Acura Builds a Smaller, Lighter Car, Like It or Not
The 2013 Acura ILX is the smallest sedan in Acura's lineup since the Integra, but it's not a spiritual successor to that car.
Although the ILX is efficient and lightweight like the Acura Integra, the ILX is a more polished sedan for grown-ups. It has a well-damped ride, an upscale interior and plenty of electronics to placate smartphone users. It's priced sanely, too, with a base MSRP of $26,795.
It's the kind of small car you enjoy driving to work more so than wringing it out on a back road. And while that's not exactly what old-school Honda guys want to hear, the ILX marks a return to the less-is-more philosophy that defined Acura in its early years.
It's a Civic, Right?
Much like the dear old Integra, the 2013 Acura ILX shares its wheelbase (105.1 inches) and platform architecture with the current-generation Honda Civic sedan. But it isn't a straight-up badge-and-paint job.
Acura engineers lengthened the car's nose, fitted an aluminum hood and set the windshield farther back to lessen the pronounced cab-forward feel of the Civic, while adding nearly 2 inches to overall length (179.1 inches). In addition, the ILX is 1.6 inches wider (70.6 inches), and its roof line is 1 inch lower, reducing overall height to 55.6 inches. The result is a sedan that wears the current Acura beak more naturally than any other car in the lineup.
Inside, the Civic's controversial, digital-over-analog gauge pack has been banished in favor of more traditional instrumentation. We immediately notice the upgraded materials, all of which look and feel good, including the metallic trim. Quality isn't quite at TSX levels, but it's easily on par with the Honda Accord. Of course, the ILX comes with more amenities than the Civic, like standard dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, all of which push the curb weight up to 2,900 pounds on the lightest version. That's about 100 pounds more than a 2012 Civic EX-L Navi, or if you're curious, an automatic-equipped 2000 Integra GS sedan.
The 2013 Acura ILX is close in size to the Buick Verano and Volkswagen Jetta, but company officials don't consider either of those cars key competitors. Instead, they have their eyes on the Audi A3, Volvo S40 (well, whatever latent demand it left behind when Volvo discontinued it) and Lexus CT 200h.
Pick Your Drivetrain
Honestly, it's hard to pinpoint the 2013 ILX's competition, because Acura is offering three very different drivetrains on this car. The company expects 75 percent of customers (and it's hoped there will be 35,000 of them annually) to go for the ILX 2.0L model, and that's the one we're driving on this sunny morning in Scottsdale.
It features a single-overhead-cam, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that's essentially a longer-stroke version (81mm bore diameter, 97mm stroke) of the 1.8-liter engine in the Civic (81mm by 87mm). Compression remains 10.6:1, and the engine uses variable intake valves to improve power and efficiency. The 2.0-liter is rated at 150 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm — up from 140 hp and 128 lb-ft at the same thresholds in the Civic. In a nod to reality, Acura is only offering this engine with a five-speed automatic transmission driving its front wheels. As in the TSX, you get a manual mode and paddle shifters.
While we're busy talking, our co-driver hits the highway and the ILX 2.0L gets up to freeway speed easily enough. It's light on low-end grunt, but it feels stronger than the Civic EX we tested, and we expect it to beat that car's 9.2-second 0-60-mph time when we eventually test it. Acura estimates the ILX's EPA fuel economy ratings at 24 city/35 highway/28 combined mpg versus 28/39/32 for an automatic-equipped Civic.
As this is a Honda four-cylinder, it feels most potent up high and revs freely to its 6,700-rpm redline. Upshifts are smooth, and downshifts come when we need them in "D," though Mazda's new six-speed automatic provides quicker gearchanges (whether you want to acknowledge Mazda as a competitor or not). Overall, this five-speed auto gets the job done, and we even detect some attempt to match revs when driving with more gusto.
What Are My Other Choices?
Next up is the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid ($29,785), which is expected to account for the greenest 20 percent of ILX buyers. It shares its drivetrain with the Civic Hybrid and features a 1.5-liter inline-4 engine with a small 17-kilowatt, front-drive electric motor mounted in parallel behind it, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) behind that. Forty 3.6-volt lithium batteries occupy the trunk, reducing capacity from 12.4 cubic feet to 10 even, but surely you can order a set of custom cloth grocery bags.
Total system power is rated at 111 hp at 5,500 rpm (exactly 1 more hp than the Civic), while torque tops out at 127 lb-ft from 1,000-3,500 rpm. Acura engineers have fiddled with the software, so you get a sharper throttle response for any given pedal input. This, along with the ILX's extra weight, takes a toll on fuel economy ratings, which the company pegs at 39 city/38 highway/38 combined versus 44/44/44 for the Honda.
Of course, like the Honda, the Acura ILX Hybrid feels sluggish if you're thinking about anything other than reducing your environmental footprint. However, we end up enjoying our time on Phoenix's 101 freeway, because the ILX Hybrid has paddle shifters, as well as seven (yes, seven) simulated forward gear ratios. Yank the paddle a couple times and you have enough juice for passing even if you're cruising around in Econ mode.
And if you want something completely different, there's the 2013 ILX 2.4L ($30,095). Acura expects just 5 percent of you to go for this model, the main reason being you can get it only with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The engine is the same sweet-tempered 2.4-liter inline-4 offered in the TSX and Civic Si, and it's rated at 201 hp at 7,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. We get only 10 minutes in this car, but predictably, this is our favorite engine and we're ripping off heel-and-toe downshifts at 20 mph in the parking lot. Fuel economy estimates are 22 city/31 highway/25 combined.
Probably the most impressive thing about the 2013 Acura ILX is how it rides. Mind you, we're only speaking for Arizona highways, which seem to get more love from the state coffers than our California roads. But there's a new level of compliance here, and it doesn't come at the expense of control over bumps and ruts. It's also a quiet ride, as the ILX has all sorts of noise-reduction measures not found on the Civic, including laminated glass and active noise cancellation (via the audio system).
Suspension design is the same as the Civic's, but Acura engineers have upgraded the dampers and bushings, and those new dampers incorporate rebound springs, which are a means of reducing body roll without resorting to aggressive damping or massive stabilizer bars. It sounds good, but there aren't any serious curves on our route, so we'll reserve judgment on handling until we instrument-test the ILX.
All ILXs get the same basic suspension calibration, which we think might be too soft for the 2.4L model and its high-revving engine. (Along with this caveat comes another: The ILX 2.4L is the only one of the ILX models that can't be equipped with a navigation system, though you can at least have a Premium package with HID headlights.)
You get 17-inch wheels and P215/45R17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires standard on the ILX 2.4L. These tires are optional on the ILX 2.0L, which along with the ILX Hybrid, comes with standard P205/55R16 Continental ContiProContact all-season rubber. Front brake disc diameter varies by model: The Hybrid has 10.3-inch rotors, the 2.0L has 11.1-inch rotors and the 2.4L gets 11.8-inch rotors. Everybody gets 10.2-inch solid discs in back, and the cast-iron calipers are strictly of the single-piston, sliding variety.
The steering system uses electric assist, but it has a quicker ratio than the Civic — 15.1:1 versus 16.1. It's precise, with good stability on-center, but we wish it had more feel.
If you're still giving unsolicited eulogies to the Integra at dinner parties, then the 2013 Acura ILX probably isn't your car. But if you want a refined compact car that has everything you and your smartphone need and not 1 cubic foot more, there's a case to be made for the ILX over the larger, less efficient cars in this price range.
And we're cautiously hopeful that the ILX might point the way to a renaissance of smaller, lighter cars for the Acura brand.
"Most of the sales growth is at the entry level, and that requires us to move beyond our volume midsize models, the TL and MDX," Jeff Conrad, Acura's vice president of sales and service, told media assembled in Arizona.
Great, we say. Bring on the ILX Type R.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.