2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
Perceptions rule in the automobile business, and not only in the way buyers perceive the products but in how the manufacturers perceive themselves and their customers.
Moreover, the perceptions change over time and sometimes rapidly. As an example, take hatchbacks. For many years, despite their popularity in Europe and elsewhere, they were perceived by American buyers as cheap economy cars and were shunned like heretics.
Now they seem to be proliferating like rabbits, as witness Ford’s expectation that the hatchback version of its new Focus will outsell the four-door sedan. Lexus’s new CT 200h hybrid is a compact four-door hatchback. Among others are the Audi A3, Mazda 2 and 3, Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf, Mini Cooper, Toyota Yaris, Fiat 500, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Aveo, Subaru Impreza and Suzuki SX4. The Honda Fit straddles the hatchback/wagon divide.Station wagons are more muddled. Once the norm for families, and despite the fact that in Europe they are considered upscale from their sedan siblings, they have declined in popularity and have been largely replaced, first by minivans and truck-based sport utility vehicles and, more recently, by car-based crossover utility vehicles.
Except for the fact that the driver and passengers sit higher in crossovers, wagons are preferred by enthusiasts because they usually deliver better handling. A prime example is the difference between the Cadillac CTS Wagon, which has a crisp, high-performance feel, and its softer sibling, the Cadillac SRX crossover.
Despite the growth of crossovers, the powers at Acura perceive that there still is a niche in the entry-level luxury section of the market for a compact to mid-size wagon, so they have introduced the 2011 TSX Sport Wagon.
This is an all-new entry and comes at a time when Volvo, once nearly synonymous with station wagons, says it will withdraw its last remaining model, the V50, from the United States. Its perception obviously is 180 degrees away from Acura’s.
The soothsayers at Acura say they believe their Sport Wagon will account for about one in 10 of TSX sales. It’s a modest hope. In 2010, TSX sales totaled slightly more than 32,000, so if the new wagon tallies anywhere near 4,000 annual sales it will be perceived as a success.
Like the TSX sedan, the new Sport Wagon is based on the European version of the Honda Accord, which is smaller than the car sold in the United States. Acura is the luxury division of Honda.The Sport Wagon also is essentially the same as the sedan, with the only real difference an extended, squared off roofline that expands the cargo-carrying volume from 13 to 32 cubic feet. Fold the rear seatbacks and it expands to 61 cubic feet—enough to accommodate a full-size bicycle—although the rear shock absorber towers intrude on both sides.
In other respects, it mimics the TSX sedan, which is to say it is a reasonably luxurious, tight, crisp-handling machine with a powerful feel despite the fact that it comes up a bit short in the performance department.
Only one drive train is offered: the 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers its power to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. TSX sedans also can be ordered with V6 engines and six-speed manual gearboxes.
Given the Sport Wagon’s additional weight of about 130 pounds means it doesn’t quite keep up with the TSX sedans. Car and Driver Magazine tested its zero-to-60 acceleration time at 8.2 seconds, not outstanding in this era of routine six- and seven-second times.
However, the Sport Wagon makes up for it with a perception of power. It has an aggressive throttle tip-in, so that when you step on the pedal you get a strong surge off the line that makes for a powerful feel.
It also gets high marks for its electric power steering, which is accurate in the curves and stable in straight-line driving. The ride, as befits its sports designation, is stiff but not unpleasant.Inside, the front bucket seats deliver good support and long-distance comfort. As with most higher-tech cars these days, there’s an array of buttons and knobs but they are relatively easy to learn. Curiously, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sun from the side, despite the fact that other Acura models have sliders.
Not surprisingly, given its smaller European dimensions, the Sport Wagon has a fairly tight back seat. The outboard positions have limited knee and head room and, as is usual in many cars, the center seating position is impossible.
The TSX Sport Wagon has a starting price of $31,820. Standard equipment includes full safety equipment, leather upholstery with heated front seats, automatic climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, roof rails for cargo, motorized glass sunroof, high-intensity headlights and alloy wheels.
The only other version, tested here, has a technology package that includes a navigation system, premium ELS audio system, real-time traffic and weather information, and a power tailgate. It had a bottom-line sticker price of $35,470, which undercuts the Audi A4 Avant and the BMW 328i Sport Wagon.