Acura ILX — A new take on entry-level luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura developed the new compact ILX sedan to target first-time luxury car buyers, young people with luxury car intentions, but not yet with a luxury car budget. The ILX, starting at a seemingly affordable $26,795, has been given the same job once handled by the long-departed Integra.

The ILX imparts a more luxury persona then the Integra, last sold in 2001, but the Integra in some guises had a sportier, harder edge persona. This time around, Acura has elected to go with a mainstream entry-level luxury sedan aimed at young buyers more interested in luxury amenities, a quiet cabin, refined appointments, and stellar gas mileage than in road-carving capabilities.

Although loosely based on the popular Honda Civic — sharing its platform architecture — the ILX is light years removed from the Civic in several areas including exterior design, which is conservatively handsome.

Its best angles show off a rising character line that flows from front to rear up over the rear wheel into the haunches. The design's weak point is the Acura family big-blade grille. But like it or abhor it, if you buy an Acura you will buy the current grille treatment. It does seem to wear better on the ILX than other models.

In designing the sedan, engineers lengthened the car's nose and set the windshield farther back to neutralize the cab-forward feel of the current Civic. The ILX is two inches longer and 1.6 inches wider than the Civic, but the wheelbase remains the same. Although the specifications show that the ILX actually has two inches less rear-seat legroom than the Civic — despite the size parity — we were pleased with the room available for rear-seat passengers.

In our estimation, the car's strong suit is the interior, which lives up to the luxury billing. It is quiet, although we wished for a bit less road noise at highway speeds. Beyond that, we found the seats comfortable and the interior materials first class.

Acura has wisely done away with the controversial Civic digital speedometer (we like it, but agree it would have created too much "Civic" in the Acura) in favor of very readable analog gauges. The center stack, which includes climate and audio controls, comes from the larger TL and although there are a myriad of buttons, we found the workings intuitive.

Such things that aren't standard or aren't even available in the Civic are standard equipment in the ILX such as dual-zone climate control, a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity. And the Acura is loaded with the latest infotainment features, something that will appeal to younger buyers.

We were also impressed with the cars composed ride, decent handling, and accurate steering through its electric assist system.

The ILX comes with three drivetrains — a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-sped automatic transmission; a hybrid system similar to the one found in the Civic making 111 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque; and a 2.4-liter inline 4 that makes 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

Although we feel all three drivetrains are adequate, the ILX's success may depend on how much emphasis prospective buyers put on gas mileage (rated at 24 city/35 highway in the 2.0), which is this lineup's strong suit. if too many of these prospective customers feel luxury should translate into above-average performance, then the Acura is going to lose its bet with the ILX.

For instance competitors such as the Audi A3, Buick Verano and Infiniti G25 have base engines making 200, 180 and 218 horsepower respectively mated to 6 and 7-speed transmissions for approximately the same starting price as the 2.0-liter equipped ILX.

It's the high-revving 2.4-liter engine that puts real life into the ILX, but unfortunately a vast majority of drivers who can't or won't use a manual transmission will be left out of the mix. No automatic is offered. We think had Acura elected to also mate the energetic four with a six-speed automatic it would have produced a winner, an instant hit.

The most intriguing model is the hybrid, which we tested for a week on home turf and found it very suitable especially if 40 mpg is a necessity for your well being. It's sluggish as you might expect, but when pushed to merge on freeways or pass a car on a two-lane road, it has enough motivation to get the job done. Like so many hybrids, gas mileage will have to be of supreme importance if you keep the car in "eco" mode. Relieved if eco, the hybrid has some decent response.

We figure the hybrid performance at around 10.5 seconds from 0 to 60 through a continuously variable transmission. The transmission comes with paddle shifters simulating seven gears, which imparts some unexpected performance on downshifts.

Most importantly for hybrid fanciers, gas mileage is measured at 39 city, 38 highway. That compares on relatively equal terms with the Lexus CT 200h hybrid, which is rated at 43/40.

It seems to us you would have to drive the hybrid for several years to break even with the 150-horsepower 4-cylinder, which has more performance and a smaller price. The hybrid starts at $30,015. Our test car with the Tech Package carried a bottom line of $35,295. A 2.0-liter ILX with Tech Package $32,295.

We think Acura has done a commendable job creating an entry-level luxury sedan with a handsome new design, a comfortable interior that can be loaded with cutting-edge infotainment features, a compliant ride, and decent handling attributes. But we feel that Acura may have missed the mark in the performance department.

Essentials (hybrid statistics)
Base price: $29,795; as driven, $35,295
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder plus electric motor
Horsepower: 111 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 127 foot-pounds @ 1,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,959 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 10 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: highway 38, city 39
0-60: 11 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Lexus ES Hybrid, Lexus CT 200h, Lincoln MKZ hybrid

The Good
• Excellent fuel economy from hybrid
• Well-crafted interior
• High level of infotainment features

The Bad
• Small trunk

The Ugly
• Underpowered even for a hybrid