For those of a certain age and with multiple siblings, the station wagon was the family ride of choice before being supplanted by minivans in the 1980’s, SUVs in the 1990’s and crossovers today.
They remain popular in Europe, where they tend to avoid a certain “soccer mom” stigma. The few true station wagons still offered in the U.S. ‘” at least the ones that don’t otherwise pose as crossover SUVs ‘” are positioned as youthful “sport wagons,” including those in the BMW 3 Series and Cadillac CTS model lines. We’ve always found this genre to be a guilty pleasure, uniquely tempering an entertainingly sporty attitude with a decidedly practical nature.
Joining this elite fleet for 2011 is the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. The TSX is based on the European-spec version of the Honda Accord, which means it’s smaller and sportier than the version that’s sold on this side of the Atlantic. Unlike the U.S. Accord, which is also offered as a bloated and oddly shaped Crosstour crossover SUV, the TSX takes a straightforward station wagon approach.
It’s a truly attractive ride with muscular wheel arches, a long and fairly horizontal roofline and a sharply sloping tail with a long rear overhang that affords a spacious cargo hold and gives the TSX wagon a nicely proportioned look. As with most Acura models the front-end treatment doesn’t quite meld with the rest of the car’s aggressive bodywork, with the grille and headlamps creating a certain smiley-face appearance.
Though it’s rated for five, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon realistically seats four passengers, with plenty of room for a long legged driver to stretch out in comfort. Rear legroom gets impractically tight if the front seat occupants have their seats pushed all the way back, however. Passenger space is roughly on a par with a BMW 3 Series wagon, but the TSX handily beats the Bimmer in terms of cargo room at 25.8 cubic feet; this expands to a full 60.5 cubic feet with the rear 60/40-split seatbacks folded flat. This multi-configurable rear cargo area includes assorted hidden storage areas, and can be fitted with a power-operated hatchback for added convenience.
The Acura TSX Sport Wagon’s interior is handsomely designed, with only a few cheapish and/or hollow materials spoiling what is otherwise a quality look and feel. We particularly liked the stylish-yet-legible metal-rimmed gauges on the instrument panel. We also appreciated that most functions remain governed by standard switches, buttons and dials instead of an annoyingly complex menu-driven multimedia system of the sort that tends to hamper most upscale cars these days. Though the TSX squeezes myriad buttons onto its center stack of controls, they’re clearly marked and logically arranged. A dial is used for a few functions, like programming the available navigation system and selecting radio presets; many operations are also operated via steering wheel buttons (and optionally, by voice commands).
Crisp handling is the Acura TSX Sport Wagon’s strong suit, though enthusiasts will likely decry its front-wheel-drive configuration, as opposed to the aforementioned 3 Series and CTS wagons’ rear-drive setup. Still, the TSX’s four-wheel independent suspension does a fine job of holding onto sweeping on- or off-ramps confidently at highway speeds and makes quick work of switchbacks and S-curves without undue intervention by the car’s stability control system. The speed-sensitive electric power steering may be a bit lighter feeling than it is in some other sporty sedans or wagons, but it provides sufficient feedback to the driver through the wheel. The car can actually be a lot of fun to drive in urban settings, darting its way through traffic and careening around corners playfully.
The Acura TSX Sport Wagon’s suspension likewise does a nice job of taking the edge off of bumps and potholes and doesn’t lose is poise while traversing extended stretches of pockmarked pavement. Braking is straight and secure with minimal front-end dive and brake fade in hard stopping situations. Unlike the Cadillac and BMW wagons, however, the TSX isn’t available with all-wheel-drive for added dry-road grip and wet-road traction.
Where the Acura TSX Sport Wagon tends to fall short is in terms of speed. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers a languid 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, and while that’s sufficient to navigate city streets, the car runs out of steam when pushed hard on an open road. It reaches 60 mph from a standing start in around 8.5 seconds, which is quite leisurely for any car that has the word “Sport” as part of its name. The car would be far better served by the sedan version’s available 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The wagon’s acceleration is further shackled by its five-speed automatic transmission. While it works well and includes a manual gear-select mode, a proper manual gearbox or a quicker-shifting dual-clutch automated manual transmission would afford livelier performance.
Fuel economy is EPA rated at 22-city/30-highway mpg, which is about average in this class.
Coming well equipped with all the expected features for its $30,960 sticker price, including heated leather sport seats, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon’s options are limited to a $3,650 Technology Package. This includes the navigation system, voice commands, Bluetooth mobile-phone interface, the power hatchback and Acura’s superior 10-speaker ELS Surround-sound audio system, all of which are recommended additions.
Who should consider the Acura TSX Sport Wagon? Hard-core enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to choose it over the BMW 328i wagon, other than to pocket what amounts to around a $6,000 price difference. Younger buyers, particularly city dwellers looking for an entertaining, practical and reasonably luxurious ride would be well served here. However, those looking for a roomier interior and/or a quicker engine may want to consider a sporty luxury crossover SUV, like Acura’s own RDX, the Audi Q5 or Infiniti EX35.
MSRP: $30,960, not including $885 destination charge.