September 20, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2006 Acura CSX w/navi

Specifications: 2006 Acura CSX

Acura’s Canada-only CSX is a significant evolution from the EL it replaces. Both are based on the Honda Civic, but whereas the EL used the standard Civic drivetrain, the CSX starts with the engine from the RSX sport coupe, and offers a five-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles to supplement the conventional manual five-speed.

We recently had access to a CSX for two weeks, and found it to be a most appealing car, mainly because of the responsive engine and sporty suspension, but also because of features like the navigation system and leather interior that are not available on the Civic. We also liked the look of the car.

Our $31,900 (plus freight) Premium Navi version with automatic transmission is the top-of-the-line CSX, and while you can still add accessories and 17-inch wheels (16-inch alloys are standard), this car is pretty much loaded. The engine is a 2.0-litre, 155-horsepower, dual overhead camshaft design with chain drive (no timing belt to replace), and is smoother than the RSX engine due to the extra two balance shafts that are fitted.

Compared with the base Civic platform, the suspension is stiffer, and body roll is consequently limited when taking corners at speed. The electric power assist steering is quick, and overall the car feels nimble and responsive when changing direction.

Put your foot on the gas to pass, and the automatic transmission readily finds the right gear, launching you energetically, while emitting a hint of sportiness from the twin-tip exhaust. Contrary to Acura’s sales brochure, the CSX is not a rocket, however. It’s not a WRX; it’s not a turbo, but it would be satisfactory for most drivers of compact cars looking to elevate their driving experience.

Likewise for the handling and braking. The CSX is an all-around step up from the base Civic (which, don’t forget, is a pretty darned good car), but you’re not going to compete in Solo II and win against tricked out Miatas. That said, the CSX is easy to control, doesn’t dive in corners, and is predictable in normal driving conditions.

There is certainly a level of appointment that buyers expect from an Acura, and the CSX does deliver to a large degree, especially when you consider the comparatively low, luxury car price. Acura executives have pointed out that initiatives are in place to ensure that their vehicles achieve a higher level of fit and finish than Hondas, as you’d expect from a luxury brand, and this seems to be paying off. While the interior of the CSX isn’t opulent (nor is Acura aiming for that), it is tidy and neatly finished. It’s more technical than plush, which is consistent with Acura’s hi-tech focus. The leather surfaces are smart, and the other materials give the impression of quality throughout.

As one of my son’s friends exclaimed when getting into the back seat, “Wow, what a car!” I suspect that not being used to new cars of any type, he was overstating the case, but you have to acknowledge the positive impression that was made by the CSX.

Back seat room, by the way, is particularly spacious. The floor is flat, and there’s good knee room for rear seat passengers, even when the front seat is moved back.

Unlike in the U.S. market, Canadians can’t get a factory navigation system in their Civics, so buying the Acura CSX is the only way to get this technology as part of the Civic platform. Presumably, this is unlikely to be the only reason you’d opt for an Acura CSX, but in combination with other the CSX features, it could impact a buying decision. We liked the navigation system, and found it a big help in large, unfamiliar cities, but we wonder why the avatar has such an obviously American twang, when Honda/Acura is so focussed on creating a proper Canadian French accent for Francophones.

And while the navigation system works very well, the display panel does multitask to a confusing degree. Climate, audio, clock (which frustratingly changes location depending upon the mode), navigation… it’s all bundled into the same dense display. Even the CD player/changer is engineered into the unit, which features a motorized LCD panel that pivots out of the way to allow entry to the CD slot. It displays a graphic reminding people not to balance their drinks on the LCD panel, or stick their fingers in there. People are such idiots, I guess.

Hey, they probably are!

But here’s an idea: lose the analog tachometer in the bi-level instrument panel, and replace it with the navigation display (put a digital tachometer readout below the digital speedometer). Then you could retain separate audio and climate controls in the centre stack, and do away with pivoting LCD panels. The whole thing would be much easier to interpret and operate.

The CSX comes pretty much with power everything, including windows, locks, mirrors, and trunk release. At night the blue-lit gauges and illumination is very impressive, and the soft, blue ambient lighting adds a nice touch. There is also automatic climate control, a tilt and telescoping steering column, iPod/WMA jack and slot, remote controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the Premium Navi version gets the navigation system, of course (which can be voice activated, along with the climate controls), high intensity discharge lighting, leather and sunroof. The outside mirrors are BIG, and give a superb view of the road behind and beside the car. I wonder why domestic and European manufacturers persist with little mirrors: these are most appreciated.

As has been mentioned in other reviews, the A-pillars on both the CSX and Civic are also BIG, but you do kind of get used to peering around them when required. Still, they can block vision in some situations.

Safety equipment is comprehensive, and includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, side impact and side curtain airbags, and Honda/Acura’s ACE body structure that’s designed to protect occupants in the event of a collision. The Honda Civic, upon which the Acura CSX is based, has a five-star safety rating from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

We liked the appearance of the CSX front fascia and rear lights. It’s an improvement on the Civic, and is a classier look for the car. Our Habanero Red CSX was quite fetching, I thought, and the Acura designers have achieved a lot from some comparatively minor tweaks. The car looks like an Acura, which is the end result you want.

Other than the busy LCD panel, criticisms were few. I found the seat hard on long trips, and was continually repositioning myself to stay comfortable. I did find the transmission got confused on occasion, causing some abrupt downshifts, but it wasn’t typical. Fuel economy was very good when driven moderately.

But if you’re regarding the CSX as a hot performer, you’re likely to be disappointed. Hot image, maybe, but look to the Civic Si, with its 197-hp engine and six-speed manual for serious thrust. In contrast, the Acura CSX is an effective performer, with some luxury appointments and a luxury nameplate. Its appearance is smart and upmarket. According to a friend who owns an Acura EL, the dealer experience is excellent and he’s very well treated there. That alone is an important factor for many people when considering the move to a luxury brand.

Getting it from a vehicle that starts at $25,400 plus freight is a good way for Acura to retain its customers, and attract new ones.

Pricing: 2006 Acura CSX w/navi

Base price (Touring, manual) $25,400

Base price (navi, automatic) $31,900

Freight $ 1,280

A/C tax $ 100

Price as tested $33,280

Specifications: 2006 Acura CSX

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Photo Gallery: 2006 Acura CSX w/navi

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