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2009 Acura TSX Compact Sedan

What was tested? 2008 Acura TSX with Technology Package ($32,060).

Options: None.

Price as tested: $32,060.

As a card-carrying member of the Automotive Know-It-All Society, I think General Motors has too many brands for its own good.

Plenty of other AKIAS members agree with me. Our logic goes like this: If Toyota has Lexus, Nissan has Infiniti and Honda has Acura, why on earth does one car company need Buick, Cadillac, Chevy, GMC, Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn?

And that's just GM's American brands. The same company also owns Daewoo, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall overseas, and it killed off the domestic Oldsmobile brand not too long ago.

The whole idea is silly, taking a few similar car designs and slapping different badges on the trunk so they can sell more copies. You can see how this could be a problem for The General because it's impossible to truly separate 12 different brands that sell similar products.

But what if you only have two brands? Shouldn't it be easy to make one brand seem completely different from the other?

Apparently not when the brands are Honda and Acura. While they're both owned by the same company, I've never completely understood the point of Acura. Yes, it's supposed to be nicer than a Honda, but nicer can mean so many different things.

Is an Acura more comfortable than a Honda? Sometimes, but not always.

Is it more powerful? Nope.

Does it have more technology? Only when compared to a base Honda.

Does it look better? Not really.

Take the new Acura TSX, which is basically a European version of the Honda Accord. It's a great car by any objective measure. It's got all kinds of gadgets, drives beautifully and looks great.

Then again, so does a high-end Accord.

The 2009 TSX is an all-new remake of Acura's entry-level sedan, and it seems to target luxury buyers who are shopping for value. It starts around $29,000 and comes with some standard features you'd normally expect to see on more expensive cars, like heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a navigation system.

For around $3,000 more, you get what Acura calls the Technology Package. It adds a better stereo, rear-view camera and some really cool features to the navigation system.

While a normal navigation system shows a map and gives directions for driving, this feature called AcuraLink takes it a step further. If there's construction or a traffic jam, for example, it will automatically change your route to avoid that area. It also gives you real-time weather data for cities across the country.

Unfortunately, the TSX's driving dynamics aren't as nice as the navigation tech.

Steering and brakes feel sharp and precise, although its front-wheel-drive setup isn't as fun as other true, rear-wheel-drive sports sedans.

Your only choice under the hood is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 201 horsepower, which is hardly luxurious. It sounds great, but it doesn't pull very hard. On the bright side, it gets better gas mileage than many luxury cars, with 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway.

And this brings us back to the difference between Honda and Acura. You can buy a Honda Accord with virtually the same features as the Acura TSX for around $30,000, which is awfully expensive for an Accord.

Or you could buy the TSX for roughly the same price, which is awfully cheap for a luxury car.

Pros: It's a luxury bargain, offering a lot of nice features with a starting price around $29,000.

Cons: With a puny four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, it doesn't perform like a true sports sedan.

Style: 8
Performance: 6
Price: 9
Handling: 5
Ride: 7
Comfort: 9
Quality: 10
Overall: 7