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2004 Acura TSX Compact Sports Sedan

New Car Profile of the 2004 Acura TSX Compact Sports Sedan

Description: Compact sports sedan
Model options: TSX M/6, TSX A/5
Base MSRP Range: TSX M/6 - $ 26,490, TSX A/5 - $ 26,490

Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Overall length: 183.3 inches
Engine size: DOHC 2.4-L I4
Transmissions/speeds: Manual/6, Auto/5 Sequential SportShift
Rear/front drive: Front
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power 4-disc, ABS/TCS/VSA
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side), 4 (side curtain)
EPA mileage est. city/hwy: M/6 - 21/29 mpg, A/5 - 22/31 mpg

With careful attention to our hold on that plump little steering wheel, we're driving a precise line on the descent of California's route 33 through Wheeler Gorge to Ojai because the cliff on the right drops off for at least a thousand feet and we can see from squiggly pavement ahead a seemingly endless string of dicey curves, curves, and more curves.

That's okay, though, because we're cinched hard against the bolstered seat while working the six-speed manual shifter's stick and pushing the drive-by-wire throttle toward a rather tall redline to test the temper of the latest luxury sports sedan for the compact class.

A trunk tag labels it as the TSX by Acura, the line of performance and luxury vehicles derived from Honda of Japan.

TSX fills a new parking space in Acura's garage, fitting in size and price between the larger 3.2TL mid-size luxury sedan and that race-bred ripper of a compact hatchback coupe, RSX.

It stocks four doors and seats for as many as five riders with deluxe appointments in the cabin such as the sporty buckets clad in perforated leather, a leather-wrapped steering wheel rigged with tabs to run the stereo and cruise control, plus a twin-zone automatic climate system, power moonroof, keyless entry and premium audio gear.

There's a rigid chassis saddled with a front-mounted engine directing all power to the two front wheels.

To set a hard edge on the handling department, TSX gets a suspension derived from Honda's Formula One racing experience with double wishbones posted over all wheels.

Precise rack and pinion steering comes with the package, plus big disc brakes on wheels capped by 17-inch Michelin MXM4 high-performance tires. And below the hood, there's a 2.4-liter engine with aluminum block and in-line four-cylinder arrangement

A sport-tune vehicle like this new Acura totes an engine with only four cylinders?

Trust us: This is not just any four-pack found in a typical compact-class sedan.

The plant, lifted from Honda's CR-V wagon but worked over with micro-polished crankshaft journals and larger bore for cylinder liners, carries Honda's advanced system of computer-controlled intelligence for regulating camshaft phasing to boost performance as well as fuel economy.

For those extra kicks, it has an elevated 10.5:1 compression ratio that pushes output up to 200 hp at 6800 rpm with torque stringing out to 166 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.

Then it's driver's choice with the close-ratio six-speed manual shifter or a no-load electronic automatic with five forward speeds plus Honda's Sequential SportShift override for clutch-less manual shifts.

Either transmission feels fun to work and brings Honda's silky-smooth movements, although a die-hard shifter will be lured to six manual gears and everyone else will be impressed to find a high-tech automatic offered without a subsequent elevation of the vehicle's bottom line.

It seems Acura fixes the MSRP for TSX with either shifter at $26,490, plus the obligatory freight fee of $500.

And it's equipped so well that the only option concerns Acura's DVD-based navigation system with voice recognition feature for $2,000 more.

That means even the loaded version with freight applied comes home for ten bucks less than $29,000.

Take a walk-around tour of the TSX and you'll discover it looks keen and sporty, although perhaps vaguely familiar.

Here's the deal: Chassis and unitized body for this car come from the European version of Honda's Accord sedan, which measures smaller in track width (by 1.5 inches) and wheelbase length (by 2.8 inches) than the Accord sedan assembled in Ohio for the North American market.

So the wedge-shaped body of TSX has some of the European Accord's elements including its basic sheetmetal, plus fixtures like flank mirrors and door handles.

Yet the sculptured prow holds Acura's five-sided grille fitted with xenon high intensity discharge (HID) low-beam lamps and halogen high beams as well as expanded air intakes in the lower fascia.

Overall lines on the body seem taut with hints of the car's muscular prowess.

At the tail the treatment is unique with a blunt rump marked by the high-backed truck deck and a smooth ring of body-colored bumpers.

Lurking behind the slick styling lines, TSX contains some noteworthy safety features, beginning with the xenon headlights.

These lamps cast a wider beam of light with a range up to 100 foot longer than halogen headlamps so xenon becomes an aid for nighttime driving.

Rain-slick pavement poses no problem because TSX has Honda's vehicle stability assist (VSA) equipment that operates in conjunction with an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus the drive-by-wire throttle to manage the wheel action when accelerating, braking or cornering.

And passengers are shielded in the event of a collision by an intricate layer of inflatable air bags. There are bags in front and to the outboard side for front riders plus curtain-style cushions concealed above side windows on front and rear doors.

The cabin of TSX is a refined compartment stuffed with plush gear. Layout is the usual -- twin bucket seats up front on either side of a console and a bench for up to three in back with indentions for two and the seatback divided in 60:40 ratio and foldable to expand the trunk's cargo space.

Trim accents in plastic that looks metallic show up on the steering wheel as well as a door-to-door band sweeping across the instrument panel. And analog gauges clustered in the instrument pod use light-emitting-diode (LED) back-lighting for an easy read.

Posh gear includes automatic controls for the climate system with dual zones for comfort, power operation for windows and mirrors and door locks, the driver's bucket with eight-way power controls including adjustable lumbar support, plus the power moonroof and keyless entry device.

TSX audio package is the 360-watt Acura Premium Sound System with eight speakers and a CD changer mounted in the dash for six discs.