There's a new entry-level Acura sedan coming to market this month, designed to bring first-time premium-car buyers into Honda's luxury brand.
The all-new 2013 Acura ILX compact is based on the architecture of the newest generation of the Honda Civic, which made its debut last year. And like the Civic, it will be offered in a gasoline-electric hybrid version as well as gasoline-only models.
With a starting price of $25,900 (plus $895 freight), the front-wheel-drive ILX will be the lowest-priced sedan in the Acura lineup since the Vigor was discontinued in the late 1990s. It's also the least expensive Acura of any type since the compact RSX coupe went away in 2006 (it was the successor to the Integra).
The hybrid model begins at $28,900 and has essentially the same drive system as the 2012 Civic hybrid, which starts at $24,200 (plus $780 freight). But the Civic has better fuel economy ratings — 44 mpg city and highway, compared with 39 city/38 highway for the ILX hybrid.
At the time the RSX was discontinued, Acura officials said the intent was to move the brand upscale and to quit selling cars that appealed to young people looking for low-priced performance vehicles. The Integra and RSX, for example, were big with the tuner crowd that also has long embraced sporty versions of the Civic.
The TSX has been Acura's entry sedan model since 2004, but its 2012 starting price is just more than $30,000, about $5,000 below the TL sedan, the next step up in the brand's lineup.
Generation Y is the target audience for the ILX, said Lee DaSilva, Acura's senior product planner. Gen Y, also known as the “millennials,” are people born from the mid-'70s to 2000.
The ILX is a near-premium vehicle designed to be the “gateway to the Acura brand,” DaSilva said, bringing to market an Acura compact with “sporty, youthful value and achievable luxury.”
The idea is to get the Gen Y buyers into the Acura fold, then move them up to more expensive models as they grow in their personal and professional lives.
In the Acura lineup for the coming year, only the TSX and ILX will have four-cylinder engines.
The base ILX comes with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque, and it has a sequential-sport-shift five-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are 24 city/35 highway.
Also offered is the ILX 2.4 (base price $29,200), which comes with the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine used in the TSX. It's rated at 201 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque. This engine also is standard in the Honda Civic Si. With the accompanying six-speed manual gearbox, it has mileage estimates of 22/31.
As with the Civic, the ILX with the 2.4-liter engine is not offered with an automatic transmission and clearly is intended for the young tuner crowd.
In the hybrid model, only a continuously variable transmission is available.
DaSilva said the “windswept” exterior design and the “well-appointed” interior make the ILX “smart, spacious and sporty.”
There is room for up to five people, although the rear seat is a bit tighter than that of the Civic and isn't comfortable for medium-size or larger adults. The ILX has 34 inches of rear legroom, compared with 36.2 inches for the Civic sedan.
But Gen Y buyers probably won't have many regular backseat riders, except possibly a small child or two.
Among standard premium features are a keyless entry system with push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moon roof, 16-inch aluminum wheels, Pandora Internet radio interface, Bluetooth hands-free phone connection and text messaging capability (as though that's something we really ought to be doing while we're driving).
I tested both the base sedan and the hybrid model, but not the 2.4-liter manual version. The base ILX's 2.0-liter engine provided plenty of power for a variety of roads, ranging from hilly two-lanes to eight-lane freeways.
Likewise, the hybrid had sufficient power, especially with the boost from the system's 23-horsepower electric motor. Enthusiasts who like the beefed-up Civics probably won't be happy with the hybrid's power, though.
Premium ($3,300) and Technology ($2,200) packages are available or already included on certain models. The hybrid is offered with a combination of the Premium and Technology packages ($5,500), but they cannot be separated.
The Premium package includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, a 360-watt stereo system with XM radio, high-intensity-discharge headlights, fog lights, 17-inch aluminum wheels, a rearview camera and a cabin active-sound-cancellation system for a quieter ride.
With the Technology Package comes Acura's ELS Surround audio system, which includes a navigation system with voice command, along with the AcuraLink Satellite Communication System, Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting, Real-Time Weather with radar maps and a universal garage/gate opener.
The navigation system has a 60-gigabyte hard drive, including 15 gigabytes for music storage.
Acura includes the Technology package in the $29,200 price of the ILX 2.4 model. The most expensive version of the ILX is the hybrid model with the two packages, which lists for $34,400.
Standard safety features include Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure; front, side and side-curtain air bags; four-channel antilock disc brakes; and electronic stability control. The body of the car is made of 62 percent high-strength steel.
Up front, there is a center console with two cupholders. The rear seat has a pull-down armrest that provides two built-in cupholders. Sporty gauges and bolstered front bucket seats are standard.
There is more trunk space in the gasoline-only models — up to 12.4 cubic feet. The hybrid, though, loses some cargo space to the lithium-ion battery pack. It has 10 cubic feet in the trunk without the Technology/Premium packages or 9.8 cubic feet with those extras.
A locking glove box is standard, as well as a USB port for connecting iPods, iPhones and other gadgets to the audio system. Bluetooth audio streaming is included, too, which allowed me to keep my iPhone in my pocket while driving along listening to my phone's music library through the car's stereo system.
Acura says the hybrid model can cruise for short distances between 10 and 45 mph using the electric motor alone, but both the gas engine and electric motor are always used at startup. During high-speed cruising, only the gasoline engine is used, but the electric motor kicks in during hard acceleration for chores such as passing.
The ILX is built at the Honda plant in Greensburg, Ind., and officially goes on sale May 22.
Read more: Acura ILX designed as a gateway sedan - San Antonio Express-News