Based on the European-specification Honda Accord and introduced in 2004, the Acura TSX was, right from the beginning, aimed at driving enthusiasts.
Although it was similar in size and overall feel, the TSX shared almost no components with its North American counterpart. For one thing, the suspension was stiffer than garden-variety Accords built in North America, which meant that overall handling was superior, and it had better brakes, more power and a definite "sporty" feel to it. Built in Japan, the TSX came as a four-door sedan only.
Power was provided by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine that developed 200 hp at 6,800 rpm, and two transmissions were available: a six-speed manual and five-speed automatic with a SportShift manual shift feature.
This power plant also had the usual technical goodies, including drive-by-wire throttle, twin counterbalance shafts, direct ignition and Honda's i-Vtec variable valve control system.
This latter system, which first appeared in the RSX sports coupe a year or two before, automatically adjusts valve lift and camshaft duration to suit driving conditions. Most manufacturers have a similar system of one type or another in their sport models, but Honda's was, and is, among the best when it comes to refinement, smoothness and usable power in a four-cylinder engine. It gave the TSX an acceleration time of about eight seconds from 0 to 100 km/h.
Aimed at upscale buyers, the first generation of TSX came well equipped. A traction control system, four-wheel disc brakes and a vehicle stability system were standard issue.
It was also quieter than the Accord, mainly because Acura engineers spent more time on things like noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and the engine had extensive sound-deadening features built into it.
Other standard equipment included leather interior, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control with air conditioning, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, 60/40-folding rear seat and a power sunroof.
Trunk space - you gotta put those golf clubs somewhere - was about on par with other models in this category: 368 litres. By way of comparison, this year of the BMW 3-Series had 311 litres and the Mercedes C240 had 339 litres. Both of these models were direct competitors.
Safety features included front, side and side-curtain airbags, child seat tether and ABS. GPS was just a gleam in Acura engineers' eyes at this point (although the Americans had it), but only because they hadn't mapped out the Canadian road system completely. It came a year later.
You could get the TSX in 2004 for $34,800 before extras, and there was no price difference between the manual and automatic transmission versions.
Interestingly, the automatic delivered slightly better fuel economy: 10.8 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway.
Transport Canada has but one safety recall for the 2004 TSX and it's a comparatively minor one. It concerns the rear wiring harness in the trunk, which, over time, could become exposed and result in an electrical short and non-functioning rear lights. Dealers will either replace it or install a protective cover.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this on file as well. NHTSA also has a hefty 46 technical service bulletins for the '04 TSX, going from 2004 right up to 2008.
Many are fairly insignificant, such as improper labelling and a possibly off-centre steering wheel, but the manual transmission models can have wonky synchromesh into First and Reverse and the automatics may be prone to leakage. The usual mysterious body rattles have been reported as well, and so have power door locks that lock by themselves.
With the exception of the possible transmission problems, the '04 TSX gets top marks from Consumer Reports and is a "good bet" as a used car as far as this organization is concerned. According to CR, a five-year-old TSX has a "better than average" used-car predictability, and things get even better in '07 and '08, when it receives top marks right down the line.
The only real sore points concern the audio system, which gets a failing grade, and the brakes, which get a below-average rating.
It's pretty much the same story from market research company J.D. Power, which bestows top or near the top marks for the TSX in every single department.
This vintage of TSX also received the award for "highest-ranked entry-luxury car in initial quality" for that year, according to J.D. Power, and, aside from some minor gripes about performance and style, scores well in every category.
Expect to pay a fairly reasonable $14,000 to $17,000 for a 2004 TSX. Reasonable because that's a significant drop in price for an upscale used car that comes so highly recommended by most consumer groups.
2004 ACURA TSX
Original Base Price: $34,800; Black Book Value: $16,775; Red Book Value: $13,825
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 200 hp/166 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic and six-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city/7.4 highway (manual); regular gas
Alternatives: Audi A4, BMW 320i, Infiniti G35, Mazda6 GT, Volvo S40, Nissan Maxima, Saab 9-3, Cadillac CTS