Ask us to build a kick-ass track machine out of a current Honda product, minus the NSX, and we'd pick the Acura TSX. Optimal suspension geometry thanks to double wishbones, healthy displacement, a slippery shape and good wheelbase combine to make an excellent starting point. In fact, RealTime Racing, which has profited handsomely from kicking World Challenge ass in everything from NSXs, Type-Rs, RSXs and Sentras, now has star driver Pierre Kleinubing piloting and winning in a prepped TSX.
Skunk2 stepped up to help us explore this chassis and drivetrain and will be releasing a host of parts for the TSX, many of which will be developed on this car. There's a performance hero waiting to be saved from commuter oblivion, and we're going to build the TSX we wish Honda would. This car is sold as the Honda Accord in Japan and, of course, the Accord Type-R, an amazing sedan that has wowed enthusiasts with its combination of raw performance and civility. Because we've been perenially denied the wonderful Type-R, we've decided to build our own. We're going to kick ass and keep our leather interior.
Footwork is the first area to be attacked, with the replacement of wheels, tires, front brakes and springs and dampers. Future installments include bling, functional items like supportive seats, and drivetrain modifications.
There's no room to grow unless you stretch, so the M3 was chosen as a benchmark. There's not much we can do to compete with BMW cachet, RWD balance and inline-six sweetness, but performance numbers are performance numbers, and even fully optioned, the TSX is 20 large cheaper.
The stock 17-inch wheel-and-tire combo is neither attractive nor particularly conducive to pavement-ripping cornering. Acura mounts the same awful all-season basalt-compounded tires that come on the RSX. The fix is a set of the stickiest damn street tires money can buy-the BFGoodrich g-Force KD sized 225/40-18. The gumdrops are mounted on blingalicious 18x8-inch Volk GT-7s with a 44mm offset, which when stuffed under Project TSX's pleasingly sculpted fenders, visually double the car's price tag. That fat polished lip means having to use The Force to avoid curb kisses and also means quality time sitting on pavement with a toothbrush, but maintenance is a requirement of vanity.
It's no secret the TSX is underbraked, especially given the crappy stock tires. Even a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart betters its numbers. We went straight for the big Italian guns in the form of a Brembo Gran Turismo front brake kit. Brembo has, well, a lot more experience building high-performance brake kits than, well, anyone else on Earth by reason of the company being the O.E. supplier for most bitchin' fast cars on Earth. The kit, which is sold by Skunk2, uses four-piston calipers with differential bores to squeeze two-piece rotors just under 13 inches in diameter and an inch wide. There are no tricks to installing this kit. It comes with everything you need. Follow the directions and you'll be OK. While an improvement in braking performance isn't horribly difficult to manufacture, doing so with proper pedal feel is, and Brembo succeeds with this kit.
While the improvement in braking performance over stock is tremendous, it still fell just short of the M3, stopping slightly longer from 60, 70 and 80 mph. That said, we've experienced brake fade in an M3, and the Earth will fall off its axis before that happens in the TSX. Before our next visit to the track, Skunk2 will replace the stock rear pads with pucks featuring a higher coefficient of friction to see if that will place us just over the line.
Now that nearly all Honda products lack the dynamic DNA that make them Hondas-by that we're referring to the recent collaboration between Mr. MacPherson and Mr. Honda-the Acura TSX sports old-school Honda double-wishbone goodness in both the front and rear. Still, Acura tuned the TSX for the target buyer probably in her 30s who doesn't want any nail polish to slosh onto her cuticles as she negotiates railroad tracks. This means it's tuned for comfort, not performance, and can use more spring rate and more damping.
To fix this, Skunk2 cooked up a coil-over setup for the TSX, which will shortly be in production. The Skunk2 coil-overs have threaded steel bodies, and a twist of the knob at the top of the shocks adjusts compression and rebound simultaneously at eight adjustment points. Both the shaft and the body are shorter than stock. The spring rates as installed on this car are 600 lb/in. front, 500 lb/in. rear, although these rates will be decreased on production models. At full height, the Skunk2 coil-overs would place the car an inch lower than stock. Skunk2 will also produce a cheaper basic version with nonadjustable damping, valved for the supplied springs.
Stock, the TSX is a skidpad embarrassment, howling its way to .80 g. Thanks to a superb chassis, however, it turned in a respectable 66.1 mph in the slalom. With the damping adjustment knobs set in the middle, Project TSX stomped its stock brother and beat out the M3's skidpad performance of .91 by .01 g, but fell .8 mph short of the M3's 69-mph slalom speed. As it sits, the car demands too much of the front tires, suffering from habitual understeer unless you provoke massive imbalance with aggressive brake use.
A rear bar will likely do much to up the skidpad score by making the chassis more neutral and promote a more pleasurable driving experience. We expect the Project TSX's slalom figures to grow with the planned additions of a limited-slip differential and more power because its lack of cajones hampers its ability to accelerate through the last set of gates in the slalom.
The large increase in cornering power reminded us how underpowered the TSX is, largely because our TSX is fully loaded. And while the TSX looks undeniably cool with tucked tires, we might play around with ride height, particularly in the rear, and perhaps spring rate to produce a ride a bit more appropriate for a semi-luxurious cruiser. That Project TSX is this slammed and still rides better than most of our project cars is a testament to the superiority of double-wishbone suspensions.
Aftermarket mavens have made short work of modifying the K-series engine born to replace the venerable B series and filling the TSX's engine bay. There are dumbed down and hot rod versions of both the K20 and K24, and the TSX is the only Honda product to receive both the long stroke K24 and the full i-VTEC head, for a purported 200-crank hp. The one drivetrain modification made thus far is the addition of a Skunk2 short shifter, complete with a hard-anodized knob. Shift feel is precise and excellent, and the knob looks great. Given Skunk2's relationships in the motorsport world and the fact that at the time of this writing, they hold the Battle of the Imports all-motor record with a K-series-powered RSX, our TSX will be well-handled.
Put simply, the TSX is a nice car to drive. It's comfortable, quiet, will practically rub your feet if you ask it right, and as modified by Skunk2, looks damn good. Fellow drivers cornered us in parking lots and motioned at traffic lights to offer their compliments. One enthusiastic Jetta owner on dubs asked if we had airbags on the car, so it's obvious this car will wow the show car crowd as much as the go-car crowd.
With a price tag starting in the mid-$20Ks, the TSX offers impressive interior refinement, and if you crest the $30K mark, does its damnest to approach one of our favorites, the TL. Project TSX is generously outfitted in supple leather with a kickin' stereo, voice-activated and touch-screen navigation, and even a frigging factory DVD/MP3 player with fold-down screen for the rear passenger compartment.
Stay tuned for future installments, where we go slightly out of character to give Project TSX big power, a facelift and interior treatment. Martha's still in jail, so floral prints need not be feared.