Honda's Accord is a great car.
As millions of people around the world can tell you, Honda's Accord is a great car.
It's reliable, tasteful, user-friendly, affordable and more upscale than most of its competitors. This, however, does not mean that a luxury version of the vehicle is a great idea.
But a luxury Accord is what we have in Acura's $28,000 TSX sedan (it's based on the European-market Accord). The car has been a hit for Acura since it was introduced in 2003. American TSX sales increased by 15% in 2005 to 34,856 units. It is the third best-selling Acura behind the TL sedan and MDX sport utility vehicle.
The TSX has been a hit because people know a good deal when they see one. This is one of the most affordable luxury cars. But people also know a Honda Accord when they see one, and no matter how much we like the TSX (we like it a lot), it feels more like an Accord than a BMW 3 Series.
Fashioning Acuras out of down-market Hondas is a double-edged sword. While Honda Motor (nyse: HMC - news - people ) saves money by not building its luxury cars from scratch, its Acura models are not premium from the ground up, unlike some European luxury cars. There is no down-market car on which BMW bases the 3 Series, nor one on which Porsche bases its Boxster.
Acura is one of the most estimable upscale automakers, and if the TSX feels like an Accord, it's not because Acura failed to outfit it properly. With a handsome interior design that could teach even a lofty name such as Porsche a thing or two, the TSX feels like an Accord simply because of proportions in the base model. The seating position, the placement of the A-pillars, the rake of the windshield--things like these make the TSX feel like an Accord, and they're things Acura couldn't get around without a redesign.
So the TSX ends up feeling like a cheaper car that has been ornamented to feel more upscale, even if it's a lot of fun to drive. It doesn't coddle you with luxurious touches at every centimeter, the way a 3 Series or an Audi A4 does (these two vehicles are the TSX's toughest competitors).
Taking on such gold standards as the Audi and the BMW is a tough challenge. Among luxury cars, only Toyota Motor's (nyse: TM - news - people ) Lexus RX SUV outsells the 3 Series. (Click here to find out which were the best selling luxury cars of 2005.)
But Acura is up front about wanting to take on those cars. As early as the third and fourth sentences of its current TSX press release, Acura is talking about them: “The front-wheel-drive TSX was engineered and appointed to compete with Europe's best sedans in the sporty near-luxury segment,” writes Acura. “This segment includes cars like the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series.”
But by Acura's own benchmarks, the TSX is not measuring up. Its 2005 American sales matched 71% of the A4's sales (48,922) and only 33% of the 3 Series' sales (106,950). Granted, the European nameplates, unlike the TSX, complement their sedan offerings with such derivatives as convertibles and wagons. Still, 77% of 3 Series sales last year, or 81,953 units, were sedans.
And Acura also needs to worry about Lexus' overhauled IS sedan, which had been a non-entity but is now a tough competitor. Last year, American IS sales increased by 59% to 15,789, and the IS now offers a derivative with 100 more horsepower than the TSX has. To learn about how the TSX's driving experience stacks up against its competitors, please read on.