Since Honda’s Acura division became the first Japanese luxury brand in 1986, you'd think they would hold a commanding lead over their competitors.
But something happened. Blame the fluctuation of the yen or misguided products if you want, but there's no denying that Acura has taken a back seat.
In an effort to rebuild the brand, there is a renewed effort coming from Honda. One needs to look no further than the upcoming NSX sports car, the RLX sedan and here, an all-new nameplate: The 2013 Acura ILX.
What is it?
A five-passenger entry-level luxury sedan, the Acura ILX 2.4 Premium tested here is a new-for-2013 model based on the Honda Civic Si sedan. Targeted at the Gen-Y buyer who is ready to step into entry-luxe, it will be the next move for a Civic owner, Honda hopes. By the numbers, the ILX is a couple of inches wider and longer than the Civic, but it matches its cousin's 105.1-inch wheelbase.
Available with three different transverse-mounted, front-wheel-drive powerplants, it is supplied with a base, but volume-leading 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder making 150-horsepower, or a 1.5-liter hybrid corralling 111 ponies. Both of those mills are mated exclusively to automatic transmissions, while our 2.4-liter tester is only available with a stick shift. Making 201-horsepower at 7,000 rpm, and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, the engine is plucked from the Civic Si.
Ordering an ILX 2.4 means the only choice you have to make is the paint color: The optional elsewhere Premium Package is standard and, curiously, navigation is unavailable. Not a glaring omission, but one that makes us go¬†hmmm.
What’s it up against?
Size does matter. Dollars do, too. That combination makes this a field rife with competition for the ILX. The Buick Verano, for instance, comes in at a cheaper price point and with a more powerful engine. Other salvoes range from the Lexus CT 200h to a well-optioned Ford Focus or Volkswagen Jetta.
The ILX even has competition from its slightly bigger sibling, the Acura TSX, which turns out, is a lot more car for not much more cash (less than $1,000 similarly optioned). Talk about a family feud. But it will only hurt for a little while as the future of the costly-to-build TSX is in doubt. Currency realities come into play here: The TSX is sourced all the way from Japan, while the ILX is built down the road in Hoosier country.
How does it look?
The family lineage is unmistakable. A new, simpler, and in the process, more elegant can-opener beak? Check. Caliper logos? Check. So, too, the skin that carries with it a certain, but definite vagueness as to which parent company designed it. It’s all here.
Built on a slightly fastback-like, three-box design, the ILX features a combination of design cues that range from the Dodge Dart to BMW with its Hofmeister Kink, to even the Dodge Avenger with its definitive shoulders, seen here over the rear wheel openings. Drop down low enough and you can even see lines suggestive of the Civic.
A waistline circumnavigates its way around the car while creases add interest to the door panels. From the front, the tail takes on an abbreviated look. As viewed from the rear, it becomes much more appealing.
In a phrase: Lusty, but not at all lustful.
And on the inside?
The ILX is filled with great interior design including a well-crafted dashboard with only the number of buttons and dials that are truly essential. Items like the red anodized starter button and central controller offered a touch of cool.
Our ILX was gifted with a pair of front seats that offered great support during long hauls. The perforated leather seat covers only made us wish the car offered ventilated seating to go along with the standard seat heaters. The back is good for two to three adults, but care needs to be used getting in and out due to the sloping roofline that likes to collect head bumps. Once inside, we were surprised with the amount of legroom that actually presented itself. Cargo space in the trunk is rated at a somewhat tight 12.3 cubic feet, although the entire rear seat--not a 60/40 split--folds down for added capacity.
The premium package included the¬†Acura/ELS Surround¬†sound system, which was Pandora and Bluetooth enabled, and includes active noise cancellation.
Think of it as a rolling noise canceling headphone. Almost. Although the ILX uses laminated glass, every bit of help was needed to keep extraneous road and engine noise at bay.
But does it go?
The ILX 2.4 is complete with a tidy four-cylinder engine that we have grown to appreciate through the years. Acceleration is not blazingly fast but typical for a Honda-built engine, meaning that peak power comes when the engine is near redline. Full torque appears halfway up the gauge at 4,400 rpm, and inside the cabin, the engine lets you know that it’s alive. With the ILX 2.4 inspired by its Civic Si cousin, we can only imagine it being a matter of time before a coffee can muffler is seen sprouting from under the rear bumper. Some habits are hard to break.
We found the six-speed short-throw unit offered quick, sure shifts that made rapid work of a traffic-filled boulevard. Clutch play was set for equally quick applications that actually were engaging in around-town traffic.
The suspension layout is comprised of a tried-and-true independent MacPherson strut kit in front and an increasingly common multi-link setup in the rear. Gas-filled shocks and constant-rate coil springs comprise the damper system. An electric power steering system with variable assist helps to point the way.
The steering was a touch over-boosted, but not out of the ordinary considering the segment it occupies. If you enjoy the suspension in the 2.0 and Hybrid versions, you’ll love it in the 2.4 model. The same kit is used in all three levels, and although not firm or sporty, provided a ride that handled well in all but the harshest of road surfaces. But we would be lying to say we weren’t hoping for a more sorted setup with beefy sway bars and different shocks as part of this package. Such underpinnings would be a fit for the powertrain.
While cruising at 80 mph, we were surprised to find the engine revving at nearly 3,600 rpm. A high-revver for sure, we wish it were more at home in the 2,500 range for added fuel savings.
The ILX checks in at 2,978 lbs., and has EPA numbers 22/31, with a combined average of 25 mpg, which isn't great for such a small car. Speaking of those gallons, Acura recommends premium-grade fuel in what we're not quite sure is really a premium-grade car.
Why you would buy it:
You are a Honda loyalist searching for the next move up the ladder now that you have moved from mom’s home into your own place.
Why you wouldn't:
It is essentially a bridge model on the way to bigger and better things, namely the¬†bigger and better¬†(and not much pricier) Acura TSX.
The ILX straddles the fence between entry-level and luxury, but doesn’t seem sure where it wants to commit. Pricey either way, buyers will take a hard look at it.
With such a competitive segment, we are not so sure why they will pull the trigger on an actual sale, especially with the more than capable TSX priced just $810 more.
2013 Acura ILX 2.4 Premium¬†base price, $29,200. As tested, $30,095.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.