Going Mainstream Has Its Privileges
Acura's experiment with niche models has failed. Competing in the luxury car business by filling white space with product just didn't work for the Japanese automaker. In place of slow-selling models like its ZDX and quirky first-gen RDX, the mindset at Acura has recently switched to more conventional products with vastly improved volume potential. The redesigned 2013 RDX, for example, sold almost as many units in 2012 as it did in 2010 and 2011 combined, and the all-new 2013 ILX has sold more units each month – since going on sale in May – than Acura sold in ZDXs and RLs in all of last year.
While the redesigned RDX is a crucial product to compete with luxury compact crossovers, the ILX might be the most important new product for Acura, as a growing number of premium makes are starting to realize the importance of upscale entry-level compact cars. Ironically, this segment was a pivotal part of the brand's success in the 1980s and '90s thanks to the Integra, but Acura completely abandoned the genre when it killed off the RSX coupe in 2006. The addition of the ILX not only gives Acura a competitive small car again, it also drops the brand's entry price by almost $5,000.
Like the Honda Civic to which it's closely related, the 2013 Acura ILX is offered with three powertrain flavors (base 2.0, ILX 2.4 and Hybrid), and while our First Drive gave us some seat time in the base ILX 2.0, this time we got to spend a full week with the sportier ILX 2.4 – Acura's version of the Civic Si. The ILX is positioned in a weird in-between market that includes premium small cars like the Buick Verano, Audi A3 and Lexus CT, but it also sits at the upper end of some well-equipped non-luxury models like the Ford Focus Titanium. With this in mind, and with keys in hand, we aimed to see how the ILX stacks up against other premium compacts – as well as its predecessors.
Despite coming from the same gene pool as the Civic, every element of this Acura's design has been completely changed.
Despite coming from the same gene pool (and Greensburg, Indiana assembly plant) as the Civic, every element of this Acura's design has been completely changed – from its width to the shape of its roofline. To put it simply, this is no modern-day Cadillac Cimarron. Compared to the Civic Si sedan, the ILX has a slightly shorter overall length, sits lower and is almost two inches wider (including a track that is about a half-inch wider), all of which help give to the ILX sportier proportions; even the rake of the windshield has been changed to give the Acura sedan its own distinct presence. The ILX introduces a more refined design language for the marque, with key elements like the scalloped headlights, raised hood and wide rear haunches, all of which are also present on the 2014 RLX and should be visible on future models, too. One crucial element that Acura nailed (and, boy, did it need to) was its trademark shield grille that now complements the styling of its cars rather than looking like an oversized, metallic beak. Acura has even paid attention to the styling of the engine compartment, using plastic trim to dress it up quite a bit more than what you see under the hood of the Civic Si.
Even more so than the exterior, the cabin of the ILX gives no hint of the car's close relation to the budget-minded Civic, and we think it fits in perfectly with the Acura brand image. A few of the Acura signatures include the dual arched instrument panel; the red, metal-like pushbutton starter; and the clean, straight-forward layout of the switchgear on the center stack. The good news here, of course, is that you can get practically the same interior on this entry-level sedan that you'll find on every other current Acura model. This sportier ILX adds a few extra styling bonuses like the contrasting stitching on the leather and the bright aluminum trio of pedals for the driver – the latter of which might be the only interior bits that are directly shared between the ILX and the Civic. Everything from the steering wheel to the knobs and controls to the padded inserts carved out of the door panels make this car feel 100-percent like an Acura. We kept wanting to gripe that the interior didn't look as sporty as the Civic Si, but we had to keep reminding ourselves that an Acura buyer is more likely focused on luxury and technology.