2006 Acura CSX Premium. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
Given how stereotypically frugal and practical the Canadian car-buying public supposedly is, it’s interesting that the Acura EL was quite a success here. A Canadian exclusive, the EL was essentially a gussied-up version of the Honda Civic, with a slightly more powerful engine, more formal looks, and a better-equipped (and in some models, leather-lined) interior. Just as GM has found – with a succession of models that have been available as Pontiacs, when they’ve only been sold as Chevys in the States – Canadians, practical as they may be, are willing to spend a bit more if they think they’re buying into a better brand.
But, as a group, car buyers are a lot more discerning than ever before. The same car with a different badge just doesn’t cut it these days, and it takes more than a few extra gadgets or some nicer fabric to justify a higher price and that fancy badge. So, a few weeks after the new Honda Civic went on sale, the Acura CSX appeared: a car that, fundamentally, continues the course that the EL started, but moves the game on a bit in terms of just how different it is. Yeah, it’s still got Civic bones, but the CSX also feels like its own car – more of a car – for not that much more money.
The primary attraction for a lot of people is going to be how much more you get under the hood. Instead of the Civic’s 1.8-litre, 140-hp four-cylinder (standard across the sedan line, except in the hybrid), the CSX is powered by the same engine under the hood of most RSXs, a 2.0-litre four that produces a more robust 155 horses. It moves the CSX along with authority; though there’s not much torque from a standstill, it’s happy to zip to its redline. As you would expect from a Honda engine, it’s also smooth and quiet when you’re cruising, and achieves good fuel economy numbers.
While enthusiasts will no doubt gravitate immediately toward the standard five-speed manual transmission, the optional five-speed automatic deserves consideration. It works well in automatic mode, with smooth shifts and decent kickdown response, but the real fun are the paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel which allow you to shift it manually without releasing your grip. Shifts are quick (Acura’s manumatics have always been among the best in terms of response time), and the paddles really introduce a new element of fun into the driving experience – never mind that, left to its own devices, the auto will likely do a better job than you of picking shift points.
Head for the hills, and the CSX remains a willing performer, with plenty of grip, and a stable chassis balance that forgives most driving foibles.
The 16-inch tires work well in the rain, and the ride strikes a nice balance between a sporty feel and a smooth highway ride. That said, the CSX doesn’t feel quite as frisky as the EL did – it has a better-damped, more grown up feel that means the steering requires a few degrees of lock before it comes alive, and the brake and throttle pedals both have just a little bit of mush engineered into them for a more refined feel. If you’re after the friskiest compact, the less-expensive Mazda3’s where it’s at, though it can’t match the CSX’s high level of refinement, whether you’re attacking a winding road or just cruising down the highway.
It takes more than just a glance to realize that you’re not looking at a Civic when a CSX first drives by. While all of the regular Acura styling cues are in place – the trapezoidal grille, the pointy nose, the circular rear lights, the turn signals integrated in the mirrors – it’s difficult to distinguish, largely because the Civic’s proportions, at least for now, are so unique. The cabin’s pushed way forward, with a windshield whose angle is almost at a sports-car rake, and (unlike many cars that are growing taller to provide more cabin space) the roofline is low-slung, blending into a stubby tail. Hey, at least the shape is space-efficient: the CSX packs more room than the EL into a shorter, lower body, if one that’s slightly more difficult to access, thanks to the lower stance and swoopy roofline.
Fans of the EL’s clean interior – with its tightly-clustered gauges and central control panel – will find that the CSX’s dashboard will take a little getting used to. The instruments are divided into two tiers, with the primary information like speed and warning lights up high, and other information, like the tachometer, clustered in a smaller panel down low. I look as much at the tachometer as I do at the speedometer in most driving – especially in something I’m shifting manually – and found it difficult to re-focus my eyes depending on what I was looking at. The high-set radio display, away from the actual controls, works better just because it’s in your line of sight.
On the plus side, the shifter is set way up high, making it an easy reach from the little steering wheel, the manually-adjustable seats are exclusive to CSX, and are comfortable and grippy (leather is available with the Premium package), and there’s a good amount of room front and back. A wide range of adjustments for the seats and leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel – it tilts and telescopes – makes it easy to get comfortable. The low-slung styling means the trunk doesn’t seem quite as big as the EL’s; it’s deep, but not that tall. Compensation comes thanks to a huge range of storage options inside the cabin, from large door pockets that can hold three water bottles to numerous cupholders to a centre-console bin that can hold up to 25 CDs.
Built in Alliston, Ontario, the CSX possesses most of the other traditional Acura traits: it’s nicely made inside and out (panel gaps are down to less than 1 mm in some places),
it comes with a good warranty and a better dealership experience than you would get with a Honda, and is available with not only a leather interior but a rich array of high-tech features. DVD-based navigation with bilingual voice recognition, Bluetooth technology, and a high-end audio system are but some of its features not available at any price on the Civic. Order all of them, though, and the fairly reasonable $25,400 base price (a few hundred bucks north of where the Civic stops) inflates to almost $32,000, which seems pretty steep, voice recognition or no voice recognition. Were the Civic not already a darn good car, with most of the features most buyers are ever going to need, the CSX would be an easier sell.
Then again, Acura sees the CSX competing not against more mainstream compacts, but against richer offerings like the Volvo S40, Volkswagen Jetta and Audi A3 – many of which are also based on more prosaic platforms. Against them, it looks like conspicuous value when you consider the level of equipment it offers. It’s the only one, for instance, to offer ABS and head-curtain airbags as standard equipment; some, if not all of these things are optional on the competition. It’ll likely be economical to run, too, thanks to its efficient engine and light weight. Acura’s record for reliability and resale value is worth considering, as well.
Compared to the EL, CSX feels a lot more like an Acura than its predecessor.
2006 Acura CSX Touring. Photo: Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge
Its interior trimmings, standard equipment, level of refinement, improved performance and dealer experience and warranty make it a very different package, one that’s more in keeping with the desires of the customers Acura is looking for. Internal research has shown that customers of top-level ELs were situated in a very similar demographic and psychographic as owners of cars like the Jetta. Moving the brand’s entry-level model range up a bit to start where the EL left off in terms of price should do a better job of attracting the buyers Acura needs to move up into its larger, more expensive products.
Second Opinion: 2006 Acura CSX
By Greg Wilson
I really enjoyed my time in the Canada-only Acura CSX. It’s such a well-made, futuristic looking car and it exudes quality and luxury. But the whole time I had it, I was uncomfortably aware that most people thought I was driving a Honda Civic. The new Honda Civic is a fine car, but if I had just paid $33,000 for my CSX (the as-tested price of my test car), I wouldn’t be overly happy that it looked like a car that costs up to $10,000 less.
And that raises the touchy subject of “badge engineering” – you know, the practice of taking one car and rebadging with another name and adding just a few styling changes and equipment differences. It’s a practice long employed by GM, Ford and Chrysler, but not often by the import brands. For import buyers, ‘badge engineering’ is synonymous with ‘lazy engineering’ – and there’s a certain disrespect that goes along with that. The ultimate example of that was the 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier and the Cadillac Cimarron. That was nasty.
True, there are important differences between the CSX and Civic, such as the more powerful 2.0-litre engine, the addition of paddle shifters to the 5-speed automatic transmission, automatic climate control, and the optional navigation system with English and Canadian French voice activation – and I found all of these features are very well-executed on the CSX.
But how different does a car need to be to have its own personality – its own identity? And how important is that? Ironically, Chrysler has it right with the 300, Magnum, Charger and the future Challenger, all built on the same platform with similar powertrains, but with very different characters and different buyers.
There’s good reason to think that I’ve got this all wrong, though. The previous Acura EL was Acura’s best-selling model and one of the top selling luxury cars in Canada.
2006 Acura CSX Premium. Photos: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
Perhaps EL buyers liked the fact that it looked like the Civic, one of Canada’s most popular and best-respected vehicles. Perhaps they appreciated the carryover in reputation. And the resale values of used ELs are unbelievably high, at least in British Columbia where I live. Obviously, a lot of people want used ELs.
So where does this leave the new Acura CSX? It’s still a high quality small sedan with improved crash protection, a quieter interior, more power, new features and easy driving manners. It’s not really a sporty car like the Audi A3, and it doesn’t have the practicality of a hatchback, but it has a lot of class and a very comfortable, quiet cabin and futuristic design. There are some important distinctions between the Acura CSX and Honda Civic – just don’t be too worried if nobody notices them.
Technical Data: 2006 Acura CSX
|Options||None||$3,800 (5-speed automatic transmission, navigation system)|
|Price as tested||$26,780 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives||$33,280Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||155 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||139 @ 4500 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed manual||5-speed automatic w/paddles opt.|
|Tires||P205/55R16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A|
|Curb weight||1343 kg (2960 lbs)||1289 kg ( lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2700 mm (106.2 in.)|
|Length||4544 mm (178.8 in.)|
|Width||1752 mm (68.9 in.)|
|Height||1435 mm (56.4 in.)|
|Cargo area||340 litres (12.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 8.7 L/100 km (32 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 6.4 L/100 km (44 mpg Imperial)|
|Fuel type||Regular unleaded|
|Warranty||4 yrs/ 80,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|
|Assembly location||Alliston, Ontario|