By Paul Williams
Photos by Greg Wilson

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2006 Acura CSX
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Toronto, Ontario – The weather was wet and bleak, pedestrians scurried around under umbrellas, and the air had a wintry bite. It was November in Toronto, and the location for Acura’s launch of the all-new CSX sedan. Lined up in front of the Pantages hotel, the small fleet did its best to sparkle in colours like Neutron Blue and Habanero Red Pearl.

The CSX’s colour palette is “European inspired,” according to Acura, and even though the climate was nothing like the south of France, these new colours added some life to a typical, late-fall Canadian day.

The Galaxy Grey car had its work cut out for it, however.

You’d be forgiven for thinking of the exclusive-to-Canada Acura CSX as a four-door version of the sporty RSX coupe. It has the same 2.0-litre engine as the RSX (although it’s tuned slightly differently), along with “performance” oriented ride and handling, and a similar front-end design.

The CSX takes over from the EL as Acura’s entry to the brand, and like the EL it shares its structure and much of its external bodywork with the Honda Civic. Given the positive reception for the new Civic, this is an excellent place to start.

Rather than making comparisons between the CSX and the Civic, however, let’s look at the CSX in its own right.

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX
Click image to enlarge

Designated a luxury, compact sedan, the front-wheel drive CSX arrives in two trim levels, starting at $25,400 for the five-speed manual transmission “Touring” version. Standard equipment at this level includes four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, 16-inch aluminum wheels, automatic climate control, premium cloth upholstery, six airbags (includes side curtain airbags), drive-by-wire throttle system and a six-speaker audio system with MP3/WMA compatibility.

The $28,100 CSX “Premium” adds leather-trimmed interior with heated front seats, power moonroof, high-intensity discharge headlamps and a six-disc CD changer.

Top-of-the-line at $30,600, the CSX “Premium with Navi” package has Bilingual voice recognition, illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls and a single CD player with digital audio card reader to store and playback digital audio files (this replaces the six-disc CD changer).

An extra $1,300 buys you a five-speed automatic with paddle shifters for both the Touring and Premium trim levels.

The CSX’s unique grille, fenders and hood successfully establish a family resemblance between it and other Acuras (especially the RSX, TSX and TL), although it seems that Acura still hasn’t decided what specific grille it wants to stick with.

This one is quite nice and gives the car a definite Acura “look” from the front at least. The sharply inclined windshield angle contributes the to car’s sleek exterior, and at the rear, the taillights are specific to the CSX. Both trim levels feature a finished twin-tip exhaust and turn signals integrated into the rear-view mirrors.

2006 Acura CSX
Click image to enlarge

Under the hood, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, dual-overhead camshaft engine from the RSX uses intelligent variable valve timing (i-VTEC) to maximize torque and horsepower throughout the engine’s operating range. Producing 155 hp at 6,000 rpm, and 139 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm (based on the new SAE rating), these are the same numbers as the RSX, although the torque band has been supplemented in the midrange by the use of a resonator chamber attached to the intake manifold. The engine also features dual counter-rotating balance shafts, and new camshafts. While it’s a high-revving engine, owners will appreciate that the recommended fuel is regular grade gasoline. Estimated fuel economy is 8.7/6.4 L/100km city/highway with the manual transmission, and 9.5/6.5 L/100km city/highway with the automatic transmission.

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX
Click image to enlarge

Acura has added metal-look trim accents inside the car, replacing the faux wood available on the EL, to help create its sporty character. The blue-lit, bi-level instrument panel is quite a departure from other vehicles, with the speedometer located just below eye-level and reminiscent of a head-up display. The display is what used to be called “futuristic” in the 20th Century, so maybe its time has come. The big windshield uses large, opposing, windshield wipers specially designed to work well at its extreme angle.

The CSX’s sport seats are easily adjusted for rake, travel and height, and when this adjustability is combined with the standard tilt/telescoping steering column, most drivers will find a safe and comfortable initial setting (power seats are not available).

Although not immediately noticeable, the steering wheel is slightly elliptical (361 millimetres horizontal; 351 mm vertical). The idea is to maximize thigh-room between the seat and the base of the steering wheel.

In the rear, seating is available for three adults, with the flat floor contributing to a feeling of roominess not typical in the compact class. The useful 340-litres of trunk space can be supplemented through the split-folding rear seat.

The CSX is loaded with safety features. Standard ABS and multiple airbags I’ve already mentioned, but the entire structure of the vehicle is designed for enhanced crash protection using Honda/Acura’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure. This technology utilizes the crumple zones between two vehicles to disperse energy away from the passenger area, and combines with high-strength steel beams to resist side intrusion. Additionally, a safety design in the front of the vehicle minimizes pedestrian injury by deforming upon impact.

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX

2006 Acura CSX
Click image to enlarge

On the road, the rigid structure of the CSX along with a firm suspension (front MacPherson strut; rear double wishbone) and sharp steering create a driving experience that is quite different from the softer-riding EL it replaces. This vehicle is clearly designed to favour sporty driving, and the car is very competent on the twisty country roads to the southwest of Toronto.

On straight highway stretches, however, you can tell the CSX has electric power assist steering, as it requires continuous fine adjustment to maintain a straight line, compared with a hydraulic system.

The manual transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, but the engine speed tends to hang between gears, making it sound like you’re not properly coordinating throttle and clutch. Consequently, I preferred the automatic transmission, which even in fifth gear had decent torque, and which consistently found the right gear without “hunting.” The paddle shifters of the “Sport” mode work well enough, but they seem all about image rather than being a legitimate performance upgrade. Indeed, Formula 1 drivers use them, and one supposes that you can make like Jenson Button when the mood strikes. They do look cool behind the steering wheel, but will they get used much? I doubt it.

The money for those paddle shifters could have gone into adjustable lumbar support for the nice Sport seats. That would have been appreciated, because after the initial adjustment for driver height and reach, the somewhat concave seatback didn’t supply the lower back support you’d like on a long trip.

My only other complaint is that the massive A-pillars obstruct vision when taking corners. The base of the windshield is extended way in front of the driver, which contributes to the CSX’s roomy cabin, low coefficient of drag and good fuel economy. But supporting a roof over such a low A-pillar angle (23.9 degrees from horizontal) means the A-pillars can’t be thin. And this means you may have to peer around them when cornering. It’s the price you pay for that slick, aerodynamic, shape.

For those who can’t leave well enough alone, some nice accessories are available for the CSX. These include 17″ wheels, an “intelligent” key fob and upgrades for the already impressive audio system.

Acura was the first luxury division from a Japanese manufacturer, and the EL was one of the first “entry” level vehicles to a luxury brand. Now, many luxury brands have comparatively inexpensive models to entice customers, although there’s no budget Infiniti or Lexus at this price point. Competitors may include a Volvo S40 or Audi A3; perhaps a full-load Volkswagen Jetta or a maybe even a base Mini Cooper S. But the CSX gives you a lot of content and genuine sporty character for its low starting price. It’s very quiet in the cabin, too — quieter than the EL it replaces — and you know its resale and reliability will be excellent.

The Acura CSX is built in Alliston, Ontario at the Honda of Canada Manufacturing plant (HCM).

Model: 2006 Acura CSX
Type: Five-passenger luxury compact sedan
Price: $25,400-$31,900
Notable: Built in Canada for Canadian market only. Strong safety content, sporty looks and performance; luxury brand at competitive price.
Available: November, 2006

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