If there’s one phrase that captures Acura’s approach to its car line, it’s "back to the future." Honda’s luxury brand is trying to reignite the passion buyers once held for the marque. Exhibit A: the forthcoming return of the Acura NSX sports car.
Exhibit B: the 2013 Acura ILX compact luxury sedan.
For its new entry-level vehicle, Acura returns to the formula once used for the Acura Integra and its replacement, the RSX: Take a bunch of Honda Civic parts and improve upon them. Stir liberally with an upscale interior and unique styling, and the resulting car is now an Acura - in this case the ILX.
It worked in the past, and Acura hopes it will once again.
The new ILX doesn’t look like a gussied-up Civic. It looks luxurious. Its artfully sculpted form captures light beautifully, especially from the side. The famous chrome proboscis that has ruined the look of other Acuras has been tamed into something reasonably attractive. So, from a styling standpoint, the ILX ably fills the slot at the bottom of the Acura lineup.
Inside, you’ll find a cabin trimmed to the usual Acura standards. The instrument panel features a center stack anchored by a large rotary knob to control a variety of climate and audio functions. Material quality is commensurate with its price.
But to make this premium luxury compact truly luxurious, you must order at least one of two packages, both of which were present on the test car.
The first is the Premium Package, which adds the sort of options a buyer could reasonably expect on a premium vehicle: leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rearview camera, 17-inch wheels and tires, high-intensity headlights and fog lights.
The second, the Technology Package, is the icing on the cake, adding a voice-activated navigation system, surround-sound audio system, rearview camera, real-time traffic and weather information, 15 gigabyte hard drive and a dual-zone automatic climate control.
But these packages raise the base price from $26,000 to just north of $32,000.
That sounds reasonable for a car with a luxury nameplate, and at first glance, it is. But once you discover what’s under the hood, you might think differently.
The ILX comes with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine when you choose the five-speed automatic transmission. Given that there are compact sedans that cost $7,000 less that have more horsepower, not to mention more gears in the transmission, this hardly seems like a stellar driveline for the price.
You could opt for the more-powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; it produces a lusty 201 horsepower. But it’s offered only with a six-speed manual transmission and the Premium Package. Since the vast majority of car-buyers prefer an automatic transmission, for them, this a nonstarter.
There’s also a hybrid model with 111 horsepower that starts at $28,900 and, with the Tech Package, costs close to $35,000. Considering its price, you’d expect it to get more than 39 mpg.
Pricing issues aside, the ILX is pretty entertaining to drive. The steering is crisper than the Civic and the ride is markedly better. It’s also quieter. But this car didn’t possess the eager personality that was a hallmark of the Integra and RSX, at least on the base car, for which most buyers will opt.
It felt nicer than the Civic, but it didn’t feel more fun to drive than a number of cars that cost the same or less, and it’s no quicker.
While the Acura ILX is a step in the right direction, it is merely the first step in Acura’s rehabilitation. If I had $32,000 to spend on an Acura, I would opt for the larger TSX and its 201-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It’s a better choice for the same price.
2013 ACURA ILX:
-Engine: 2.0-liter SOHC four-cylinder
-Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
-Length: 179.1 inches
-Weight: 2,970 pounds
-Cargo space: 12.4 cubic feet
-EPA rating (city/highway): 24/35 mpg
-Fuel consumption: 28 mpg
-Fuel type: Regular
-Base price, base model: $25,900
-Base price, test model: $31,400
-Price as tested, including destination charge: $32,295