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2006 Acura CSX

Published December 1, 2006



Make economies, not sacrifices. That might well be Acura's advocacy if, given today's soaring gas pump prices, you're looking to conserve on running costs but don't want to give up too much on the creature comforts side of the ledger.

As a car built in Canada and sold exclusively in this country, Acura says the CSX is intended as an affordable "gateway product" that will draw low-end luxury shoppers into the Acura family and ultimately serve as a stepping stone to move up the product line as their financial status escalates.

The CSX replaces Acura's former 1.7-litre EL sedan for 2006. It's based on Honda's all-new Civic, but comes with a slightly different look and a host of performance and content upgrades that separate it from the lowly Civic and move up into near- luxury territory. Some of the features that accomplish this are drive-by-wire throttle, electric power steering and a lengthy list of luxury and convenience equipment. Implicit in the CSX's Acura affiliation is the appeal of luxury-brand dealer handling at a price well below that which a competitive brand can offer.

The CSX comes in two trim levels. A well equipped Touring version, starting at $25,410, has 4-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, premium cloth upholstery, six standard airbags and a six-speaker, high-powered audio system with MP3/WMA compatibility. Our upgrade CSX Premium long-term test subject, carrying a $28,100 sticker price, builds on those attributes by adding heated leather seats, high-intensity-discharge headlamps, in-dash, six-disc CD player and a tilt/slide power glass sunroof with interior shade.

If you opt for the 5-speed automatic transmission (with steering wheel paddle shift mode) in place of the standard 5-speed manual 'box, you're looking at an additional $1,300 outlay.

While our CSX came with no optional extras, you can add 17-inch alloy wheels and appropriately beefier tires, fog lights, rear mud flaps and an auxiliary to accommodate iPods and similar electronic items. These are available on both Touring and Premium models.

In addition, a navigation system with bilingual voice recognition is available on the Premium model as a "Navi" trim package. This system also includes illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls, a digital audio card reader to store and play back digital audio files and a single-disc CD player.

The first thing about the CSX that caught our attention was an unusually high 6,965 km odometer reading. Normally long- termers come to us with only a few hundred clicks on the clock. Obviously the little sedan has done some hard time in Acura's press fleet, being pushed by assorted auto writers of varying skill. Despite this handicap, the CSX emitted no squeaks or rattles and showed no signs of undue wear or tear.

Externally, the Acura's "cab forward" architecture is more elegant than the Civic's, thanks to a slightly longer nose with shaped headlamp clusters, a full-width lower air intake and a slight crease up the hood's centreline. At the rear, jewelled taillamps and fancier shaping of the trunk's sheet metal score style points for the CSX compared to the more austere look of the Civic. Overall, the effect is a sleek, unified shape that looks handsome from any angle.

Inside, the CSX is roomy and well equipped. A huge upper dash top adopts the same two-step design as the Civic. Way ahead, near the windshield's base, is an eyebrow housing a big, digital speedometer, flanked by temperature and fuel readout strips. The lower dash is dominated by a large, easy-to-see tachometer with warning light blocks on each side. Coupled with a compact central grouping of audio and climate controls, it makes a nice, tidy layout. The nicely sized, leather-wrapped steering wheel also drew praise from staffers.

Other positive comments were directed at the abundance of small-item storage spots and the comfy, leather-clad seats. The front seats feel well padded, though only manual adjustment is available. There were some complaints that the driver's seat also lacked lumbar adjustment, though it does have fore/aft, recline and cushion height choices.

In the back, some reviewers judged the seat cushion a bit flat and firm, but under-thigh support was deemed good due to a higher front edge. The short rear door openings, compounded by intrusive rear wheel arches, drew some barbs for limiting entry and exit. Also, the split-fold rear seat can't be lowered from within the cabin — you must open the trunk lid to access the necessary release latches.

On the move, our staffers delighted in the CSX's nimble handling and quick steering response. The 2.0-litre, 155 horsepower engine (versus 140 hp from the 1.8-litre four found in the Civic) revs fast and freely all the way to its 6,800 rpm redline, though there is a tendency for the revs to "hang up" briefly on upshifts as you work up through the wonderfully smooth 5-speed manual transmission.

Another upside is the CSX runs on regular grade gasoline. In the over 2,000 km that we've covered so far, our CSX has managed an overall average of 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres (31 mpg). That was achieved from a total of 186 litres, consumed at a cost of $198.50 to keep the tank topped up.

The CSX's key selling feature is obvious: its low base price (for an entry-level luxury buyer) gets you access to a nicely built, extremely dependable (it is an Acura, after all), good looking and fuel-efficient family sedan.

The beauty is that you can have a lot of fun driving it while you wait for wealthier times and the opportunity to move on up the Acura model range.