Buying a luxury car with a 4-cylinder engine might not seem like a logical move given the fact that most people associate these vehicles with leather lined, cocooning comfort and the creamy snarl of a velvety V6. So does that mean the Acura TSX and Audi A4 are unfit to wear their premium badges? Don’t count on it.
With an increase of the Government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards looming large on the horizon, you are going to see more and more premium brands turning to 4-cylinder power. In Audi’s case the A4 2.0T uses a turbocharged 211 horsepower/258 lb. feet of torque direct injected four banger that returns EPA estimates of 22 city/30 highway. Having driven a number of these turbo VW/Audi motors I usually wind up averaging closer to 20 miles per gallon if I am lucky. But that may just be a facet of my, ahem, more aggressive driving style.
In Acura’s case they chose to offer a slightly larger yet less powerful 2.4 liter 201 horsepower/172 lb. feet of torque 4 cylinder that returns EPA figures of 20 city/28 highway. In a recent test I averaged over 24 miles per gallon which is amazing considering how often I took the engine to its 7,100 RPM rev limiter. Honestly, I took that motor to redline every single chance I got.
The A4 2.0T starts at over $31,000 whereas the Acura TSX starts at under $30,000. This price differential becomes more distinct when you consider that the TSX is better equipped to start as items like USB/iPod integration and Bluetooth are standard with the Acura. Also, if you want a six-speed manual with your A4 2.0T then you have to order it with Quattro all-wheel drive which bumps the price to $32,850.
Sure, the Audi may have the acres of squishy plastic and the “touchy-feely” chromed interior door handles that so many buyers seem to think are vital nowadays. Some have complained that the TSX (especially its door handles) lack the necessary “bling.” But I guarantee that in ten years the door handles in the TSX will still look the same and that “chrome” in the Audi will be chipping away.
Other than that, the Acura’s interior actually feels more tightly assembled and the leather feels both supple and tough wearing. The A4 has the TSX beaten for that initial “feel good factor” but I guarantee the navigation/iPod/audio control knob in the center of the Acura’s dash is far easier to use than the Audi’s center console mounted MMI controller. Hello Audi, looking straight instead of down helps keep your eyes on the road!
It’s odd, you would also expect the German car to have a much larger trunk but both the Acura and Audi make do with very average 12 cubic foot trunks. So if you routinely need to carry 4 dead bodies as part of your “profession,” then you may want to look at something bigger. Like an MDX or a Q7. Or even an Accord or a Passat.
Both models tested here had six-speed manual transmissions but this is where the Acura wipes the floor with the Audi. While the A4’s gearbox would seem nice in isolation, when tested with the TSX it becomes apparent that only Acura has mastered the art of the six-speed manual transmission.
Truly, the mechanical symphony that goes on between the TSX’s 2.4 liter engine and the six-speed manual is something that should be experienced by all driving enthusiasts. The clutch is light enough for the worst traffic and the gearlever moves with an oily yet mechanical precision. It’s truly a shame that only 5% of TSX buyers pick the manual shifter over the automatic.
The A4 undoubtedly has the stronger motor with power available all up and down the rev range. The TSX’s engine, in true VTEC fashion, really comes as the engine screams toward redline. And, oh, the glorious noise it makes. But even though the TSX doesn’t match the A4 for low-down shove it should prove sufficient for most drivers.
The TSX also feels more athletic and nimble due to its lighter steering feel and lower curb weight. Whereas the A4 always feels nicely hunkered down and planted to the road, the TSX feels like it is able to glide above it and even magically manipulate it when it so desires. To put it bluntly, the TSX may be slower but it’s just more fun. And isn’t having fun the greatest luxury of all?