I was born in the penultimate year of the baby-boom era, so I realize my impressions of the 2013 Acura ILX are not germane. This Acura is designed to appeal to hip faux-hawked and tattooed Gen Y-ers who have somehow managed to get themselves off the couch and out of the coffee shop long enough to amass the kind of wealth and income it takes to lay down roughly 30-large on a car. So when it came time to pair up for the ride-n-drive, I latched on to the youngest guy in the room — 22-year-old Joe Gustafson of Bullz-eye.com (full disclosure — Joe’s hair is normal, and no tattoos show, wearing normal clothes).
Right off the bat, Joe expressed reservations over the car’s pleasant but ho-hum exterior design. His generation likes to draw some attention with its wheels (and hairdos and body art, presumably), and this one didn’t seem to be drawing any. Not that it matters, but I’m right there with him on that assessment. The interior’s buttony center-stack and traditional forms didn’t move our gee-whiz meters much either — especially when rendered in monotone black. More manufacturers are taking risks with interior design, and cars aimed at youthful audiences are the canvasses on which to try such new things (see the 2013 Dodge Dart). This made us wonder if the youth-marketing target was baked in from the start or added on during the car’s roll-out.
We started out in the ILX Hybrid and were both disappointed in the way the Acura’s engine impersonated some far less happy mill, moaning under the whip. The only real hyper-miler coaching aid provided is a little green ball display between the gauges, whose diameter varies with pedal position — great big for good-boy coasting, a virtual pinpoint when at full moan. Even with the much-ballyhooed extra sound deadening and dual-rate amplitude-sensitive shocks, small inputs generated a loud report that may have tricked our ears into thinking the car rode rougher than it did. Our test car included the $5500 tech package (heated leather seats, a bunch of amenities, plus navigation and the ELS stereo), which brings the price to $35,295. That struck Joe as a total no-sale. Me too.
Next up we strapped into the rip-snorting 2.4-liter (a more palatable $30,095), which only comes with a 6-speed manual. Ah, there’s the joyful noise we expect from a Honda! It’s so intoxicating that one feels compelled to wind it out to 7000 rpm wherever space permits. The shifter also feels sublime. Suspension tuning is virtually unchanged, but it seems more appropriate in this bad-boy version. But here we both wondered how old the guys were that decided our target young folks wouldn’t want the kickin’ ELS stereo in the hotrod model? (It’s unavailable.)
We ended the day in the mainstream 2.0-liter and were relieved to find that it also sounded sweet enough to trick the ear into thinking the acceleration was better than it is. Of course, its acceleration would BE stronger than it is if the antique five-speed transmission could grow an extra cog or two with closer spacing at the low end. My take: Stick with the base cloth seat ILX at the $26,795 base price, and convince yourself that the caliper badge and its attendant resale value and quality reputation more than counterbalance the 30 extra direct-injected horses, leather seats, and 6-speed you’d get for the same money in a Buick Verano. It sounded like Joe and his pals (if they were spending $30K on cars, which he says they’re not) would much sooner be trolling Craigslist for off-lease BMW 328s…
Counterpoint – Lassa Responds
Greeting card trivia says I was born in the same Boomer year in which air travel from the U.S. across the Atlantic finally surpassed steamship travel. Happy Birthday, 1958! My drive partner on the Acura ILX intro in Metro Detroit, the estimable Grand Venusian Jim Hall, is even older than me. What do we know from these newfangled entry near-premium $30k compacts? Where would one fit in the Rover Group lineup?
Well, balderdash, says I. Yes, nothing but truth to the old axiom that you can’t sell a young man an old man’s car, but still. The opinion of one journalist/automotive pundit barely as old as my credit card debt doesn’t make for consensus. Especially when said journalist-pundit is an outlier, an enthusiast who still knows how to row gears. Fact is, I’ve spoken with whippersnappers younger than that pleasant Joe Gustafson who would pick as first cars models that would surprise you. They, like us, are diverse. They simply don’t want to drive an old man’s car, just like us.
My concern is, how does the ILX fit into the struggling entry-premium brand’s portfolio? Acura counts the MDX crossover as its perennial bestseller. The TL has been the number two model, and Acura’s number one car, though in 2011, the TSX closed in at 30,935 to the TL’s 31,237. Even in 2010, before the damaging effect on inventories from last year’s tsunami, the TSX was fewer than 2000 units behind its bigger sibling. When the TL and TSX converge into TLX, will the ILX fill the smaller car gap?
ILX is good enough to sell in those volumes. More important for Acura, the TSX is a European Honda Accord built in Japan. Acura assembles the ILX in Greensburg, Indiana, so the new entry-premium car won’t have all the yen exchange rate issues associated with the old entry-premium car.
Jim and I concentrated on the 2.4-liter, manual-only ILX, and I’d say it’s a worthy successor to, though certainly more mild mannered than, the Integra and RSX. It feels like the grown up compact for those of us who owned and still lament the Honda CRX. Rural and suburban Southeast Michigan roads are too gently curved, too busy and mostly too smooth for a full-on evaluation, but the chassis feels comfortably compliant, though responsive to inputs. The steering is very good for an electrical power assisted system. Acura says the ILX’s Motion Adaptive EPS applies corrective assist force in oversteer or understeer situations, and that it “doesn’t feel unnatural.” No part of our drive could have activated the feature.
The overpriced hybrid comes off as an attempt at chasing Lexus hybrids, and it falls short. Best to stick with the Toyota Prius line if you’re considering either an ILX or a Lexus CT or HF. We didn’t get time in the 2.0-liter car.
The one worth considering, the 2.4-liter/manual, runs about $30K, which is about right for its level of luxury. Jim and I agree with Frank and Joe, that the ELS audio system, one of the best in the business, should be a standalone option, if not standard with this trim level.
Compared with the Honda Civic, the Acura ILX has a thicker steering shaft diameter, front and rear rebound springs that maintain ride comfort while increasing roll rigidity, and amplitude reactive dampers. This kit works. However, add to this the handsome, if conservative styling and the higher quality interior — leather aside — this is the car the 2011 Honda Civic should have been.
Young enthusiasts may prefer an off-lease BMW 3 Series, though a newly employed college grad with a healthy starting paycheck won’t if he or she considers the cost of ownership. The Acura ILX is a good enough car for Jim to say he’d consider one, and he’s not been a fan of recent Hondas/Acuras.
Me? Not quite.
Read more: A Late Boomer and Friends Try Out the Acura ILX - Motor Trend Blog