ROCHESTER, MI – Despite a trend toward smaller engines in response to volatile fuel prices, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Acura brand introduces a V-6 in its smallest model, the TSX sedan.

Honda is known for setting its own product agenda, but in this case the addition of a powerful V-6 puts Acura squarely in line with its competitors in Ward’s crowded Lower Luxury segment. Except for the Audi A3 and Volvo V50, the TSX was the only entry not available with a V-6.

Until now. Acura wisely realizes many luxury buyers associate 4-bangers with frugality. A sedan with an I-4 doesn’t ooze luxury.

Acura product-planner Gary Robinson says the auto maker decided on a V-6 in the TSX when the bigger TL sedan grew bigger still, and pricier, with its last redesign a year ago, making room in the price band for a more expensive TSX.

Honda makes fabulous 4-cyl. engines, including the 2.4L that provides more than adequate power for conservation-minded TSX buyers. But Acura desperately needs to boost sales and expand its customer base, and this proven V-6 certainly may help the cause.

The all-aluminum 3.5L produces 280 hp and 254 lb.-ft. (344 Nm) of torque and fills the engine bays of numerous Honda and Acura vehicles, from the TL and Accord to the Ridgeline and Odyssey.

The SOHC 60-degree V-6 has earned a spot on Ward’s 10 Best Engines list the past two years.

The engine does not overpower the TSX, despite boosting output by 79 hp over the I-4. In back-to-back test drives, the V-6 adds no noise, vibration or harshness, but high rpm sprints are rewarded with a throaty exhaust note.

Clearly, the bigger engine makes for a sportier disposition, but the V-6 in the TSX is extremely quiet, like its primary rival, the Lexus ES 350.

While the high-revving Honda I-4 requires a full exploration of the power band to hit peak horsepower (at 7,000 rpm), the V-6 reaches its 280-hp pinnacle at a lower 6,200 rpm.

Acura estimates the V-6 fuel economy at 18/27 mpg (13.1-8.7 L/100 km) city/highway, or a combined 22.5 mpg (10.5 L/100 km).

Ward’s bested the average and actually got better mileage with the V-6 than the I-4 on the same 9.1-mile (14.6-km) route, according to the trip computers.

Our V-6 tester returned 24.4 mpg (9.6 L/100 km), at an average speed of 34 mph (55 km/h), vs. 22.7 mpg (10.4 L/100 km) at 25 mph (40 km/h) with the I-4 TSX. A 15-mile (24-km) leg with the V-6, at average speeds of 41 mph (66 km/h), split the difference, with fuel economy of 23.7 mpg (9.9 L/100 km).

The V-6 requires premium unleaded fuel.

Along with a new engine, Acura makes a few other tweaks to the TSX, some to good effect.

The 5-speed automatic is a great transmission, holding gears and not upshifting too soon in aggressive acceleration. But the steering-wheel-mounted paddles add little to the driving experience, as there is no appreciable feedback when gear changes are initiated.

Especially with the new engine, which adds 200 lbs. (90 kg) to the curb weight, the car lacks the toss-ability of the prior-generation TSX, which felt lighter than the more supple new model.

’10 Acura TSX V-6
Vehicle type Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 4-door sedan
Engine SOHC VTEC 3.5L V-6 with aluminum block/heads
Power (SAE net) 280 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 254 lb.-ft. (344 Nm) @ 5,000 rpm
Compression ratio 11.2:1
Transmission 5-speed automatic with sequential sportshift
Wheelbase 106.6 ins. (271 cm)
Overall length 185.6 ins. (472 cm)
Overall width 72.4 ins. (184 cm)
Overall height 56.6 ins. (144 cm)
Curb weight 3,664 lbs. (1,662 kg)
Base price $34,850
Fuel economy 18/27 city/hwy (13.1-8.7 L/100 km)
Competition Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes C-Class
Pros Cons
V-6 good for image Nothing wrong with I-4
Quiet and quick 5AT paddles add little
Nicely appointed Pricier than some comps

Acura also fiddled with the electric power steering to add a firmer feel with the V-6. Steering almost is too heavy now, requiring both hands firmly on the wheel.

Engineers tweaked the independent double-wishbone front suspension by adding unique coils and retuning the dampers. The effect on handling is more sedate than sporty, in step with the new engine’s refinement.

Brakes offer more stopping power, thanks to a larger master cylinder and new vacuum booster.

On the outside, TSX V-6 buyers get larger, unique 18-in. aluminum wheels, Michelin Pilot performance tires and a front fascia with a larger lower grille for improved cooling.

Scads of creature comforts are standard on the up-market V-6 model. Some notable features include a power moonroof with a new one-touch open button, as well as Active Sound Cancellation, already deployed on other Honda and Acura vehicles.

The technology, standard with either the 360-watt, 7-speaker base audio system or the 415-watt, 10-speaker Acura/Panasonic ELS Surround, lessens engine clatter below 2,000 rpm.

The TSX always has sold well for Acura but has lagged tonier competitors. The V-6 should help in that regard.

With a base price of $34,850, and $37,950 with the optional technology package, the V-6 TSX significantly undercuts the $40,300 BMW 335i. But the bargain in the segment remains the Infiniti G37 sedan, beginning at $33,250.

The ’10 TSX V-6 is on sale at U.S. Acura dealerships. The auto maker expects the V-6 fitment rate to reach 20% in its first year of availability.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com