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The ILX proves most fit as a hybrid, not as strong a challenger in non-hybrid form

The launch of a hybrid is always an exciting event and the launch of the 2013 Acura ILX is no exception [1][2][3].  In a week of driving I was able to test every variant of the ILX -- the base 2.0L model, the 2.4L manual, and the 1.5L hybrid variant.  I came in with relatively high expectations for the new luxury hybrid.  Which model, if any might appeal to you?  Read on for some first impressions.

I. Acura's Bid at Entry Level Luxury Buyers 


Acura, the luxury division of Honda Motor Comp. (TYO:7267), has created a brand new model with the ILX.  The ILX inherits the legacy of the CSX, a model that sold only to the Canadian market.  The compact sedan is very closely related the Civic, being built on the same platform.  Thus there's some resemblance in the overall body shape, though the styling has been made much more aggressive with swooping lines along the flanks.  

The hybrid variant inherits a bit extra from the Civic platform -- its hybrid internals.  Again, here we see a bit of tweaking, but as they say, the apple never falls too far from the tree.

2013 Acura ILX

Deciding exactly what the ILX is competing with is a bit tough -- tougher yet for the hybrid.  Acura wants to promote the vehicle as a competitor to Audi's (the luxury brand of Volkswagen Group (ETR:VOW3)) A3 or the Volvo’s (owned by Hong Kong's Geely Holdings Group (HKG:0175)) C30/V40.  These are favorable comparison in price, but not in features.

A more favorable (and practical) luxury comparison in terms of price and features is the Buick Verano, an entry-level luxury entrant from General Motors (GM).

2013 Acura ILX side

To conjure up a couple of non-luxury comparisons, the car is about the same size as a Ford Focus or Toyota Motor Comp.'s (TYO:7203base Prius.  However, both of those vehicles have a higher/more swooping roof and the ILX seemed a bit longer body-wise and a bit wider.

Probably the closest competitor to the hybrid model would be Lexus' (Toyota's luxury brand) CT 200h.  But again, the swooping roof and hatchback body style of the CT 200h makes for a decided visual difference from the more traditional styling for the ILX.

2013 Acura ILX in front of cliff

The swooping lines convey a sporty feel, the grill says "luxury", and the more traditional top is less visually offending to my eyes than the swooping roofs of the Prius, Focus, and CT 200h.  I'm relatively tall (~6 ft. 3 in.) but I did not have any trouble with the lower roof.  Honestly, having test driven the Prius and having a family member that owns a 2010 Prius, I can say that the Prius has a ridiculously high ceiling.

Perhaps the ILX will suffer aerodynamics-wise from its lower, less bulbous/tear-drop shaped design.  But it does look better to me.

Rear Seat

Inside you have the expected bare necessities of entry-level luxury, namely lots of leather.  The trim is largely hard molded plastic though, betraying the "entry" in entry-level luxury.  Overall the interior is modest, but does not wow, styling wise.  
 
I did appreciate the relatively large amount of legroom in the rear seat.  Sitting in the Prius (if you're tall like me) can be a painful experience.  There's definitely a bit more legroom in the Acura ILX, but it's kind of like moving up from economy class to business class -- there's a little extra leg room, but you're not exactly stretching out.

2013 Acura ILX looking at lake

The vehicle's standard features include keyless access, power moonroof, push-button start, and 16-inch aluminum wheels.  The car also carries Acura's MyFord Touch/SYNC challenger, Handsfreelink, which integrates Bluetooth handset syncing, SMS text messaging support, USB MP3 player support, and Pandora.

A premium package adds heated leather seats, fog lights, HID headlights, and larger 17-inch aluminum wheels into the mix.  It also adds a multiview rear camera.  This basically makes the plain of view behind the car much wider.  

As I said with the new RDX (which also features multiview), this is a terrific feature.  I still feel that the kind of narrow backup cameras found in Fords and many other vendors’ models create some safety hazards, even as they prevent other hazards.  Specifically, narrow-range cameras help to see things immediately behind and underneath the vehicle, but often distract/prevent the driver from looking to the sides to see oncoming people, pets, etc.  Multiview can pick of many of these peripheral objects and is hence much safer.

The premium package (which is not directly available in the hybrid variant) is finished off with a 360-watt sound system.

A technology package upgrades the center stack interface adding a HDD-based navigation system, Homelink remote control, 365-watt ELS surround sound audio, 15 GB of music storage, and Acuralink Traffic & Weather.  The technology package for the hybrid is more expensive adds all the premium package features except for the larger wheels.

2013 Acura ILX looking at lake 3/4s

The technology package is available on the base model and the hybrid, but not for the manual (2.4L).  Overall the features are decent, but there's some definite missing items such as rain-sensing wipers, Active Park Assist (APS)Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), dimming mirrors, adaptive cruise control.

The voice control on HandsFreeLink is actually surprisingly good, however, I do take issue with the fact that the system (unlike MyFord Touch) locks you out of inputting navigations while rolling.  This could easily be done with a voice command (as in MyFord Touch), but Acura just nixes it.  As a result the navigation is a lot less useful than Ford's as spur-of-the-moment destinations require you to pull over and stop somewhere and then input your new destination.

Also the system overall lacks the visual polish and cohesive menu structure of MyFord Touch.  I still feel Ford has the best infotainment system out there.  But the HandsFreeLink is a passable infotainment entry and gets the job done, adding value to the vehicle. 

2013 Acura ILX looking at lake 3/4s bit more turn

Oh, of course, the price.  Pricing starts at $25,900 USD for the inline-4 cylinder 2.0L base model and jumps up to $29,200 USD for the base model with the premium package.  For the latter price you can get the 2.4L inline-4 manual variant, which also comes with the premium package.  The hybrid starts at $28,900 USD.

A fully equipped 2.0L with the tech package will run an additional $2,200 USD for a total of $31,400 USD, while the fully equipped hybrid minus the larger wheels will cost an extra $5,500 USD, for a total of $34,300 USD.  Note, again the manual comes up a bit short in features, not having access to the tech package.

II. Scoping the Competition

So we mentioned the price, now how does that stack up to the competitors mentioned.  Let's look:

2013 Acura ILX

The 2013 Acura ILX does not stack up very favorable to the 2012 Buick Verano on paper.  Its only advantage is mpg, but will 150hp be enough?  Read on.  

As for the ILX hybrid, it's somewhat more competitive with the Lexus CT 200h.  The Lexus leads in the mpg and power dept., but the ILX has a more “mainstream” design and it leads in the price department.

Without further ado, let’s move on to the driving impressions.

III. On the Road -- Impressions for Each Variant

Handling is a perennial strength for Acura, and the ILX is no exception.  It features sporty handling.  Unfortunately the base model does not feel very sporty, due to the sluggish acceleration -- the model feels underpowered in "drive".  


Sport Mode, however, breathes some life into the otherwise boring 5-speed and accentuates the handling, which is very good, as seen in the shots taking below as the vehicle hurdled down dusty desert mountain highways.

Going Downhill

Acura seriously needs to to a six-speed to improve the ILX's performance and fuel economy.

Evidence of this can be found in the 6-speed manual, which is, in a word, "fun".  All the promises that fell short in the base model are mostly fulfilled in the manual.  While this variant sadly can't get the technology package, it does offer a much improved driving experienced.

Of course, Acura says that manuals only account for a tiny percentage of purchases -- 3 to 4 percent of purchases was one unofficial estimate I heard bandied about -- so that could explain why the manual (sadly) isn't getting the tech package.

2013 Acura ILX side

The hybrid variant lived up to the estimated fuel economy.  Driving it conservatively on a mix of highway/city, I averaged around 39 mpg.

At the end of the trip I decided to have a bit of fun and test the hybrid's power.  Unsurprisingly, the low horsepower motor struggled, but it didn't really feel that much more underpowered than base 2.0L non-hybrid version.  And given that I expect hybrids to feel somewhat underpowered, I didn't really have any complaints performance-wise.

While the Lexus 200h and third generation Prius beat the Civic/ILX hybrid in horsepower, I find that the Honda vehicles don't feel noticeably less powerful.  Perhaps this has something to do with the torque delivered at various RPMs, but whatever the reason, the ILX Hybrid and Lexus 200h feel roughly equivalent power-wise despite the on-paper spec favoring Toyota.

IV. Conclusions

The 2013 Acura ILX is an interesting duck.  

First, let's consider the base model.  It certainly fulfills a niche with tremendous potential -- entry-level luxury and offers a decent combined package.

The problem is that the competitors are bringing their A-game to this segment, so an otherwise nice vehicle may come up a bit short.  The ILX certainly looks terrific and gets good MPG, but the 2012 Buick Verano beats it in most key metrics, including power and price.  That beating is expected to get a whole lot worse when the 2013 Buick Verano Turbo -- rumored for a fall launch -- lands.  That Verano Turbo is expected to pack 250 hp -- ouch.

Perhaps, Acura deserves a bit more credit for allowing customers to choose between an underpowered, higher-MPG driving style, and a more-powerful, lower-MPG driving style.  For some this will be an attractive combo.

2013 Acura ILX cactus, side

I think the 2.4L manual ILX is a much more solid competitor to the 2012 Buick Verano.  However, the issue is that Acura thinks people don't necessarily want manuals.  Maybe this is true, maybe not, but the net result is that this superior model will be scarce, so I'm basing my non-hybrid ILX v. Verano comparisons on the base model.  

But ultimately the big question is why Honda is late to gasoline direct injection (GDI) or using low-displacement four-cylinder engines coupled with turbochargers like GM, Ford, and Hyundai.  Either improvement could have added to the power without subtracting from the fuel economy.  Likewise, a 6-speed could have allowed for better power delivery while also improving fuel economy.

I honestly expect these features to be adopted with next ILX model.  But Acura definitely suffers from being a latecomer to the GDI/turbocharging game.

As for the hybrid, I have warmer feelings about it, and feel that it could be somewhat of a winner.  I always thought the luxury market makes the best sense for hybrids, given the small premium.  Mass-market hybrids that aren't named "Prius" have struggled.  The luxury segment may prove a much more natural sales fit, given that the small cost impact is more easily absorbed in a higher sticker (of course some evidence points to the contrary).

The 2013 Acura ILX hybrid trades blows with the Lexus CT 200h in power.  It also
handles much better than the third generation Prius I drove, so I would expect it to handle better than the Lexus CT 200h.  I also personally vastly prefer the styling of the Acura to the more bloated, bulbous Prius-like look of the Lexus.

Are these advantages enough offset the ~2 mpg lead the Lexus holds?  Well, it depends.  If all you care about is mpg, you should be buying a Prius anyway.  But for the luxury buyer who cares about both mpg and looks, the Acura ILX hybrid at least doesn’t look like it stepped off the set of a sci-fi movie.

When it comes to entry-level, compact luxury sedans, the ILX doesn’t really make a strong case for itself, especially when compared to new competitors like the Buick Verano or even the existing Acura TSX. But the hybrid model is a worthy addition to the Acura lineup and a valiant competitor to Lexus’ CT 200h.


Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: 2-door Acura
By lucyfek on 4/21/2012 10:54:54 AM , Rating: 2
3-door please (fun and practical)


RE: 2-door Acura
By tng on 4/22/2012 11:42:20 AM , Rating: 2
Agree. Seems really good 3 doors never get to the US, the Audi A3 comes to mind.


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