Let's say you have $35,000-$40,000 budgeted for a luxury sedan, a compact one, and you want a gutsy six-cylinder engine. No four-bangers, turbocharged or otherwise, thank you very much.
You could do the obvious and get a BMW 3-Series; 400,000 or so people do each year.
Or you could jump into an Audi A4, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or even the Lexus IS 350. All good, credible choices selected by hundreds of thousands every year.
What you might not have considered is the TSX, the forgotten stepchild of the Acura brand. And we're not referring to the second-generation version with the four-cylinder engine introduced last year. It starts at a very reasonable $34,985, including freight and air conditioning tax, but we have something else in mind.
We're talking about the latest TSX, the version with Honda's revvy 3.5-litre V-6 (280 horsepower). This car is a credible foe to the BMW 3-Series and all the rest.
A bit of background: The standard 2010 Acura TSX has a 201-hp inline four, which is fuel efficient and mostly strong enough. But because of the added weight and power of the V-6, Acura orchestrated a few tweaks to the chassis and voila - where the four-cylinder TSX can at times feel clumsy and uncertain when pushed on demanding roads, the V-6 TSX is, well, transformed.
Remember the last-generation Acura TL, the good-looking one? That's what this TSX feels like now, just a bit better. Moreover, the 2010 TSX resembles the older TL in size, too. Which means it's right-sized in this segment.
The front-drive TSX V-6 is a corner-carving four-door that feels poised and lively and responsive without being too much of a hard-core sport sedan. For the record, in straight-line acceleration, the TSX V-6 is good for a 0-100 km/h time in the 6.5-second range. Oh, and even the electric-assist power steering isn't too bad.
Some purists will scream this whole V-6 thing is sacrilegious, that the very premise of the TSX flowed from the idea of a European-like small-displacement four-banger (2.4-litres in this case). Drivers with the courage to challenge the redline of the four-cylinder TSX, those searching for peak performance, were rewarded with exhilarating responses - very European-like responses.
Okay, that might have been true of the previous-generation TSX, truly an underappreciated car. And, indeed, the TSX has always been based on the small European version of the Honda Accord, so the car's Continental pretensions are at least somewhat justified.
But here in 2010, the TSX has reached full-size dimensions and the four-cylinder feels overmatched at times, droning away when pushed to its performance limits. It's a good engine, a typical Honda four-banger, but the 3.5-litre V-6 is a better choice.
The key isn't so much horsepower, which is really a top-speed thing. No, what matters is torque. The V-6 has 254 lb-ft of it. That twist gives the TSX enough pull to compensate for the fairly prosaic, wide-ratio five-speed automatic transmission.
There is a sharpness to this V-6 that makes the pricier version of the TSX a delight to flog while you're banging away on the steering-wheel shift paddles, up and down and up again. The engine's variable valve timing and sophisticated throttle map, combined with the light-flywheel effect typical of Honda's engines, allow this V-6 to spin up smoothly and quickly.
Moreover, while the five-speed seems a bit pedestrian in an age of six-, seven- and eight-speeds, this autobox does let you hold a gear to redline while in Sport mode. Yes, the software is smart enough to avoid defaulting to automatic mode at those times when you really are working the car.
When you're not playing, the TSX V-6 is generally a pretty comfortable commuter. Not perfect, but good. The issue boils down to suspension tuning that at highway speeds is perhaps a bit too lively, yet also soggy at slower speeds. The car has a tendency to bob a bit much when the pavement is bad, and there is plenty of road noise, too.
Overall, however, the V-6 gives the TSX the authority to compete against some of the very best sedans in the world, loonie for loonie.
If you're interested, you'll also want to know that Acura has loaded up on standard features for the TSX V-6. The roster includes 18-inch aluminum wheels, power and heated leather seats, Bluetooth connectivity, full iPod control, front fog lights, high-intensity discharge headlamps, a power glass moon roof, XM satellite radio and an excellent standard sound system.
The cabin is handsome, and has more interior space than the Audi, BMW and Lexus models. The TSX's seats are terrific and driver lumbar support is standard. The layout of the centre stack controls is spot-on, while the voice-activated navigation system (add $3,000, please) is intuitive to use.
Kudos to Acura for the driving position, too. It puts you in position to control everything, while also delivering great visibility.
Of course, there is no denying that the TSX is a front-drive car with a V-6 engine. So, yes, it is a bit front-heavy. In fact, the 80 kg or so extra heft of the V-6 version gives the TSX a heavy 62 front/38 rear bias.
But to compensate, Acura tightened the front double-wishbone suspension and that in turn gives the TSX V-6 quick responses when cornering on tight roads. I expected the kind of plowing commonplace with nose-heavy sporting sedans, but it was not such a big deal here in this car.
I like all that, but most of all, Acura has undercut many important rivals with this version of the TSX. So this car is a well-equipped value play in an entry-level luxury segment bursting with good alternatives for the savvy, 30-something buyer who tends to dominate this market.
2010 ACURA TSX V-6 AUTO
Type: Compact entry luxury sedan
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, SOHC
Horsepower/torque: 280 hp/254 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.3 city/7.4 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Infiniti G37, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS 350