After living with the 2013 Acura ILX for a week, I guess the question that comes to mind is: why does this car exist? Why, with all the offerings in the Acura/Honda lineup – let alone some three dozen other brands – do we have foisted on us yet another small car that does not really add much to the party, especially given the price of admission? We are overdosed with cars these days and so maybe it’s not too much to ask that the offerings get scaled back.
Maybe this is a brusque way to start off the review – and maybe it’s exacerbated because I have a touch of the flu as I write this, and therefore may be a bit more prickly than usual – but the fact remains that this car does not measure up to the generally fine image we have of Acura (Acura is Honda’s premium line, just as Lexus is Toyota’s and Infiniti is Nissan’s.) All three of these upscale lines have been pretty successful, particularly Lexus, whose name is now culturally synonymous with luxury, much the way Cadillac’s was and to a certain extent still is. One of the reasons the big three Japanese companies conjured up these new names for their luxury line is that, in this age of five-star consumerism – Rolex this, Tiffany that – it’s usually smart to set your high-price wares several steps above your base line; the Lexus LS, the progenitor sedan that started it all for Toyota back in 1990, is richly distinct from any other Toyota sold here. And it continues that way today. But as you get to the smaller cars, things start to change.
A Honda Civic in finer clothes
The ILX, for example, is based on the underpinnings of the latest generation Civic, but the front hood area is a bit longer and the rear slightly shorter. In all, the car looks like an innocuous smallish sedan (at 179 inches, it’s about one foot shorter than the popular size typified by Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata) and its lines are quite clean. It doesn’t, however, stand out. The problem I have with deriving a luxury car from a small basic sedan is that you still have the small basic sedan, despite all the upgrades you’ve done to camouflage the fact that it is still a small economy car.
The ILX comes in three flavors: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder 150-horsepower engine for the lion’s share of the production run; a 2.4-liter 201-horse motor (but only with a six-speed manual); and a hybrid. We had the 150-horse version, with a five-speed automatic. It’s okay on fuel consumption – 24/35mpg, city/highway – but not as good as the hybrid (39/38mpg, city/highway). On the highway, tromping down on the accelerator of the ILX gives you a fair amount of four-cylinder thrashing about and a small amount of actual, road-eating power. It is just not a peppy car. It’s enough to get it up on the freeway and once it gets into the fast lane it will stay there, but the power is kind of a “so what.” Inside, the noise level is average – you hear the tires, and you definitely hear the groaning of the engine every time you ask it to do something. But the ILX does have its comfortable appointments. The car we tested had Acura’s premium and tech packages, which bring you leather, heated front seats, 8-way power driver’s seat (no memory seats?), navigation, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, USB port and surround-sound stereo.
If Acura existed in a vacuum, the ILX might be a pretty nice car, but the truth is that there are plenty of competitors in this roughly $25,000 to $35,000 field and you would do well to check them out. Among them are the Audi A3, Volkswagen GTI, Buick Verano and Ford Focus Titanium .The base ILX has a factory price of nearly $26,000 and that’s for a car with cloth seats and, for these days, a rudimentary stereo. The price on the car we drove was $31,400 and the hybrid with the tech package will run another $3,000 over that.
If there is an appeal in this car, it will be to those who want the Civic’s compact feel, but also need the bells and whistles that come with the premium and tech packages. They may also be the customers who were wedded to Acura back in the day, when the Acura cars had that upscale-Honda feel combined with Honda’s reputation for bulletproof products. But paying $32,000 for an upscale Civic these days may be something of a stretch.
After all, you could go buy a Honda Civic with leather and navigation for less than $24,000 and save the $8,000 for a trip to Europe, where you could rent an Audi A3 and see if that is what your next car just might be.
2013 Acura ILX