After a decade of moving upmarket and farther away from the entry-level buyer, Acura's back with a new-generation compact model, the 2013 ILX. Smaller and less expensive than the TSX, the ILX sedan is aimed at shoppers who want something a bit nicer and sportier than the typical mainstream sedan but aren't willing to step up to the higher expense of an established luxury car. It reminds us a lot of the brand's old Integra, and like that car, the ILX is pretty successful in its mission. Nevertheless, you'll also want to be aware of the limitations of this strategy.
The 2013 Acura ILX is based on the Honda Civic, but it's slightly longer and wider, and has unique styling that sets it pretty far apart from its Honda relative. Most importantly, there are significant engineering and interior enhancements. Dismissing the ILX as just a Civic in an Acura badge would be unfair.
There's just a single sedan body style, but Acura's making up for the lack of coupe/hatchback options by offering three distinct powertrain options for the new ILX. The base ILX comes with a modestly powered but economical 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. Markedly more performance comes from selecting the ILX 2.4 and its larger, more-powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Unfortunately this model comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. The third ILX model is the frugal Hybrid, which is the first hybrid-electric vehicle ever for Acura.
With a comfortable ride, comparatively spacious interior and decent level of standard equipment, the base ILX is a new and interesting option for buyers looking for an affordable entry point into the premium Acura brand. The ILX 2.4 is compelling as a low-key premium sport sedan, but it is expensive in relation to its absolute performance, and the lack of an automatic transmission limits its appeal. The ILX Hybrid delivers good -- but not outstanding -- fuel economy and also is relatively expensive.
The 2013 Acura ILX is one of but a few choices for a truly entry-level car from a luxury brand. The Buick Verano is one such model. It doesn't offer the engine variety of the ILX, but it's less expensive to start and has a more powerful base engine and a notably nicer interior. There are also the Audi A3 and Lexus CT 200h, two premium models worth cross-shopping with the ILX, as they offer hatchback utility and fuel economy similar to that of the ILX Hybrid.
One other aspect to consider is the ILX's price once you've loaded it up with options. For the same money, you could also get a loaded version of a popular midsize sedan such as a Ford Fusion, Kia Optima or Nissan Altima. You could also save some money and consider loaded versions of the Dodge Dart or Ford Focus. Most of these cars will offer the same number of convenience and luxury features as the ILX. But for somebody desiring a relatively affordable small sedan that's good on gas and gives off a premium vibe, the ILX is a smart choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Acura ILX entry-level luxury sedan comes in two basic trim levels: base and Hybrid. Standard equipment is pretty much the same for both and includes 16-inch wheels, a sunroof, full power accessories, keyless ignition/entry, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a rearview camera and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack, a USB/iPod audio interface and Pandora integration.
Optional for the base ILX is the Premium package. It includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, foglamps, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver seat, a more advanced rearview camera, active noise cancellation (Hybrid excluded) and an upgraded seven-speaker sound system with satellite radio. Acura also offers the Premium package-equipped ILX with the 2.4-liter engine configuration.
The Technology package (optional for the base or Hybrid but not the ILX with the 2.4-liter engine) includes the equipment from the Premium package and adds a hard drive-based navigation system and a surround-sound audio system with digital music storage.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine for the 2013 ILX is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic that sends its power to the front wheels. In Edmunds performance testing, this powertrain brought the ILX from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is average for a compact economy car. Fuel economy is pretty respectable at 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined.
The ILX with the Premium package can also be had with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's rated at 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; an automatic isn't available for this configuration. In Edmunds performance testing, the ILX 2.4 went from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. This is average for both entry-level luxury sedans with a base engine and regular midsize sedans with an upgrade engine. Some fuel economy is sacrificed in return for more spirited performance, but not much: The ILX 2.4's ratings are 22/31/25.
The ILX Hybrid uses the same propulsion setup Honda employs in the Civic Hybrid: a 1.5-liter four-cylinder coupled with Honda's well-known Integrated Motor Assist, an electric motor that acts as an occasional power booster and to convert braking energy into electricity, which is used to recharge the hybrid ILX's modestly sized lithium-ion battery pack. The motor and gasoline engine produce 111 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque.
A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard. Performance-oriented gearing unique to the ILX Hybrid produces fuel economy of 39 city/38 highway and 38 mpg combined, markedly less than the Civic Hybrid's 44 mpg across the board. We can't say it did much for the car's performance, though, as the ILX Hybrid goes from zero to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds, which is actually slower than the Civic Hybrid. Still, that's the same as a Lexus CT 200h.
The 2013 Acura ILX comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. A rearview camera is also standard.
In government crash tests, the Acura ILX earned a top five-star rating for overall protection in crash tests, with four stars total for frontal impact safety and five stars for side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway safety gave the ILX a top score of "Good" for the car's performance in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. In Edmunds brake testing, the ILX Premium 2.0 came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, which is a little better than average. Curiously, the supposedly sportier ILX 2.4 stopped in 130 feet, which is longer than average. The Hybrid posted basically the same distance.
Interior Design and Special Features
The ILX's interior is impeccably well constructed, but the materials used aren't really a step up from top non-luxury sedans. Similarly, the design features Acura's typical high-tech vibe, but the inside doesn't exactly scream "luxury!"
Nevertheless, if you're looking for high-tech features to go along with that high-tech vibe, the ILX definitely delivers. There is a 5-inch display screen topping the center stack for the myriad infotainment functions, and smartly placed buttons and knobs to control them. A 6-inch screen comes with the navigation/upgraded audio systems. Another nice feature is that even the base ILX audio has the capability to convert SMS text messages to speech.
Special care was used in designing the seats to be supportive, yet not give the impression of confinement or hardness. The ILX is also pretty spacious for a compact car, with a decent amount of backseat room. Trunk space, at 12.4 cubic feet, is average, and the opening is a little narrow. The rear seat folds down to facilitate carrying longer items, but the seatback is not split to permit a mix of long cargo and a passenger or two in the backseat. The Hybrid, due to its battery pack, drops to 10 cubic feet of space.
Nobody is going to mistake the 2013 Acura ILX for a BMW 3 Series, but overall performance is more than adequate for everyday commuting duty. The standard 2.0-liter engine's 150 hp delivers the sort of acceleration you'd expect from a non-luxury compact car, but the engine revs willingly and enjoyably, so wringing the most from it is not an annoying task. The ILX Hybrid is slower still, but obviously benefits from dramatically improved fuel economy. It can't accelerate using electricity alone, however, and the hybrid system isn't as sophisticated or seamless as that of a Lexus.
The ILX with the 2.4-liter engine is a different animal, as its sporting exhaust note and greater horsepower translates to markedly quicker acceleration. We're also quite fond of the precision-machined action of the six-speed manual transmission, which is one of the easiest and most enjoyable to use in any car.
Acura's loyal band of driving enthusiasts might be disappointed that the ILX 2.4 doesn't come with any sportier suspension or steering calibrations, but the ILX in general is a sure-footed and pretty nimble car to pilot. The ride quality is an almost ideal compromise between control and comfort, although the tires do seem to generate more chatter through the cabin than we'd prefer, as do the small imperfections of broken pavement.
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