2004 Acura TSX
Photos: Acura. Test car not exactly as shown. Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

High quality, fun-to-drive, but styling not distinctive

Introduced in April, the 2004 Acura TSX is a front-wheel-drive sports sedan designed to compete with entry-level near luxury sedans like the BMW 320i, Audi A4 1.8T, Saab 9-3 Linear, and Lexus IS300.

Bigger than the Acura 1.7EL (think Civic) and smaller than the 3.2TL, the TSX is based on the European/Japanese Honda Accord, a completely different car to the larger North American Accord. Compared to the European Accord, the TSX has a more powerful 200 horsepower 2.4 litre VTEC four cylinder engine, standard 6-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic ‘Sportmatic’ transmission, 17 inch performance tires with alloys, and a high level of standard equipment.

At first glance, the TSX’s price of $34,800 seems on the high side for a four cylinder sedan – the Honda Accord four cylinder, for example, starts at $25,000. However, when you compare the TSX’s level of standard equipment to other ‘near luxury’ sport sedans, the price seems more reasonable.

2004 Acura TSX
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The TSX includes a 380 watt stereo with in-dash 6-disc CD player and eight speakers, heated leather seats, dual zone climate control, moonroof, power 8-way driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows, power door locks with remote, simulated woodgrain trim, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, heated mirrors, and cruise control. It also comes with four wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, dual-threshold front airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags, HID headlamps, dual exhausts, and VSA automatic stability assist.

There are some options, or ‘accessories’ as Acura calls them: a rear DVD entertainment system, special alloy wheels, cassette player, front and rear spoilers and side skirts, and front fog lamps. You don’t need most of these though – even the fog lamps are unnecessary – the TSX has awesome Xenon headlights.

Interior classy, well-finished

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

My test car was black on the outside with a creme-beige coloured interior. Though very attractive when clean, I’d recommend avoiding this colour combination – unless you plan on washing and vacuuming the car every day.

The TSX’s interior is tastefully and attractively designed with high quality materials everywhere you look – not unlike other Acuras. The standard leather seats are of a high quality leather with perforated inserts. The driver’s seat has a power height and rake adjustment, but not a lumbar adjustment. Still, I found the driver’s seat very comfortable during the week I drove the car, and the side bolsters very effective at keeping me in the seat during fast cornering. I also liked the meaty tilt/telescopic three-spoke steering wheel.

Instrument displays are bright and easy to see. The round gauges have large numerals that are backlit during the daytime, and the digital clock and the centre display screen also have large, backlit white-on-black numerals. The push-buttons for the radio are also plainly marked. One small criticism: the tachometer and speedometer are a bit far apart, and from some angles, the steering wheel obscures the outside edges.

The stereo in the TSX is fantastic. Booming bass, crystal clear high treble notes, rich mid-range tones, and surround sound add up to an immensely enjoyable audio experience. The whole car vibrates when the bass level is turned up. Stereo controls for volume, seek, channel and AM/FM modes can also be found on the steering wheel spoke.

The car’s standard automatic climate control includes separate driver and passenger temperature adjustments, which can be adjusted separately, or together. Just set it in ‘auto’ and forget it. The system has also has a single fan speed control and a single ventilation control.

Just below the heater are two covered storage areas, the lower one containing a hidden 12 volt powerpoint. The lower console contains seat heater buttons for the front seats – each seat has two temperature settings.

The short, but easy-to-grip leather-covered shifter must be manoeuvered through a staggered, stainless steel gate. I don’t like staggered gates because they just seem to make shifting more difficult, but this one has a design purpose: From the Drive position, you can tap left into the manual shifting mode where you push forwards to change up a gear and tap back to change down a gear. Also, from the Drive position, you can pull the lever back into 3rd gear for quick downshifts.

The handbrake lever is just to the left of the shift lever, and though it looks like it would get in the way of the shifting process, I didn’t experience any difficulties.

Behind the shift lever are two covered cupholders – one is bigger than the other for different-sized cups. Between the front seats is a deep storage bin with another hidden 12 volt power outlet. The top level includes a shallow storage area with a coinholder.

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

Adult passengers in the rear seat have adequate headroom and legroom, in part because the front seats are raised to allow feet to slip under them comfortably. However, the rear bench is a bit narrow for three adults, and the centre seat cushion is raised, so it’s not very comfortable.

The rear seat includes a centre folding armrest with two built-in cupholders, and two outboard head restraints that are height adjustable – but no centre head restraint.

The 60/40 folding seatbacks can be unlocked with the ignition key via a keyhole in the rear parcel shelf. It’s tricky though: you have to turn the key one way to drop the left side, and the other way to drop the other side. The folding seats can also be released from the trunk by pulling on a couple of straps.

The pass-through opening is wide at the top but rather narrow at the bottom, restricting the size of items that can be inserted into the passenger cabin.

The roomy trunk can be opened remotely by pressing a button on the key fob, and it is fully lined.

Driving impressions

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

The TSX has big pull-type door handles which are easy to grip, and the front doors are big and allow easy access. The rear doors swing out almost 90 degrees, however they’re quite narrow at the bottom due to the sweeping shape of the door.

Outward visibility is good – the trunk is not too high and the rear head restraints don’t impede side or rear visibility. One small criticism: the driver’s side wiper blade is huge! It doesn’t restrict forward visibility, but it’s an eyesore.

The TSX’s 2.4 litre twin cam 16 valve i-VTEC four cylinder engine generates 200 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. I found it uncommonly smooth and powerful for a four cylinder engine. Acura quotes a 0 to 100 km/h time of 7.3 seconds, a quicker time than all of its four, five and six cylinder competitors. I found mid range acceleration to be brisk and highway cruising smooth and effortless. At freeway speeds, the 2.4 litre four cylinder engine does just 2100 rpm at 100 km/h in fifth gear, and 2500 rpm at 120 km/h – those are very low figures for a four cylinder engine – and contribute to the engine’s smooth, quiet performance on the freeway. I did notice some wind noise at freeway speeds, though.

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

If there is a fault with this engine, it is the fact that maximum torque is not reached until 4500 rpm – BMW’s six cylinder engines and Audi’s turbocharged four cylinder engines develop their maximum torque much earlier. The TSX’s intelligent variable valve timing and lift control system helps compensate for this, but there is a period somewhere between 1500 rpm and 3000 rpm that the engine could use a little more punch.

By the way, the TSX has an electronic ‘drive-by-wire’ throttle – I really couldn’t tell much difference between this and a regular throttle.

For durability, the 2.4 litre engine is equipped with platinum-tipped spark plugs and a self-adjusting cam chain, and is designed to run for 175,000 kilometres before requiring a major scheduled tune-up.

5-speed automatic “Sportshift” transmission

My test car was equipped with the 5-speed automatic “Sportshift” transmission – this a no-cost option on the TSX. In automatic mode, its Grade Logic Control System and intelligent shift programming help provide quick, smooth shifts up and down.

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

Coasting down a slight grade, the transmission will remain in third or fourth to assist braking, while braking into a corner prompts the transmission to shift down automatically. With the help of its electronic throttle, Acura claims a reduction in shift time of 40 percent between second and first gear. Overall, the TSX’s engine and transmission work very well together.

To switch to the sequential manual SportShift mode, the driver simply moves the gear lever to a special gate to the left of the “Drive” position. A forward push of the lever changes up a gear, and another push shifts up another gear; a rearward pull selects a lower gear. A display in the instrument cluster indicates what gear you are in. If the driver over-revs the engine, the transmission will automatically cut off the fuel, and in extreme situations, automatically shift up a gear. When coming to a stop, the Sportshift mode will automatically select 1st gear if the driver fails to shift down.

I found the manual shift intervals very quick – quicker than a driver could accomplish with a tradtional manual transmission – but not as much fun.

Surprisingly balanced handling

2004 Acura TSX
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A front-wheel-drive car, the TSX has a front/rear weight balance of 61%/39%. A typical rear-wheel-drive sports sedan has more evenly balanced front/rear weight distribution. Yet, I found the TSX very balanced and controllable, with minimal understeer when pressing hard into a corner, and little brake dive under hard braking. In tight switchbacks, the TSX can be tossed with complete predictability – its four wheel double wishbone suspension, gas pressurize shock absorbers, and P215/50R17 Michelin tires providing excellent control and grip. At high speeds, the TSX is very stable and tracks well. It’s quick ratio, variable power assist rack and pinion steering delivered excellent feel and control with virtually no torque-steer or kickback response on poor roads. However, its turning diameter of 12.2 metres (40 ft.) is a bit wide.

The ride is firm, but I found the TSX to be quite comfortable on typical day to day commutes. The body is super tight, and the car feels well-built. You’ll notice some tire slap over freeway expansion cracks, but that’s not unusual.

The car’s standard Vehicle Stability Assist system which works in concert with the braking and drive-by-wire throttle systems provides automatic stability during cornering, braking and accelerating on slippery surfaces. This is a last-minute safety feature, should you lose control of the car. If you like, the VSA can be switched off via a button on the dashboard.

At night, the TSX’s standard High Intensity Discharge (HID) Xenon headlights provide a bright low beam with a sharp upper cutoff. These headlamps are brighter, more evenly distributed, and wider than the headlamps in most other cars I’ve driven.

Competitor overview

Competitors for the TSX ($34,800) include the BMW 320i ($34,900), BMW 325i ($39,300), Audi A4 1.8T ($33,600), Lexus IS300 ($37,775), Mercedes-Benz C240 Classic ($38,450), Saab 9-3 Linear ($34,900), and the Volvo S60 2.4 ($36,495).

2004 Acura TSX
Click image to enlarge

The TSX has more horsepower than all but the Lexus IS300 (with 213), but it has the least torque of all of its competitors except the 320i. Also, the inline six cylinder engines of the BMW and Lexus, and the V6 engine in the Mercedes, are arguably smoother than the TSX’s four cylinder powerplant. Nevertheless, the TSX’s 0 to 100 km/h time of 7.3 seconds is the quickest in its class. And in terms of fuel economy, the TSX is number one.

All the TSX’s competitors are available with five-speed automatic transmissions, but not all have manual modes. The A4 1.8T comes with a continuously variable transmission. Only the Mercedes C240 is also available with a six-speed manual transmission.

Enthusiasts will argue that the rear-wheel-drive layout of the 3-Series, IS300, and C240 is better for handling and ride than the TSX’s front-wheel-drive configuration – however most ordinary folk will be very happy with the TSX’s handling.

The TSX is roomier than the BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS300, two of its primary competitors.

For its price of $34,800, the TSX is the best equipped vehicle – everything’s included in the TSX base price. Options on the BMW and Mercedes, in particular, can lift their base prices much higher.

In terms of styling, the TSX is probably the least distinctive car in its class. It resembles the 3.2TL and 3.5RL, and lacks any really outstanding styling features.


A well-finished, well-balanced, fun-to-drive sports sedan with a comparatively good price, the Acura TSX could use more distinctive styling to separate it from other Acuras.

The Acura TSX is built in Sayama, Japan.

Technical Data: 2004 Acura TSX

Base price $34,800
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, i-VTEC
Horsepower 200 @ 6800 rpm
Torque 166 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic, manual mode
Tires 215/50 R17 all-season
Curb weight 1505 kg (3317 lb.)
Wheelbase 2670 mm (105.1 in.)
Length 4657 mm (183.3 in.)
Width 1762 mm (69.4 in.)
Height 1456 mm (57.3 in.)
Trunk capacity 368 litres (13.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.2 l/100 km (28 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.4 l/100 km (38 mpg)
Fuel Premium unleaded
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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