Date: February 2013
Months in Fleet: 7 months
Current Mileage: 16,696 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 27 mpg
Average Range: 356 miles
Normal Wear: $0
Damage and Destruction: $74
We can usually roll up the 40,000 miles we require of our long-term cars in about a year. At just under 17K through seven months in our care, our ILX is somewhat behind the pace. As the coldest, snowiest, and most miserable days of Michigan’s winter pass, however, we expect the car to resume rolling its odo at the rate we saw last summer and fall. Since we introduced the Polished Metal Metallic sedan last August, it has ferried staffers twice to New York and once to Vermont before hibernating in and around C/D HQ in Ann Arbor.
Logbook scribblers continue to applaud the Acura’s slick six-speed manual and zingy 201-hp 2.4-liter, which are shared with the Honda Civic Si. (The ILX also shares several hard points with the more-plebeian Honda, notably, its suspension and floor.) The rare criticism centers not on mechanicals but the shifter’s metal knob. As we entered the sweltering dog days of summer, the ball frequently was too hot to handle. Now, in the winter, it gets so cold that gloveless pilots are complaining of frostbite. (They’re obviously ninnies.) But the cold weather brought something else of note: Engagement through the gates has begun to feel slightly sticky, and we’ll be watching to see if the issue subsides as spring and warmer temperatures approach.
A recurring theme sees staffers wondering where the money went into creating this $30,000 car. Perhaps the lion’s share of development bucks went to the front structure, which was heavily modified from the Civic’s to accommodate a longer hood and relocated A-pillars for a more refined look. The money isn’t evident inside. We continue to bemoan the lack of a navigation system in 2.4-liter cars, and the short gearing and the attendant engine noise, especially on the freeway, still fray nerves. The 2.4’s sound has been described as “juvenile”—sensible in the Civic Si, not so much in an entry luxury car—and road noise in all situations has been characterized as “excessive” and “unacceptable.”
The ILX has many other amenities inside, but cost cutting is apparent, and the interior lacks the polish expected in the segment and for the price. The leather seats are showing obvious signs of wear, lending a whiff of shabbiness to the cabin. Although the dash, instrument panel, center stack, and center console eschew any outward Civic components, one log writer called out the ILX’s interior as a “pretty thin veneer over the Civic’s.” Taken with the powertrain, the result is a car that we’ve called “confused,” one that feels more like a Honda than it does an Acura.
Our introductory report had positive words for the seats, but as more butts have shuffled through the car, multiple folks have been disappointed by the overall lack of lateral support and the one-size-fits-all lumbar support. One driver even resorted to wedging his computer bag between his back and the seat on a long trip. (The bag wedger said he’d have been much happier in the confines of a much-cheaper Ford Focus.) Also coming in for criticism is the Acura’s Bluetooth setup, which is rather counterintuitive. It requires you to answer “No” when prompted to connect your phone, and then sends you down through “a dungeon of submenus” before ultimately reaching the Bluetooth configuration.
The ILX has been cheap to keep on the road, with one minor hiccup covered under warranty. Our first trip to the dealer was at 8800 miles for scheduled maintenance (an oil and filter change and a tire rotation, $71) and to replace the front door latches as part of a recall. At 13,000 miles, the passenger-side front door lock stopped working. The cause was a loose connection, which was fixed gratis. We had a wheel vibration checked out at the same time, and the techs found a nail lodged in the right rear tire. The damage was repaired and all four wheels rebalanced for $74.
Just shy of halfway to our 40,000-mile goal, the ILX’s impeccable engine and transmission have held up their end of the bargain, serving up driver enjoyment and involvement in equal measure. But we’re wondering when the rest of the ILX will start delivering on its entry-luxury promises.
Just over a decade ago, Acura’s lineup included the NSX and Integra—both among the most rewarding cars in their segments and two fairly iconic pieces of machinery. Since then, Honda’s luxury brand has introduced a line of funky-faced, tweener-sized cars that James Spader talks up in TV ads. Away from the sound booth where Spader records his solicited praise, however, the reality is that Acura’s lineup isn’t quite what it used to be.
But things might be looking up. Acura will soon bring us a new NSX; it currently offers one of the few sporty wagons in our market; and it has delivered a new entry-level sedan, the ILX. We knew the latter wouldn’t be another Integra, but one ILX in particular—the one that shares the Civic Si’s 201-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual—had us interested enough to order an example for a 40,000-mile test.
A Fairly Large Kitchen Sink, but No Drain
A recap of the ILX line: Box stock, the base model—motivated by a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder tied exclusively to a five-speed automatic—starts at $26,795. A hybrid is available and borrows its engine and electric-motor combo from the Civic hybrid. All ILX models include as standard USB and auxiliary jacks, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, and a power sunroof.
Cars like ours, with the Civic Si powertrain, come one way, combining the above kit with the Premium package, which adds an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front sport seats, leather upholstery, a seven-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a rearview camera, 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, and xenon HID headlights. The 2.4 is the only ILX that’s available with a manual, which should explain by itself our choice of long-term trim. Our ILX is therefore both as barebones and as loaded as it can be and stickered at $30,095.
You might notice one item conspicuously absent from our otherwise well-equipped car: a navigation system. Nav is unavailable with the hottest engine, being restricted to the 2.0-liter and hybrid models’ Technology package, which also includes a fancy stereo, a GPS-enabled climate-control function that accounts for the location of the sun (!), and voice controls.
At least time spent lost is spent in comfortable and supportive front seats, and the six-speed manual’s short throws and the 2.4-liter’s enthusiasm to zing through its power band—typical Honda, in other words—have been universally praised. Sprints to 60 mph pass in 6.4 seconds, the quarter-mile is reached in 15.0 seconds at 95 mph, and the ILX tops out at an electronically limited 138 mph.
Hoping Something Grows on Us
We have logged several demerits. The ILX lags behind its powertrain partner, the Si, on the skidpad, achieving 0.81 g compared with the Si’s 0.88, and several of our tribe have bemoaned the soft tires and the squishy suspension on this sportiest of ILXs. The steering is very light and loads and unloads unpredictably as you dial in lock, and quick requests for directional changes can send the rear end into a corkscrewing motion. (These and other dynamic quirks were noted in our test of a different 2.4-liter ILX, too.)
Rear riders have voiced complaints about the roominess of their accommodations. Our plain-jane infotainment setup is like those in most current Acuras and Hondas in that it largely feels outdated, with one logbook scribbler being “amazed at how well the center screen renders album art from an iPod but otherwise suffers from an interface that looks and acts 10 years old.” After a day spent baking in Michigan’s hot summer sun, the cabin starts to smell like someone is storing leftovers under the driver’s seat. Not pleasant.
Finally, a semiaggressive exhaust note is joined by a tiresome buzziness from underhood during top-gear 80-mph cruises, at which point the engine is spinning at 3500 or so rpm. The sound isn’t as refined as it ought to be in this segment; luxury—entry-level, sporty, or otherwise—doesn’t sound like a Civic Si. Perhaps this has caused some short-shifting among our usually redline-happy drivers, as the ILX has returned 27 mpg combined so far, four below the 31-mpg EPA highway rating.
The preeminent question concerning the ILX 2.4 is whether it can successfully blend Civic Si fun with a near-luxury experience. Thus far, we’d say, “Not quite,” but the car has 38,000 miles to change our minds.