Acura's compact, entrylevel luxury car has come full circle with the introduction of the 2013 ILX. In 1997, Acura introduced the EL in Canada while the U.S. continued with the Integra sedan. The EL was essentially a rebadged Honda Civic with a higher level of trim.

The EL was a great success, at one time accounting for more than half of Acura's annual sales. It was eventually replaced by the CSX, another Civic-derived model only available in Canada.

Acura has just launched the ILX, a model finally available on both sides of the border.

As before, the ILX is related to the Civic, but now it's much harder to see, as the two have no common body parts. The ILX slots in under the Acura TSX and is only available in one body style, a conventional fourdoor sedan. The recently introduced RDX covers the crossover/SUV-loving crowd.

I don't usually weigh in on style because it's so subjective, but the ILX is a good-looking car. It looks long and sleek and .... dare I say it? Sexy.

Under the hood, buyers have a choice of two engines, a 2.0-litre four with 150 hp, a sporty 2.4-litre with 210 hp or hybrid with 1.5-litre and 111 hp.

We got to spend time behind the wheel with the 2.0-litre engine, mated with a five-speed automatic transmission.

The regular Premium and Technology models all come with the 2.0 and automatic. The Dynamic gets the upgraded engine and a sixspeed manual transmission. The hybrid is only available with a CVT transmission.

While 150 hp and 140 lb.ft. of torque doesn't sound like much, it's more than adequate given its 1,350-kilogram curb weight. The only downside is that the engine requires premium fuel.

This is a rev-loving engine. Everything is almost hushed up to about 4,000 r.p.m., and then the excitement starts all the way up to the 6,500 redline. It's worth noting that peak torque comes on at 4,300 r.p.m. Could there be a coincidence? Probably.

But few enthusiasts will be watching the quickly spinning tachometer. The ILX is quick on its feet and steering is sharp - I felt I could (metaphorically) thread the eye of a needle with the ILX. Its favourite playground isn't an empty stretch of highway but a secondary road with challenging corners.

The suspension is supple and less-than-perfect roads don't throw it off its game.

The six-speed auto box has a manual mode with paddle shifters. It's adequate, but I would have preferred to be able to shift via the floor-mounted shifter.

The handbrake is placed in the optimal position and it felt robust and confidence-inspiring - a rarity among vehicles these days.

The cabin reinforces the ILX's sporty pretensions, with seat bolsters that are close to perfect for holding occupants securely. Those with larger frames may not be as enamoured. Alas, the driver's seat doesn't have memory settings, a convenience when more than one driver uses the car.

The dash design is sublime - classy with a soft zebrawood-look on some surfaces, titanium on others, with just a touch of aluminum and chrome on a background of leather.

The Technology package is essentially the inclusion of a navigation system. The screen is large and the resolution sharp. Navigating the screen was logical and mostly intuitive. A back-up camera is standard. Drivers can toggle between normal, wide-screen and a top-down view of the rear.

The back-seat area is comfortable for two. What is unusual is the padding for the centre position - it's very plush. While comfy, the centre comes up short in headroom compared with the two outboard positions. There is a centre armrest with cupholders, but none on the doors. This means occupants need to hold onto their drinks if all three seats are taken - that tells me the back seat was certainly not designed by anybody with children.

The seat back folds forward to increase cargo capacity. What's unusual is that the whole back seat folds. The majority of vehicles have 60/40 splits and there are even some 40/20/40 combinations. No splits means you can carry extra cargo but no rear occupants at the same time. It seems a step backwards. When folded, the cargo floor is not flat either.

It's up against a segment with few competitors. It can be compared with the Buick Verano and the Lexus CT200h, although that car is only available as a four-door wagon.

Apart from the minor gripes, the ILX is an impressive package. At a base price of $27,790, it's in the middle of this pack, although my car was $34,235 with the Technology package.

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THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Compact near-luxury four-door sedan

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 150 hp at 6,500 r.p.m., 140 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 r.p.m.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,550; width, 1,794; height, 1,412; wheelbase, 2,670

Curb weight (kg): 1,350

Price (base/as tested): $32,290/$34,335 (includes $1,945 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: None

Tires: 215/45 R17 Michelin on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Premium

Fuel economy (L/100km): 8.6 city/ 5.6 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new vehicle, four-years/unlimited km roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain

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By Pedro Arrais, Times Colonist
Road test: 2013 Acura ILX