Long gone are the days of the Acura RSX, the entry-level coupe that added a touch of youthful sportiness to the Acura lineup. Its nimble handling coupled with a high-revving 2.0-liter engine was a winning combination that impressed everyone who drove it. In the car world, it was like Brad Pitt - classy enough for a fancy restaurant but daring enough for a crazy night afterward. Sadly, coinciding with the introduction of a new Honda Civic Si in 2006, Acura axed the RSX nameplate to focus more attention on higher-end models. Goodbye Brad Pitt, hello Robert Redford.
Since then, the TSX has been Acura's entry-level model. While its 2.4-liter, 200-horsepower engine offers a hint of excitement, the only solid expression of performance-orientation was the six-speed manual transmission on the base model. But for the 2012 model year, Acura has injected some excitement to the TSX line with a new Special Edition trim level.
The SE trim level starts with a standard-issue Acura TSX and adds aggressive front and rear fascias, unique side sills and gunmetal-colored 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. On the inside, leather seats with perforated black Lux Suede inserts are the main attraction accompanied by red stitching on the steering wheel and shift knob, plus red lighting on the instrument panel and footwells. Summing up the exercise in sportiness are race-inspired aluminum pedals, a black headliner and blacked-out dash trim pieces in place of silver.
The red and black interior treatment is pulled straight from Honda's playbook for differentiating the Civic Si, a car with which the TSX now also shares a powerplant. This either means the Civic Si is growing up or the TSX is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. Hello, Robert Redford with a mohawk.
We recently had the chance to drive the TSX SE and came away with reinforced respect. Our tester came with a six-speed manual transmission that added a dose of fun to the mix, but what completed the experience were the aforementioned sporty enhancements -- mainly the suede-leather seats that provided function and form as they looked the part and fit nice and snug. Their stiffness reminded us of racing seats, which might have been what Acura was going for.
Performance was the usual affair: there's enough power down low to tool around town with ease, and during on-ramp sprints it's hard not to bury the tachometer. The 2012 Acura TSX SE rides on the same suspension as other TSX trims - neither too soft nor too stiff - which we appreciated during extended highway travels. Speaking of highway driving, our fuel mileage estimate returned a best average of 31 mpg - not too shabby for a pseudo racer.
The Acura TSX Special Edition doesn't give us the same tingly feeling the RSX once did, but it's definitely a creditable move in that direction. It's quick enough to awaken our inner boy racer, comfortable enough for a long drive and still luxurious enough to bear the Acura badge proudly. The Brad Pitt model is gone from Acura's lineup, but like Robert Redford, the TSX is seemingly getting better with age.