Wagons Waging War
Admittedly, the station wagon as a concept has seen better days when it comes to representation in the marketplace. Besides these two very luxurious, top of the line wagons from Subaru and Acura, brands like Mercedes, Volkswagen and of course Audi, still offer variations on the theme. It’s too bad that Audi’s A4 Avant line-up usually stickers almost $10,000 more than this Subaru and Acura when similarly equipped just because it is gorgeous.
In case you’re wondering, the Subaru Outback 3.6R is actually the pricier model in comparison to the Acura TSX Sport Wagon with the tech package by a few hundred dollars. Okay, maybe that isn’t the biggest price difference ever seen between two such obvious rivals, especially as the Outback does add the benefit of full-time all-wheel drive. So, if you live in a Snow Belt State (or Southern California and the three rainstorms a year here freak you out), perhaps you would feel more secure in the full time all-wheel drive Subaru. Seriously, lots of people do it.
But do remember that if you hit rough weather, the 2012 Acura TSX Wagon is front wheel drive which rarely puts a bad step in inclement weather with rear wheel drive sports cars proving to be the most allergic to snow country. Then there’s the unexplained and continued over-population of crossovers with the majority being borderline torturous to drive if boredom was an affliction recognized by the American Medical Association.
Well, wagons used to be boring, stodgy and not very fun to drive but now they are the sporting man or woman’s option for a new family runabout. But that isn’t taking into account the fact that just because your new family adds some new members, you should always take into consideration the fact that this car must fit with your “active lifestyle” or at least be as tasty as an afternoon spent eating Jamie Lee Curtis’ Activia yogurt cultures on the couch while watching Lifetime Television for Women.
Either way, no judgments from us as to how you spend your free time and eventually you will need a wagon to also go raid the ice cream aisle at your local grocery store before ANY Lifetime all day film festival begins. There’s no getting up from the sofa once the movies start, which is the definition of an “inactive lifestyle you can and should be proud of.” And depending on your preferences, there are plenty of people who would be very proud to own one of these wagons. We just think one is a whole lot better than the other.
We have heard differing of opinions here and there (mainly from people who are anti-wagon, in general) about the looks of these vehicles but quite frankly we thought it was a bit of a case of “Beauty and the Beast.” Now, the jacked-up, macho Subaru Outback may have been plain looking and all work from a style point, you have to admit that it is a slightly brutal vehicle from a visual standpoint. Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to run into one while travelling over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.
The 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon on the other hand somehow brought the “SexyBack” to this segment with apologies to Justin Timberlake. This is thanks to an elegant wagon greenhouse at the rear that flatters the TSX sedan design cues much better than even its stable mate with a trunk. The TSX Sport Wagon is low slung, features elegantly cohesive character lines all terminating in a gorgeous tail light housing design. The TSX Sport Wagon looks ready for the Opera whereas the Subaru Outback looks ready for a trip to Home Depot where its owner will be teaching a class on caulking kitchen tiling. It’s not bad, it’s just utilitarian and devoid of visual elegance. (Advantage: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon)
Interior Features, Pricing and Overall Utility
First thing people want to know about these wagons is how much cargo can they hold? The 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon offers 25.8 cubic feet behind the second row with that number expanding to 60.5 cubic feet which is about average for a midsize SUV. The Subaru, however, takes a more humble approach with its plastic lined cargo hold (the Acura’s hold is lined with a soft felt) but gives up very impressive cargo hold numbers (34.3 cubic feet behind second row/71.3 cubic feet behind the driver and passenger with the seats folded.)
From a design and interior materials perspective, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon belies its luxury brand roots much more so than the rather plain, if well assembled, interior. In fact, for a Subaru this is easily their most premium and stylish interior efforts. The only thing is, it just doesn’t quite match up with the TSX Sport Wagon and its bevy of ergonomic delights not least of which is the center dash mounted knob that makes inputting navigation or audio selections easy on the go.
The TSX Sport Wagon even has a “Song By Voice” system which allows the driver to play any song off their iPod or the built in music hard drive just by asking for it by name. As far as toys go, the Acura also has the Subaru licked with the cherry on top for any audiophile being the inclusion of the incredible Acura/ELS premium audio system (on tech package equipped models only).
When fully equipped with all the luxury goodies the 2012 Subaru Outback Limited stickers at $35,465 whereas the 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon comes to $34,810 when equipped with the top of the line Tech Package. We recommend the TSX with the Tech Package as it nets you a power tailgate, the aforementioned Acura/ELS audio system, Acura’s truly excellent and user friendly navigation system and everything a luxury buyer demands.
(Advantage: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon)Fuel Economy and Safety Rankings
The 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon has EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 city/30 highway and we averaged a decent (considering the way we drive) 24.8 miles per gallon over the course of a week. The Acura has a nice 18.5 gallon tank and premium unleaded is only “recommended” but not “required under penalty of death.” The 2012 Subaru Legacy 3.6R returns EPA estimates of 18 city/25 highway and over the course of the week we rarely could get this vehicle to crack 20 miles per gallon. Again, we have been known to drive like hooligans even when testing station wagons. And given the fact that the Outback is saddled with full time all-wheel drive and a more powerful engine, its loss to the Acura is understandable.
On the safety front, you can’t really lose with either of these family vehicles as they both were awarded “Top Safety Picks from the IIHS.” So you see you don’t really need to buy a Suburban sized SUV to keep your family safe in an accident. And seriously, have you seen how much gas costs nowadays? No one wants to keep filling up an SUV gas guzzler. (Advantage: Tie)Driving Impressions
Both the 2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R and 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon have plenty of get up and go for any passing situation and have excellent, characterful engines mated to five speed automatics. The Subaru comes with a 3.6 liter liter 256 horsepower boxer engine whereas the TSX Sport Wagon comes with a rev-happy 2.4 liter 201 horsepower/170 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder. Both engines sound sporty when you push them but are smooth and refined on long motorway cruises.
The big difference, however, comes when the road gets curvy. Due to its elevated ride height, the 2012 Outback exhibits pronounced SUV-like body roll and doesn’t encourage the driver to push its handling limits. The 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, on the other hand, is in another league entirely with telepathic steering, excellent body control and handling that is as easy to modulate and control as your average European sport sedan. In short, the TSX Sport Wagon is fun to drive on mountain roads whereas the Outback simply is not. And in this contest, that is a cardinal sin. (Advantage: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon)What We Love and Loath About These Wagons
Summary: 2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R
The confusing to operate in-dash navigation optional with the Legacy and Outback is second only to MyFordTouch for being a true “Leona Helmsley” whenever we tried to use it. You know, the New York Hotel Owner who was so famously described in a “Newsweek” episode as “Rhymes with Rich.” For the slow among you, in other words, dealing my MyFordTouch and a 2012 Subaru Outback’s center stack is a real bitch. Adding to the obstinate nature of this Subaru’s center AC/Stereo Controls is that they are made out of a really bizarre plastic seemingly meant to ape the appearance of turquoise. Perhaps Subaru is looking to take over the New Mexico new car market?
We might recommend going for the mid-level 3.6R Outback Premium trim level which eschews a center stack screen with unintelligible sub-screens that even at their lowest setting blind you like Elton John’s 1970’s outfits back when he was trying out new fashion forward outfits and insisted on the notion that he was bisexual. Perhaps it took a friendship with a real life Princess (Diana) to realize what a Queen he really was through and through.
Alternative Thoughts--You can get a terrific in-dash navigation system on a 2012 Subaru Forester most importantly in this symbol of utmost utility’s most beguiling form—the intoxicatingly naughty turbocharged variant! The 2012 Subaru Forester Turbo is a gorgeously life affirming drive and that is not a normal occurrence among family SUV’s—if this Forester was a person it would the 4th Grader teacher who moonlights making at night as a stripper because she was “inspired one night by the Van Halen Video for “Hot for Teacher.”
There’s a feisty girl underneath that little Forester when you unshackle her from her performance capability vies a vies a carefully placed turbo. Trust us, just one test drive up a mountain road and you will find out this is actually a sports SUV on a par with the BMW X5 in the handling, cornering and steering stakes. Admittedly, this Subaru’s spunkier and harmonically engaging in this Boxer turbo engine is compared to the admittedly excellent and very smooth BMW mill, the Boxer engine’s noise will always offer an utterly unique and gritty rasp of the automotive world.
Subaru Love: The 3.6 Liter V6 engine is a peach that purrs and loves to rev even with “only” five automatic gears. But having driven this motor in the much lower to the ground Legacy Sedan 3.6.R and having driven a number of Porsche 911 models in recent years, we must admit that we noticed a very familiar “hunkering down” as we accelerated out of corners on a mountain road.
Our feeling is that the Outback loses a lot of driving enjoyment compared to the aforementioned Legacy 3.6Rwhat thanks to the elevated ride height and subsequent effects dictated by the laws of physics. Not to be cruel, but shouldn’t wagons be more fun to drive than crossovers due to their lower center of gravity? Too bad Subaru doesn’t sell Outbacks (or Legacy Wagons in other countries) with lower ride heights as it is the only thing holding this model from being truly enjoyable and having a chance at winning against the Acura.
Final Thought: We might recommend either a 2012 Subaru Forester Turbo if you like to drive for fun in your life (and everyone will think you are sensible too) or go for the highly underrated 3.6R Legacy sedan model if full time all-wheel drive is a must. But if you need that space and elevated height of the Outback but need to lower your price we recommend that you buy a used model as the 2012 2.5 liter with the atrociously slow and noisy CVT automatic is, quite frankly, for people without a personality or soul. (2012 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited: Second Place)
Summary: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
We love the elegant blend of style and luxury that the 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon pulls off both inside and out. Although it may lack a bit of the Outback’s go-anywhere utilitarian vibe, it’s a lot more fun to drive on mountain roads and quite a bit more economical. Admittedly, the Sport Wagon may lack the Outback 3.6R’s power advantage and number of cylinders but the Acura can out corner, out steer and since it lacks all-wheel drive its power to weight ratio is much more beneficial. So, honestly, in real world driving the Outback 3.6R just doesn’t feel much faster.
And while Subaru may have mastered the all-weather carry all concept and cornered thay market, Acura has brought you the wagon that actually makes you look “cool.” And, hey, no matter if you have a couple of kids or a couple of American Bulldogs, every responsible parent wants to look cool and have fun when they are driving their “family” vehicle. The Outback just isn’t quite there yet and it’s mainly because it abandoned its sporty station wagon spirit in pursuit of appealing more to the crossover crowd. And that’s a shame.
So head down to your local Acura dealer and test drive a 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon as the United States is only getting 4,000 units to sell this model year. You would think that if we as a nation had any taste that this car would fly off dealer lots but in reality each and every station wagon still faces an uphill battle until it finally defeats the crossover and its gross stranglehold on the family car market.
Also, if you are looking for negatives in regard to the 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, we can’t think of any. It is, quite simply, our favorite Acura model on sale right now.