Ever since Motor Trend magazine introduced its Car of the Year award in 1949, consumers have been looking to automotive journalists and publications to help them decipher the marketing bluster and find the best vehicle for their needs.
That year the editors of Motor Trend determined it was Cadillac that was making the best cars for post-war America. Seventy years later, the same publication named the rear-drive Genesis G70 sports sedan as its 2019 Car of the Year, a big win for South Korea’s Hyundai, which only started selling cars in North America three decades earlier.
Other publications and organizations also have COTY award programs, many of which recognize more than one vehicle type or market segment. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) has its own COTY program based on objective, comparative data that consumers can use to guide their new-vehicle buying decisions.
AJAC unveils its Canadian Car of the Year at the Toronto auto show annually in February – it named the Honda Accord in 2018 – as well as a number of category winners ranging from best small car (Mazda 3) to best large premium utility vehicle (Acura MDX). The winners are determined after exhaustive testing and balloting that takes place in October.
But here’s the caveat regarding Car of the Year awards: They examine new vehicles right out of the box, many of which utilize engines, transmissions and other components that may be unproven in the real world. A COTY award gives buyers no indication how well the vehicle will fare after five or six years of ownership. That’s why we came up with our Used Vehicle of the Year.
In a country where 2 million vehicles were purchased new in 2017 and 3 million were bought second-hand, Canadians might very well appreciate an award that recognizes models that are averse to hanging from service centre hoists. After all, dependability is the number-one concern of used-vehicle shoppers and many new-car buyers, too.
With that criterion in mind, here’s our Used Vehicle of the Year pick for 2019.
THE 2009-2014 ACURA TSX
In 2004 Honda packaged its smaller European-market Accord sedan with premium features and dispatched it to North America badged as an Acura. After the automotive press raved about its zingy four-cylinder engine, balanced chassis and telepathic steering, the inaugural Acura TSX became a surprise sales winner.
The hope was to make lightning strike twice with the car’s redesign for 2009, which rendered it bigger and heavier. Most noticeable was its increase in width, which made the front-drive sedan appear lower and more planted. A 3-cm-longer wheelbase yielded slightly improved rear-seat legroom, but it still felt cramped in back.
The fully independent suspension employed unequal-length control arms up front and multiple links in back, all tied to subframes mounted to an extra-rigid unibody, which featured a factory-issued brace tying the strut towers together under the hood.
The cabin saw the biggest enhancements. The front seats were deeply contoured and comfortable with plenty of lateral support. The curvaceous dash was filled with little buttons that lent the cockpit the visual complexity of an Airbus.
The TSX’s touted value proposition left some Canadians wanting. That’s because while U.S. buyers enjoyed standard luxury gear such as leather seating, dual-zone climate control and Xenon HID headlights, Canadians made do with cloth upholstery and halogen bulbs in the base model. Buyers here had to dish out for the Premium model to get what Americans took for granted.
Honda’s venerable all-aluminum 2.4-L four cylinder returned, this time with a higher compression ratio to boost torque to 172 lb-ft (170 with the automatic), while horsepower lost four, making 201 hp using premium fuel. The engine could be ordered with a slick six-speed manual transmission or an outdated five-speed automatic.
Knowing the TSX was not quite the autobahn scorcher that the Volkswagen GTI was, engineers made a 280-hp 3.5-L V6 available starting in 2010. Pinched from the TL sedan, it came bundled with the automatic transmission exclusively, along with bigger wheels and revised steering and suspension tuning.
All TSXs earned a few styling tweaks, improved acoustic insulation and an optional hard-drive-based navigation system with a better display for 2011. American buyers also welcomed a sleek five-door wagon model Canadians would never see, unfortunately.
DRIVING THE TSX
To extract more zoom from its four-banger saddled with an extra 60 kg after the redesign, Honda shortened the gearbox ratios by about 5 per cent. As a result, zero to 97 km/h came up in a fairly fleet 6.7 seconds with the stick, compared to 7.2 seconds in the old car (the award-winning Genesis G70 takes a similar 6.6 seconds in four-cylinder guise). The TSX V6 attained highway velocity in 6.0 seconds with its slushbox.
Acura’s sports sedan really shines on bendy roads, where its stout platform and well-sorted suspension generated 0.86 g of lateral acceleration (grip) – not bad for a front-driver shod with all-season tires. Some have dubbed the TSX the four-door Honda Prelude, a fitting tribute to the automaker’s long-lamented sports coupe.
Still, the electrically assisted steering earned one thumb down from some pilots, who noted the steering felt numb on centre. Others disliked the car’s somewhat stiff ride, especially with the optional 18-inch wheels and low-profile rubber.
The accurate, short-travel shifter and linear clutch take-up make the manual-transmission TSX a rewarding driver’s car. The high-revving engine loves to bump up against the redline where the torque lives, which is the only way to extract strong acceleration. Fortunately, the short gearing doesn’t exact a toll on long highway jaunts, thanks to the refined engine’s smoothness and effective sound deadening.
WHY THE TSX?
Why buy the Acura TSX, a low-volume car they stopped selling in 2014? In a word, dependability. The made-in-Japan TSX has always been a quality piece, and the second-generation model doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
The original TSX may have been a more sporting sedan, but ask any owner of a 2009 or newer TSX and they cite the premium appointments, quiet ride and enhanced presence – as well as low ownership costs – as appealing benefits.
“Oddly enough, I’m more pleased with the car as it ages,” posted the owner of a 2009 TSX. “It’s still performing very well, despite the expectation for an older car to start acting up. Power is good, handling is still tight, no rattles, and the auto climate control is spot on.”
The TSX uses normally aspirated engines, no turbos or direct injection, and conventional transmissions. Yet, while Honda’s familiar 2.4-L four is a reliable workhorse that powers millions of Accords and CR-Vs, it’s reputed to be somewhat of an oil burner. Owners should monitor the dipstick for oil consumption.
Beyond that, the few mechanical complaints have focused on malfunctioning power-steering units, short-lived brake pads and batteries, blown stereo speakers and some interior rattles. That’s it. TSX owners have largely been elated with their purchase, some of whom had made the switch from pricier European models.
“My last two cars were both German, and although there is no substitute for the German car feel, I quickly tired of the reliability and maintenance issues,” reads one online post.
No Car of the Year winner can be all things to all people. Likewise, the TSX won’t please everyone – especially those expecting a high-performance sports sedan. Still, it’s attracted a quiet, but appreciative, following. Count Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, among the satisfied owners.
As a reliable used-vehicle buy the TSX doesn’t ask much of owners in terms of upkeep. Consider that it achieved Consumer Reports’ highest possible reliability rating every year between 2009 and 2014. That it’s a nice sedan to drive is icing on the cake.