We've said it before: Wagons are back, and they're nothing like the land yachts of yore. For 2011, Acura proves our point with the introduction of the TSX Sport Wagon. It's not a giant, wood-paneled behemoth, but neither is it a teeny hatchback.
This wagon is a near-perfect blend of great looks, spirited driving and family function that made this mother of two a happy camper. The TSX wagon fit our life and lifestyle. It turned heads in the carpool lane, entertained me while waiting in that same carpool lane and swallowed everything the kids had to throw at it at the front of the carpool lane. (We spend a lot of time in the carpool lane.)
The TSX wagon is an absolute blast to drive. It's low to the ground and handles with the kind of assurance that one might only expect of a far more expensive car. It has all the power that this admittedly lead-footed lady might need, whether I'm running late to soccer practice or outrunning a semitrailer when merging onto the freeway. It's quick and agile around town and at the mall parking lot. With plenty of cargo room, the TSX handled all our gear as well as it handled the road. The only real disappointment is the legroom in the backseat. It was perfectly sufficient for my sons, ages 7 and 10, but adults might feel a bit cramped. But for my family, right now, the TSX was a perfect fit.
I also loved the TSX Sport Wagon for its wallet-friendliness. The wagon starts at $30,960, and my fully loaded test car cost $35,470, which is within the reach of mere mortals.
Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: This is one sexy station wagon. The TSX Sport Wagon is seriously hot. A sporty front end is glammed up with Acura's updated five-point grille and angled xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights that stretch back, creating more length and movement.
Subtle sculpting on the hood adds dimension to a wide expanse of metal that's made even wider by bold shoulders and a narrow roof. Chrome wraps the windows and puts some sparkle on the roof rack and door handles. The TSX wagon sits on 17-inch alloy wheels and seems ready to pounce. In the rear, a slight roof spoiler overhangs the large rear window, which allows for fairly good visibility.
As it sits at sedan height, climbing in and out of the TSX is easy for legs short and long. The front doors open widely, but the rear doors and door openings are smaller, making it a little harder for adults to help the kids get settled.
My test car had the optional Technology Package ($3,650) that includes a power liftgate. It lifts high enough for me to stand under it, and it's a boon in bad weather. The deck of the cargo area is low, making it easy to load.
The TSX Sport Wagon comes with a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder engine and gets an EPA-estimated 22/30 mpg city/highway. Premium fuel is recommended but not required.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
Like most Acuras, the TSX Sport Wagon's interior is clean and driver oriented. Only two interior colors are available — beige and black — and this test car was all black, all the time. The dash is all black, too, with white accents and red needles on the instruments. Black is a great interior color until you put kids in the car, and then every cracker crumb, every blade of grass, every shoe print on the back of the front seats is there on display.
In the TSX, the sporty perforated leather seats are only nice until your kid steps on them. Then it's all over. Smooth leather can be cleaned easily with a baby wipe. Perforated leather requires an army of pixies to swab out each individual hole. Ventilated seats can be lovely, but these perforations don't even serve that purpose. They only collect gunk.
The front seats are comfy and adjustable, but the rear seats aren't as comfortable. My two school-age boys fit easily there. We could pop a third kid into the middle seat for short trips, but a long trip would be uncomfortable for everyone in the backseat. There are two cupholders in the center armrest, which make it an easy reach for kids of all ages.
Storage in the front row is at a premium. The large cupholders managed to hold my giant water bottle, but the center console bin was small. I only kept my phone charger and a pack of baby wipes in there. There are no open bins or cubbies for holding loose items like my cell phone, so it just sort of perched on the flat area in front of the gearshifter.
One of my favorite things about the TSX Sport Wagon is the cavernous cargo area. This may be a fairly small vehicle, but it can haul a large load. It comes with a standard cargo cover, too, so you can keep things under wraps and out of sight. The cargo area is wide and flat and has a shallow under-floor area for items. I kept my reusable grocery bags in there. There are also side cubbies that can easily contain a gallon of milk or an emergency roadside kit. They feel a little bit like secret compartments, which is just fun.
Besides the power liftgate, the Sport Wagon's Technology Package includes a voice-controlled navigation system, an upgraded audio system and backup camera. The nav system is clear and simple to engage. Traffic warnings and rerouting is a godsend to those of us cursed with metropolitan traffic.
I listened to my iPod via Bluetooth streaming audio -- a wirefree source of joy. The TSX has a USB input, an MP3 jack and two charging points in the front row. The controls are all within reach and clearly marked, with much of what you need right at your fingertips on the steering wheel.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
While my two sons had no complaints in the TSX wagon, the legroom in the backseat is limited. It's perfectly fine for kids in and out of booster seats. There's also enough room for a forward-facing convertible seat, but I found it difficult to fit a rear-facing car seats in the TSX Sport Wagon.
To get a rear-facing infant-safety seat to fit, I had to move the front passenger seat almost all the way forward, which means no one can sit in this seat. This lack of space in the second row is disappointing because otherwise this wagon would be a great fit for new families.
The Sport Wagon has two sets of lower Latch anchors, but they're fairly buried within the seat crevice, making them difficult to use.
The TSX Sport Wagon has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, front-wheel drive, an electronic stability control, traction control, active head restraints in the front row and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. A backup camera is optional and part of the $3,650 Technology Package.