Driver's Seat: TSX Sport Wagon shows why Acura has such esteem

2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon w/ Tech

2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon w/Tech

Price: $34,810. (Everything standard.)

Conventional wisdom: It's an Acura. Oooooooooh.

Marketer's pitch: "Life goes with you."

Reality: It's an Acura. Oooooooooh.

First drive: Though I've had some nice testers (a Buick LaCrosse, a bevy of luxurious SUVs), I haven't played with any of the luxury brands thus far.

As soon as I sit in the Driver's Seat, I think I see their appeal.

Inside: Acura evidently is not spending much money on a high-priced naming consultant. (TSX Sport Wagon w/Tech?) Or a marketing campaign. ("Life goes with you"?)

Instead, Acura seems bent on making every bit of the driving experience feel supple and well-made.

From the moment I close the door on this baby, the pleasing thunk lets me know I am in something different.

The dashboard feels well made. The gauges are delightful in color, contrast, and arrangement - white numbers on a black background, with just a touch of gray to liven things up.

The big speedometer and tachometer are offset on the sides by a small gas gauge and engine-temperature gauge. And the shifter has a nice leather cover.

Everything in its place, easy to follow and attractive.

Outside: Though they really Acura-ed up the TLs with the most recent angular redesign, the TSX wagon still looks sharp and sporty.

Underneath: A four-cylinder engine coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission seems a little dated for this price range. But the performance is still fairly solid and extremely smooth.

Tuning in: The stereo system is fairly easy to use, and the directional knob makes getting through the options fairly easy.

But no matter what I do, the CD always begins on the first song when I start the car. I guess people in this price range will all have iPods, though.

On the road: Driving the TSX is a pleasant experience. Its handling lands somewhere on the classy-sporty continuum, but not too sporty.

I get an answer to the question, "What makes Acura so special anyway?" when I almost get myself into trouble. I hit the accelerator a little too hard on an uphill curve, expecting much less performance than is provided. So I end up taking a 25-m.p.h. curve at about 55.

The result? The traction light flashes while the car just gently drives itself through the curve, kind of an automotive version of "Don't worry; I got this." Whew. Kids, don't try this at home.

Sad shifting: The five-speed Sequential ShortShift is not all it's cracked up to be.

You can shift your own gears using the paddles on the steering wheel. But shifting that way feels less than satisfying. Sure, shifting is the automotive equivalent of dialing an old Western Electric phone, and tapping the paddles is as cool and modern as a high-tech video game. I'll take a stick any day of the week.

Plus, gear-changing becomes a problem if you wish to upshift while in the middle of a sharp turn. The paddles are twisted at odd angles and fairly inaccessible.

Not so bright: Controlling the brightness level of the dashboard is as easy as pushing a button. That sounds like a great idea, but most new cars just control the brightness through the sensor that operates the lights. No buttons to push at all.

Friends and stuff: Three people can share the backseat. If they didn't know one another well before the ride, they will afterward.

Legroom is OK back there, but not as stellar as some small SUVs I've tried. Storage space behind the seats is great.

The TSX features lots of closable cubbies that give you space for cellphones, CDs, and other things and protect them should you ever let anyone have anything liquid in this beauty. I wouldn't, but other people might.

Thirst: I observed 24 miles per gallon in my usual mix of mainly highway and some city driving, quite a bit less than the advertised 30 m.p.g. estimate for highway driving. And that'll be premium, please.

Where it's built: Sayama, Japan

How it's built: J.D. Power & Associates gives this vehicle and the Acura brand "better than most" for dependability.

In the end: For a smallish wagon at this price, I'm close to expecting complete perfection. The TSX comes pretty close.