For the past two decades there has been one automotive prediction that has persisted- This is the year the station wagon breaks out in a big way. Uh huh. Right. Any minute now. I m waiting...

Personally, I m big on wagons. Own one myself. With their big hatch they provide the cargo utility of an SUV with the handling and fuel economy of a sedan. Popular with families until the 80 s, their place in the family garage was taken first by the minivan, then SUVs, more recently crossovers. Volvo, once as synonymous with wagons as safety, is not bringing their beautiful V60 to the US to replace the V70. That s got to mean something.

For 2011 the Acura TSX sedan gets a few small updates inside and out plus, as you ve probably figured out by now, a wagon version. Christened the Sport Wagon (compared to Volkswagen s SportWagen) it s Acura s solution for those who love the driving dynamics of a sport sedan but need to haul stuff on a regular basis. That applies to nearly everyone on planet Earth so Sport Wagon should be wildly popular.

No, It Won t Be

Acura knows is a niche segment. It s a mystery why station wagons are ignored in this country while the rest of the world embraces them. Maybe it s the Leave it to Beaver stigma. Sure, Ward Cleaver drove a wagon (a Mercury Comet if I nerdly remember correctly), but stop and think. Beaver s dad was a pretty cool guy and snappy dresser. June had some serious style happening herself with those pearls and high heels. That applies to the TSX wagon too, it s one of Acura s best looking vehicles.

The four-cylinder TSX sedan can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, or a 3.5-liter 280 horse V6 engine that s exclusively paired with a five-speed automatic. Lower anticipated sales volume explains why there s only one drivetrain for the Sport Wagon, the 2.4-liter i-VTEC inline four-cylinder that makes 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 RPMs. A 1 MPG fuel economy increase for 2011 models is due to reduced internal operating friction. It s hooked up to a five-speed automatic transmission with fingertip manual control on the steering wheel. TSX prefers premium fuel.

Know that there are small changes to the TSX line for 2011. The front end is freshened up with a new front fascia complete with softened grille. Tail lamps are refreshed on the sedan, the cabin gets some trim tweaks as well. Opt for the improved navigation system and there s a better color screen plus a 60 gig hard drive. 15 gigs of it are reserved for your tunes, the rest for navigation data.

It Hauls... Stuff

Fortunately, the Acura engineers left the driving dynamics alone. TSX has always been an engaging front-wheel drive car and with the Sport Wagon, a brisk tour down a great country road can end in hauling back an antique chair from a newly discovered shop. SW is 3.9 inches longer than the sedan and 129 pounds heftier.

Acceleration is not neck snapping, 0-60 comes up in just under nine seconds. Torque steer is present but since there isn t gobs of power, the steering wheel tugging is minimal. The driver in me dreams of the V6 until the frugal side sees the most recent gas prices. Sport Wagon returns a 22 city, 30 highway EPA fuel economy rating. What a six or seven-speed tranny would do to fuel economy and performance is something to ponder. At least the gear changes are quick and decisive and a Sport mode does a nice job of holding gears in the right ratio during hard maneuvering.

Something else to consider is the extra weight the six would pack in the nose. With the four installed, the mid-sized TSX is nimble in the turns and can be flung around much easier than a crossover. This could help your marriage if you don t tell your significant other that running errands is good fun. TSX doesn t have the balance of a rear-drive BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G37 but then again, the Bimmer is much more expensive and the G doesn t have the extra cargo option.

Road noise is average, ride quality is the expected firm-but-not-stiff dynamic expected in a sport sedan (or wagon). Anti-lock brakes have great modulation and good stopping power.

Moving Inside

The sweeping instrument panel the driver stares at has style and quality. In deep black the cockpit is a bit dark and there s the blizzard of buttons expected on a Honda product. New contrasting stitching pops visually. The leather wrapped wheel feels great, phones and iPods are supported, and heated leather chairs are comfortable though a bit wide for thinner drivers that corner hard. Keyless ignition is MIA. There s a sunroof but these days the competition is offering big airy panoramic glass.

Acura s high-end sound systems rock. If a 460-watt 10 speaker, DVD-Audio, Dolby Pro Logic II equipped system isn t good enough, then here s some advice- you are the kind of audiophile that annoys your friends.

The improved nav system is operated with voice commands (though it doesn t like mine) or the usual knob found in Honda products. There is no touch screen, it s too far to reach really. Looking for a fun road to carve up? Among the many features like Zagat rated restaurants and traffic advisories, Acura offers up destination driving routes featuring the best roads state by state. I know many of the ones chosen for Washington and the selection is spot on.

Just How Useful Is It?

For a vehicle marketed partly on utility, Sport Wagon s back seat is a bit on the tighter side. With the driver s chair adjusted for a 5 9 pilot, legroom is adequate with foot room on the tight side. TSX is not offered with all-wheel drive so the substantial tunnel running through the middle is unexpectedly large for a front-wheel drive car. The center seating position is raised, put the short passenger there. There s storage in the doors and a folding center armrest but no 12v power port for the kid s electronics.

When it comes to cargo, the TSX sedan holds six packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue (my standard measurement metric if you re new here). Sport Wagon swallows eight. That may not seem like a significant increase but remember, bigger boxes fit through the enormous powered hatch. Drop the split rear seat backs and Sport Wagon s 60.5 cubic feet of space swallows stuff a sedan could never handle. An added benefit over SUVs and crossovers is a low load floor, making it easier to load heavy stuff.

A retractable shade keeps cargo out of sight, a few covered storage areas are good for stashing small stuff. Under the load floor there s enough room to hide a laptop computer.

What Enthusiasts Have Been Asking For

Trolling the automotive internet blogs over the years, I ve read the pleas for Honda to bring the Accord wagon to the US. What we got first was the curious Crosstour. Most car geeks know that the TSX is what much of the rest of the world knows as the Honda Accord, which is larger in North America for us larger North Americans. It s not just a simple badge transplant, the Acura version has some big differences. The suspension is tuned for crisp performance and the wrap around interior is much different, much more dramatic. Now that the wagon is on sale, will those pleas turn to sales? Stay tuned.

So what s the price for style and practicality? TSX Sport Wagon starts at $31,829 with shipping. My tester with Technology Package goes for $35,470. Sporty, attractive, and very useful, this Acura has a lot to offer. Americans have been cool to wagons but the TSX Sport Wagon makes a good argument that wagons are cool. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year wagons make a comeback.

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