As a new offering this year, the Acura TSX is defined as a near-luxury vehicle. By some definitions, that means it costs less than $30,000 and does not feature the refined quietness of vehicles described as luxurious.
Yet, however fine the line may be between near-luxurious and luxurious, the TSX does little to further define those boundaries. In fact, the reverse is true. It's a luxury car for less than $30,000, and it offers a lot more than some of its higher-priced automotive cousins.
My test drive for the week was TSX four-door with a six-speed manual transmission. (The five-speed automatic with a manual shift gate is the only other option. )
With an easy-to-use navigation system, 17-inch alloy wheels, Xenon headlights and heated front seats among the car's features, the TSX priced out at $28,900, including the $500 destination charge.
But for under $30,000, the vehicle has superior handling, simple yet classy intrumentation and cabin design and particularly good front seat space. So what's not luxury about the TSX?
In my instance, my weekly test included a 400-mile round-trip adventure from Northern California to the Monterey Peninsula. The journey included myriad driving conditions, high-speed expansive sections of Interstate 5 to the winding, narrow intrastate roads that weave through farmlands and foothills, sometimes on tight, two-lane roads.
But where I first noticed the agile steering and firmly controlled ride of the TSX was maneuvering up and down the hills of Laguna Seca Raceway. Several sections of the road include steep inclines and descents, some with more than 15 percent grades.
While shifting up or down through the gears, the Acura's competitor against the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Infiniti G35 performed with impressive responsiveness on each of the four trips I made to and from the recreation area.
In other driving situations, lane changes, for example, the TSX maneuvered with surprising confidence. Likewise, while in lower-speed, city traffic circumstances, the new Acura's gear shifting is precise and void of any lunging or hesitation.
With only one front-seat passenger during my trip, the average rating for rear seat room the car has received, wasn't test. But for front-seat occupants, the TSX had cozy-but-spacious feeling throughout the journey.
The vehicle's leather seats, the efficient and easy-to-operate navigation system, sharply configured metal audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel and high-intensity headlights all added to the vehicle's fine performance and its comfort appeal.
The six-speed manual transmission TSX has mileage ratings of 22 mph and 29 mph respectively in city and freeway driving. Those seems fair considering the car's 2.4-liter, 16-valve, 200-horsepower engine.
The one concern is that premium fuel is required. And that, of course, will add to the vehicle's operating costs.
2004 Acura TSX
Safety features - driver's and front passenger's dual stage and side airbags, side curtain airbags, ABS brakes
Fuel Mileage (estimates) - 22 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
Warranty - 4 years/50,000 miles (bumper-to-bumper), 5 years/unlimited miles (corrosion), 4 years/50,000 miles (roadside assistance)
Base price range - $26,490-$28,490.
James Raia is a syndicated journalist in Sacramento, Calif. , who writes about sports, fitness and business topics as well as the free electronic newsletters Endurance Sports News and Tour de France Times and The Weekly Driver, a car review column.
Samples of Raia's writing can be viewed on his web site: ByJamesRaia.com .
His car reviews and newsletters can be viewed at The Weekly Driver and Endurance Sports News and Tour de France Times