the 2004 Acura TSX, the sport sedan that was originally introduced in 2003, and which has handily exceeded the original 15,000 units/year sales projection (in '07 the sales were 33,037), and has become the third-best selling vehicle in the five-vehicle Acura lineup. Explaining the rationale behind the development of the all-new '09 version, chief engineer (or "large project leader" in Honda-speak) Hiroyuki Ikegami, says, "Development has focused on giving the car a more emotional, clearly distinctive design, making it even more agile and fun to drive, enhancing environmental performance, and offering future advanced features, befitting an Acura brand model. Thus, our concept for the new TSX is 'Advanced Intelligent Sports.'" Which is arguably far more compelling than the concept theme for the first-generation vehicle, which was "Smart and Agile." Not that any of these sound particularly mellifluous. But here's what they did.
"Emotional, distinctive design"
Acura has been working to differentiate its design. Honda has even invested in setting up dedicated design studios for the brand (including a $15-million facility in California; this TSX was styled at a studio in Wako, Japan). Talking about the overall appearance of the '09 TSX, Ikegami says, "The exterior has been designed to combine a technologically advanced look with contrasting sensuous lines in what we have coined 'Advanced Emotion.'" The coinage notwithstanding, what the designers have done is to pick up on that strong chevron grille design initially used on the RDX crossover SUV, and have deployed it not only in the headlight forms, but also in the overall form of the vehicle, with a point being formed at the center of the front fascia that almost forms a chevron if one were to take an overhead view of the vehicle, with sharp bodylines that move out from the fascia, over the front shoulders, and sweeping up to the back of the vehicle. The outermost sides of the taillamps also pick up on the chevron form. Inside, the angles are not as sharply defined. However, the layout is such that the sides of the wide center console sweep up and arc so that there are two cockpit areas, one for the driver and the other for the front passenger. The gauges are backlit and analog; there is a digital display in the speedometer face area that provides information about such things as mileage, outside temperature, and tire pressure status. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is slightly smaller in diameter than is the norm; it is also thicker; the objective is to fulfill the sporty nature of the vehicle. Although the TSX is in the premium segment-"near premium," but premium nonetheless-the interior design doesn't use that hoary design cue that allegedly signifies "luxury": there is no wood (plastic or grown); rather, there's satin metallic trim.
"Agile and fun to drive"
Compared with the previous generation TSX, the '09 is wider and slightly longer. Specifically, it is 72.4-in. wide, compared with 69.4 in., for the first generation. The front and rear track are both 62.2 in., compared with 59.6 in. for the '08. The overall height is actually reduced, at 56.7 in., versus 57.3 in. So the vehicle is planted lower than its predecessor. The overall length is 185.6 in. and the wheelbase is 106.5 in.; compared with the previous model's 183.4-in. length and 105.1-in. wheelbase, it is evident that much of the extra length went into providing more package space for occupants rather than for overhangs. A large part of "fun to drive" is predicated on a structure that is solid and smooth. So one of the things they did was to greatly increase the use of high-tensile strength steel, going from 39% of the total body structure to 50%. Of the total body material, 46% is grade 590 MPa. The torsional rigidity has been increased 15%; the vertical body rigidity has been increased 20%; the lateral body rigidity has been increased by 35%. The body-in-white design contributes to this, as well. For example, the roof section uses two closed-channel crossbeams; the previous generation features open-channel stiffeners. The frame rails are located above the floor in the passenger compartment such that the bottom of the vehicle is flatter for better aerodynamics, and the structural safety is improved for side collisions. There is a circular rear bulkhead that improves the rear structural rigidity. The double-wishbone front suspension features stamped-steel upper A-arms and, somewhat surprisingly, cast-iron, not aluminum, steering knuckles and lower A-arms. Steel is also used for the subframe that accommodates the engine, transmission, and lower suspension components. The multilink rear suspension has stamped steel upper A-arms but cast-aluminum knuckles. Electric power steering is used by the '09 TSX. While some electric power steering systems are criticized by some (mainly automotive buff book) drivers for having a disconnected feeling, the engineers set this up for a connected feeling in part by making the steering mount 380% more rigid. The steering system is said to be an advanced version of one that is used in the (now out of production, with the '05 model year being the last) NSX.
"Enhancing environmental performance"
One thing that may be rather surprising is that the engine in the '09 TSX, a 16-valve, DOHC, 2.4-liter in-line four, actually produces less horsepower than the similar engine in the '08 model: 201 hp @ 7,000 rpm rather than 205 hp @ 7,000 rpm. But what they've done is to improve the torque curve, which resembles an angled line rather than an arc, which is 172 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm for the six-speed manual and 170 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm for the five-speed automatic, versus 164 lb-ft for the previous model. The big environmental boost is the improvement in fuel efficiency, up to 20/28 mpg for the manual and 21/30 for the automatic (estimated), up from 19/28 and 20/28 mpg for the comparative previous models.