Walking around the new 2013 Acura ILX, there’s little to tip off the casual observer that this car shares its platform with the Honda Civic. This is a very good thing, as nobody who’s shopping the entry-level premium segment wants their vehicle to look like a mainstream compact.
By now, you’ve surely developed an opinion on the sharp creases and bold look of modern Acura products, so we’re not going to dwell on its beak-like fascia other than to say it’s been downsized on the ILX and that it mostly blends in with its overall design ethos. We wouldn’t expect the face of the ILX to deter many buyers if they are happy with what the rest of the car offers, which is not something we could say of some recent Acura designs.
A look at the ILX in profile tells you that Acura isn’t backing all the way down from its somewhat controversial styling theme, known at the automaker as Keen Edge Dynamics. The ILX is a bit softer overall than the TSX and TL sedans while retaining plenty of familial ties. New to Acura are the ILX’s upswept rear haunches and ersatz fastback roofline. Despite that flowing rear window, this car is not a hatchback.
In front of the driver sits a pair of gauges flanking an electronic multi-information display that can show upcoming maintenance requirements, average speed, instant and average fuel consumption or estimated range with the current fuel load. Acura says this cluster is designed to help the driver concentrate on the task of driving, while the passenger enjoys a deeply carved dash that gives the impression of space and roominess.
All the interior bits and pieces are well integrated into an overall look, and are all crafted from upscale materials. The upper dash pad is soft to the touch and offers a pleasant contrast to the metallic look of the lower dash and center stack. The steering wheel is nicely styled, with a thick rim that feels good in the hand. We were a bit put off by the sheer number of buttons on either side of the wheel, but managed to figure them all out in time.
The steering wheel is also home to a pair of paddle shifters on models equipped with an automatic transmission, which shamefully still has only five forward ratios. We didn’t get a chance to sample the standard cloth interior, but the optional leather hides were plenty comfortable and are available in either ebony or parchment. The red anodized start/stop button is a nice, sophisticated touch.
There are three interior packages offered in the 2013 ILX, including an unnamed base model that offers a CD player with six speakers and a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity that includes an SMS text messaging feature and a Pandora Internet Radio interface. A five-inch color LCD screen in the center of the dash comes standard with the base and the middle-rung Premium package, and we didn’t care for the large plastic housing required to fill the void left by not splurging for the Tech pack’s eight-inch screen, as it cheapens the feel of an otherwise well-done interior. All models deserve the larger screen if its placement is going to be made so prominent.
In any case, the Premium package does get the buyer XM satellite radio (plus one extra speaker) and the multi-view rear camera that offers three views of what’s behind the car, including a very helpful wide-angle shot. Heated leather seats (with eight-way power adjustments on the driver’s side), HID headlamps and 17-inch wheels round out the Premium package.
Stepping all the way up the ladder by choosing the Technology package is the only way to get an ILX with navigation or Acura’s Real-Time Traffic and Weather. This top-level spec also includes a 10-speaker, 365-Watt ELS Surround Sound system and a 15-gigabyte internal hard drive.
Opting for an ILX powered by the 2.4-liter four cylinder will net the buyer different gauges with red illumination; stainless pedals; silver stitching on the seats, door panels and steering wheel; and a nicely weighted alloy and leather shift knob. In one glaring omission, however, it is impossible to order an ILX with the 201-horsepower 2.4-liter engine and the Technology package. So, if you want navigation and its eight-inch screen, you need to stick with the smaller 2.0-liter engine and five-speed automatic. Bummer.
Fortunately, the 2.0-liter engine’s 150 horsepower (at a high 6,500 RPM) and 140 pound-feet of torque (at 4,300 RPM) is satisfying enough around town and for daily commuting duties. The engine is smooth, quiet and generally unobtrusive, which we figure is exactly what many ILX buyers will be looking for. Fuel mileage comes in at an estimated 24 city, 35 highway. That’s pretty good when compared to its only natural competitor, the Buick Verano, which scores EPA ratings of 21/32, though with a larger and significantly more powerful (180 hp, 171 lb-ft) 2.4-liter engine. Again, we point an ET-sized finger at the aging five-speed automatic, if for no other reason than Acura could have eked additional performance and/or economy out of a unit with six or more speeds – a trick seemingly every other automaker has figured out.
If you want the best fuel efficiency you can get from an ILX, you need to opt for the Hybrid, whose 1.5-liter engine and continuously variable gearbox are shared with the Civic. With 91 horsepower from the engine and a maximum of 23 more horses from the electric motor, the ILX Hybrid is predictably passive in its pace. Slapping the shifter into Sport mode helps a little, but there’s just no way the combined torque of 127 lb-ft from 1,000 to 3,000 RPM will get the vehicle moving in a hurry. It’s not horrible when meandering away in urban settings, but that’s the most praise we can offer its ability to get the show on the road, and we twice found ourselves puckering tightly as we goaded the ILX Hybrid into turning across traffic – once as a driver and once as a passenger.
What really matters with a hybrid is efficiency, though, and the ILX Hybrid is rated at 39 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway. That’s not exactly bad, but it’s uncompetitive with the 43/40 rating of the Lexus CT200h. If you plan to do most of your driving on the superslab, the Audi A3, when equipped with its optional turbo diesel engine, manages 42 mpg on the highway. Both of those models are in the same ballpark as the ILX Hybrid’s $28,900 (*add $895 to all prices quoted for destination) starting price, which jumps to $34,400 when optioned with the Technology package. Add it all up and we’d be hard pressed to recommend the slow and not-so-stunningly efficient ILX Hybrid to fuel-conscious buyers shopping in the entry-level premium segment.
On a brighter note, the 2.4-liter powerplant, coupled to a sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, has enough gumption to make the ILX legitimately entertaining when the road opens up a bit. There aren’t any changes to the suspension with the larger engine, but the standard MacPherson struts up front and multi-link arrangement in back are more than up to the task when the going gets twisty. Acura has fitted the ILX with the same rebound spring and Amplitude Reactive Damper system that we liked so much in the 2013 RDX. Coupled to a steering ratio that’s 6.8-percent quicker than the one used in the Honda Civic it’s based on, plus a more rigid steering shaft with a forged yoke joint, the hardware underpinning the Acura ILX is capable of delivering on the sporty promise of its 2.4-liter engine and manual transmission. The 2.4 model also gets larger brake rotors (11.8 inches versus 11.1 for the 2.0 and 10.8 for the Hybrid) up front.
Sadly, as with many such systems, the electronic power steering provides only a vague sense of what the front wheels are doing and it takes time to get used to the artificial feel provided by the tiller’s e-brain.
As we mentioned before, Acura won’t let you order an ILX with the 2.4-liter engine if you want the Technology package. That means the enthusiast buyer will have to go without navigation or the high-output stereo system. If you can live without those bits, an ILX 2.4 with the Premium package will cost $29,200 and delivers estimated fuel mileage of 22 city and 31 highway.
That leaves us with the standard ILX configuration – a 2.0-liter four cylinder with an automatic transmission. Starting at $25,900 in base trim with 16-inch wheels and pegging the fully loaded meter at $31,400 with the Technology kit and its 17-inch alloys, this is the ILX we think will suit the majority of shoppers. At least those shoppers who don’t think Acura is charging too much for its smallest product…
We, on the other hand, do think Acura is charging too much for the 2013 ILX. The car itself, while not terribly exciting to drive, is a pretty nice way to get from point A to point B, but so is the Buick Verano, which, with a starting price of $23,470, is several thousand dollars cheaper. If you want a sportier option, we suggest you wait for the upcoming turbocharged Verano that will be available with a six-speed manual – we predict that car will come pretty well equipped for about the same price as the ILX 2.4, except that it will have navigation, a big LCD screen in the dash and considerably more than the ILX’s maximum of 201 horsepower.
If you don’t care about driving a car wearing a “premium” badge, the Ford Focus Titanium can be had with all the goodies you can get in an ILX – plus a bunch of technology, such as Active Park Assist, that you can’t get at all in the Acura – for the same price as the base ILX. And if you do care about having that badge (and the expected reliability and high resale value that goes along with it), the larger and more entertaining TSX sedan can be had for $30,010 – and it includes the bigger 2.4-liter engine and leather as standard equipment.
Acura hopes to find 35,000 buyers for the ILX sedan per year, and they very well may hit that figure. If you’re in the market for an entry-level vehicle from a premium automaker, by all means have a look at the ILX… just be sure to check out its competition before signing on the dotted line. As much as we’d like to tell you that the ILX heralds a return to Acura’s roots – innovation, value and technology – we can’t, because it simply doesn’t.