SAN FRANCISCO -- Wagons represent only a thin slice of the near-luxury segment in the United States, but some automakers still feel obliged to offer one. For 2011, Acura will join the fight with a wagon version of the TSX sedan.
The basics: The wagon is basically a sheet metal extension of the sedan. None of the hard points have changed from the sedan. Even the seating locations are identical. As a result, the extension goes entirely into the cargo area.
Notable features: Although the TSX gives up four inches of wheelbase to the Audi A4 Avant wagon, the Acura is four inches longer overall. That gives the TSX a slightly hobby-horse appearance compared to the wheels-in-the-corners design of its German counterpart.
Interestingly, the TSX Sport Wagon has nearly identical cargo-carrying capacity as its RDX crossover cousin, with rear seats up or down. And with seats down, the TSX's flat floor is longer than that of the RDX, so a mountain bike fits easily. There also are hidden cubbyholes for valuable items.
For a car that weighs about 130 pounds more than its sedan cousin, the TSX wagon does well at maintaining road stability -- despite the sacrifice in torsional rigidity that an open cargo area creates. Acura engineers also did a fine job isolating the road noise that often creeps into the cabin from the cargo area.
While the Germans tend to ding customers with optional-feature charges, the TSX wagon boasts standard moonroof, roof rails, high-intensity headlights, Bluetooth, satellite radio, USB jack and heated leather seats with memory.
What Acura says: "This is an alternative to SUVs, without the girth or the stigma and with all the utility," said Steve Center, American Honda Motor Co.'s chief marketing officer.
Compromises and shortcomings: While the sedan version offers a choice of a four-banger or V-6, the wagon comes only with the inline-four. There is no manual transmission offered, nor is there all-wheel drive to compete against Audi's vaunted quattro system.
The market: It's getting crowded. BMW and Audi already have compact wagons, and the Lexus CT 200h hybrid may be a hatchback, but shoppers probably will cross-shop it. Acura plans to market the TSX to Generation Y, who Acura product planning executive Vicki Poponi says "are not scrawny teens playing video games anymore. One-third are already parents."
The skinny: Acura hopes the wagon will account for about 10 percent of TSX volume. Sales began last week. Selling 4,000 a year means slightly more than one wagon a month per dealer. That could create an inventory problem -- making sure the allocation system sends a vehicle with the right color, features and options for the prospective buyer. The penalty is the car sitting on the lot, unloved.