If you were upset when Acura dropped its Civic-based CSX at the end of the 2011 model year you can stop crying now. The CSX isn’t dead. It’s merely morphed into the new 2013 ILX and become infinitely better during the process. The new ILX body style is almost completely unique and interior entirely different except for some minor, mostly hidden switchgear, while it’s been updated with even higher end materials than some of its much pricier European competitors. The bigger news, mind you, is the inclusion of a new hybrid variant.
I’m sure a lot of Canadian CSX owners, not to mention EL owners before that, wondered why Acura didn’t offer its entry-level model in hybrid form. After all, it’s always been a Civic under the sheet metal, other than nicer interior detailing and a more powerful base engine for the CSX, a trait that carries through into the new ILX. Swapping that powertrain for a Civic Hybrid setup wouldn’t have been much trouble at all. The problem was that the EL and CSX were never offered outside of Canada and therefore the numbers simply weren’t there to justify a lower volume hybrid model, but now that the ILX is also being sold into the U.S. there’s a very strong business case behind Acura’s first-ever HEV.
Unlike the base ILX that gets a sportier 150-horsepower 2.0-litre engine than the Civic, the new ILX Hybrid uses the same powertrain as the Civic Hybrid, which includes a 93-horsepower gasoline engine and a 17 kW electric motor, making a combined gasoline-electric net output rating of 111-horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, the latter from a nice tractably low range of just 1,000 rpm to 3,500 rpm. Power is directed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, while a state-of-the-art Lithium-ion battery gets recharged via engine power as well as regenerative braking. Fuel economy? That’s the ILX Hybrid’s strong point for sure, at a claimed 5.0 L/100km city and 4.8 highway compared to the regular ILX model’s 8.6 and 5.6 rating respectively.
On the road the ILX Hybrid is identical to the Civic Hybrid except for a little more sound deadening materials for a quieter overall experience. Power is pretty good considering the impressive fuel economy, but I found it best to use the paddle shifters when driving slowly as it’s really quite jerky when getting on and off the throttle. Switch it to Sport mode, stab the go-pedal, and the engine sounds brilliant while the “shifts” are crisp. Then again, if you try to do so when cold all you’ll get is an anemic blip between artificial increments.
All ILX models get the same fully independent suspension setup as the Civic, which includes MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front plus a multi-link suspension with a stabilizer bar in the rear, while its ride and handling benefit from comfort-oriented 205/55 tires on 16-inch alloys kept in check via amplitude reactive shock absorbers that offer a nice blend of compliance for smooth driving over rougher inner city streets and fairly taut performance when enjoying a curving back road. The motion-adaptive electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering reacts to input nicely for a reasonably sporty driving experience while simultaneously offering a nice tight 10.8-meter turning circle for parking lot maneuvers.
I mentioned the ILX is nicely finished inside with a soft touch dash that’s very upscale, but mainstream models like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Sentra have soft touch dash tops too, while the revised 2013 Honda Civic has really upped its game with more soft touch surfaces than ever before, so Acura needs to go further with the ILX and make the lower dash and glovebox soft touch as well, not to mention the lower door panels in order to truly separate it from run of the mill compacts. It’s got a really nice instrument panel though, with premium-level switchgear and a cool red ignition button that gives it a performance-focused demeanor. It’s roomy up front too, with the benefit of an amply comfortable eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, covered in leather of course. Its two-way heated seats are a bit low rent though, as most premium rivals offer more settings to properly pamper the tush. Rear seat passengers will enjoy more leg and knee room than in the previous CSX, however, always an important factor for those buying into the luxury sedan segment.
A full rundown of the ILX Hybrid’s features can be seen on the brand’s website, but a quick overview reveals that enhancing the drivetrain with electric power also adds a lot of luxury that would otherwise be part of both Premium and Technology packages if opting for the regular ILX, with highlights not yet mentioned including proximity sensing remote access, automatic HID headlights, one-touch turn signals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt and slide powered glass sunroof, an 8-inch LED backlit VGA display integrating a user-friendly navigation system and a multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines that really improves rear visibility, a fabulous sounding 10-speaker audio system with ELS surround sound, HDD media storage, DVD-audio, Dolby Pro Logic II, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free, SMS text messaging, USB and auxiliary plugs, plus a subwoofer.
Additional extras include a rear spoiler to aid in aerodynamics, Acura’s Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist), an ECON mode button, and a tire repair kit instead of a spare tire, with the only negatives being the deletion of a fold-down rear seatback to make way for the battery, and a much smaller trunk measuring 283 litres instead of 350 with the base ILX.
Of course, the usual safety equipment is included, such as side-thorax airbags and front/rear side-curtain airbags, stability and traction control, hill start assist, and four-wheel discs with ABS, EBD and BA. The ILX Hybrid starts at $36,835 including destination, while you can add on a variety of accessories from the usual block heater and splashguards to a full aero kit as well as a protection package that if all chosen will pump the price up and over the $40k threshold.
What premium features are missing? Only the front windows are auto down/up, and you can’t upgrade to top-tier safety items like lane change warning and avoidance systems offered by other premium brands. Some might find the lack of an electronic parking brake a bit old school, but I happen to like handbrakes as do many other small car buyers, and like the steering wheel and shift knob, Acura’s brake lever is leather covered for that added premium touch.
By the end of the week I really grew fond the ILX Hybrid, although it’s a bit pricy compared to what might be seen by many as its main rival, the much-improved new 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid, due to arrive very soon. Acura shouldn’t overlook Lexus’ CT 200h that can be had for thousands less either, although that Prius-based hatchback model doesn’t offer the same level of standard features as the ILX Hybrid, such as leather seats and navigation. In fact, if you equip it to the same levels as Acura’s new HEV, you’ll be investing more than $40,000.
I suppose in this light the ILX Hybrid appears to be a relative bargain, and with its full set of features, premium fit and finish and surprisingly enjoyable performance, not to mention its stellar fuel economy, it’s difficult not to recommend.