With stubbornly high gasoline prices, station wagons are suddenly appealing _ and Acura's new-for-2011 TSX Sport Wagon should be especially so.
The TSX posts the best fuel mileage rating from the federal government of any 2011-model, gasoline-powered, conventional-looking wagon: 22 miles per gallon in city driving, 30 mpg on the highway. This is higher than mileage ratings for many smaller sport utility vehicles, including the four-cylinder-powered Toyota RAV4.
Meanwhile, at less than 16 feet long, the TSX is nimble in its handling, attractively styled and has more cargo room than compact sport utility vehicles like the Hyundai Tucson.
The TSX also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine.
With a host of standard features, including automatic transmission, perforated leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, two-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, roof rails and power-adjustable and heated front seats, the 2011 TSX Sport Wagon has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $31,845.
This compares with $29,625 for a base, 2011 Audi A3 with 200-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. But with sunroof, Bluetooth, roof rails and power-adjustable front passenger seat added in, the A3's price rises to more than $32,000.
Another luxury-brand competitor, the 2011 BMW 328i wagon, has a starting retail price of $38,575 with 230-horsepower, inline six cylinder and manual transmission.
The new TSX wagon is the second most fuel efficient vehicle in the Acura lineup, after the 2011 TSX sedan which has a government rating of 22/31 mpg.
Note that the wagon version of TSX is about 3.5 inches longer and about an inch taller than the sedan and is 130 pounds heavier. But the TSX wagon has the revised front face of the 2011 TSX sedan. It's not as heavy-looking as last year's TSX styling; overall, the proportions of the wagon look good.
Drivers can sit up a bit inside on the TSX wagon seats, but they're not in an upright position as they are in some of today's taller-riding cars. So, while I enjoyed the comfortable front seats in the TSX wagon, I couldn't see much around or through trucks, vans and other tall vehicles in front of me.
There's one engine: A 2.4-liter, 201-horsepower, double overhead cam, inline four cylinder that has parent company Honda's i-VTEC "intelligent" variable valve control and lift technology that balances performance with fuel economy.
While the TSX sedan is offered with a manual transmission, the TSX wagon has only a five-speed automatic. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel, though, so a driver can, without a clutch pedal, shift manually from forward gear to forward gear.
The test TSX Sport Wagon was a good performer in city traffic and had some spunk on highways. But the engine buzzed noisily when I had four adults inside and was pressing hard to pass other cars on an uphill stretch of highway in the mountains.
Torque peaks at 170 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm, which is considerably less than the 207 foot-pounds of torque coming on as early as 1,800 rpm in the turbocharged, four-cylinder Audi A3. Additionally, the TSX wagon's 0-to-60-miles-an-hour performance comes in at more than 8 seconds, so this wagon isn't quite as sporty as its name implies. And, unfortunately, the TSX wagon requires premium fuel.
Still, I enjoyed the way the TSX handled and rode. Through the nicely sized steering wheel, I felt a palpable connection to the pavement, and there was a decent on-center feel.
The electric power steering did not feel artificial and responded quickly to commands.
Impressively, this wagon felt at home in mountain, twisting roads, where it maintained composure and grip with none of the tippy sensation of an SUV.
In town, the TSX wagon was small enough to fit into parking spaces labeled for compact cars, and it easily slotted into parallel parking spots on city streets.
Throughout, passengers felt mild vibrations nearly all the time as the TSX wagon's 17-inch tires rolled over road imperfections and manhole covers. But the interior was quieter than I expected. The optional, 415-watt, ELS sound system pumped out impressively strong, clear tunes and included a 15-gigabyte media hard drive for hours of songs.
The navigation system was projected on a sizable and brightly colored display in the center stack of the dashboard. The screen is new, with light-emitting diodes providing the backlighting and resolution that's 400 percent better than before. The nav system's menus work faster now, too.
Front-seat passengers had to negotiate legroom with back-seat riders and adjust their seats accordingly, because the TSX wagon's rear legroom is a less-than-generous 34.3 inches.
Headroom of 36.9 inches in back is OK but not comfortable for tall passengers for long periods of time.
I used every bit of the 60.5 cubic feet of cargo space in back, with rear seats folded down. They don't sit exactly flat, though.
And I was thankful that I didn't have to hoist items up high to get them inside as I have in some SUVs.
The power rear liftgate, part of the optional technology package, came in handy as I approached the car with my arms full.
The several hidden storage spots under the cargo floor were a surprising and welcome feature, and inside and out, fit and finish on the test TSX wagon was flawless.
All safety features are standard, and they include side curtain air bags, stability assist, traction control and front seats with anti-whiplash head restraints.