Wagons are typically a practical purchase — an investment often dictated by a change in life circumstance. In other words, babies.
As a whole, wagons represent a settling down, a resignation of youth, a reluctant embrace of responsibility as the disposable income once spent on
downloads and sushi dinners yields to collapsible strollers and difficult-to-install car seats, sippy cups and their inevitable spills.
FOR THE RECORD:
Acura car review: A review of the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon in the Jan. 13 Business section said that the car's retuned engine incorporates new technologies such as plateau honing of the cylinders to reduce fuel economy. Plateau honing increases fuel economy. —
But the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon presents hope. It's a fun-to-drive family car that could inspire drivers to temporarily turn around their "Baby on Board" signs and floor it as they exit the day-care parking lot and head to work.
Available since December, the TSX Sport Wagon marks Acura's entry into the premium wagon segment. Acura predicts the category will grow 50% in the next five years as Generation Y-ers say their "I do's" and settle down. The automaker also says Gen Y, unlike prior generations, demands the often contradictory goals of fun and fuel economy along with increased utility.
Unlike the TSX sedan, which was introduced in 2003, overhauled for the 2009 model year and is now available as a six-cylinder, the TSX Sport Wagon is content to employ a four-cylinder, 2.4-liter engine with intelligent variable valve timing to increase its gas mileage. For the wagon, the engine was retuned, incorporating new technologies such as plateau honing of the cylinders to reduce fuel economy. The use of low-viscosity engine oil also improves mileage.
The wagon is aerodynamically fit, with features that include low-friction hub bearings and an underbody that is covered to reduce fuel-sapping drag.
Together, they helped offset the Sport Wagon's
31/2-inch length increase from the sedan to give it best-in-class performance: 22 miles per gallon in the
city and 30 mpg on the highway.
And Acura's done so without making the power delivery feel bland and as mushy as Gerber peas. With pedal pressed to metal, it was surprisingly responsive. Its 170 pound-feet of torque was crisp and satisfying throughout the power band, and its five-speed automatic transmission more than ample to handle its modest 201 horsepower.
The Acura's main competitor is the Audi A4 Avant, which is all-wheel drive. Although the TSX Sport Wagon is front-wheel drive, I didn't find its handling to be at all lacking.
Instead of a manual transmission option, Acura has gone with easier-to-use, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for drivers who want to imagine they've ditched the mom mobile and are helming a Lamborghini.
Its profile is wind-swept and muscular, with a long front end and windows that add to the fantasy. Each side's three windows diminish in size from front to back, as if the wind were making them evaporate. An Italian sports car it is not, though it does handle like a far smaller vehicle, with a low and well-centered chassis and leather seats that are comfortable.
The TSX Sport Wagon seats five. Collapsing the backrests for the second row opens up 60.5 cubic feet of carrying space.
Its sporty, sloped rear window, however, prevents skyward stacking of Huggies boxes. Still, the only direct competitor that offers more cargo room is the Volvo V50.
Starting at $30,960, the TSX Sport Wagon is available in two flavors, both of which are stocked with the usual base-line luxuries that should appeal to those who haven't had enough sleep. That includes, most notably, heated leather seats (along with memory settings for the driver), power moon roof, USB port, Bluetooth and a 360-watt stereo.
An extra $3,650 buys a tech package that includes navigation, real-time traffic and weather reports, 15 gigabytes of music storage and a 460-watt surround-sound system to crank
until it's time to swap it for Dan Zanes.
My favorite feature of the up-sell is the power tailgate, which lifts the hatch with a touch of a button on the key fob and closes it with another button along the tailgate's bottom. That's an extremely useful feature for parents who lack enough arms.
The rear window screen is also a nice feature, shielding the prying eyes of competitive parents from noticing the nonorganic baby formula just purchased in bulk from Costco.
Both fun and utilitarian, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon cushions the unexpected lifestyle blows of new parenthood. It is a far cry from sacrifice to drive it.