Acura's new starter model -- the smaller cheaper ILX compact based on Honda Civic underpinnings -- goes on sale today, starting at $26,795 with shipping.
That's about four grand less than the currently least-expensive Acura, the TSX. The car is a little bigger and has different engines and interior from its humbler corporate sibling Civic.
Acura says it needs the new entry -- it calls it "gateway" -- model to attract Millennials looking to move up to a premium brand, but unable to pay the freight for the current models. It also faces new or updated premium starter-cars, such as BMW 1-Series, redone Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a rumored Infiniti below the G models.
Acura's ambitions for ILX, however, are grander, even groundbreaking:
"It will create a new segment," Michael Accavitti, VP of marketing for Acura in the U.S.
Accavitti says the new car won't downsize the Acura image, rather it's a return to the "sweet spot" carved out by the Integra when Acura was young. "We continue to look at Acura as the luxury brand it was created to be, an alternative to BMW and Audi and Infiniti."
We wonder why, though, if they wanted to revive our warm feelings for the old Integra, they didn't just revive the name for the new car.
TV launch ads for the ILX will wait until after the holiday. "Everybody's having a Memorial Day sale and we don't want to compete with that," says Accavitti.
A good start for the RDX, on the heels of what has been a good initial reaction for redone 2013 RDX crossover, would be a much-needed boost for the brand.
Acura was the USA's first Japanese luxury brand, rolling out the $20,000 flagship Legend and smaller Integra in 1986, at a time when "luxury" and "Japanese brand" did not occupy the same brain space for a lot of Americans.
It took on the U.S. and European premium nameplates three years ahead of the launch of Japanese rivals Lexus and Infiniti.
The base model of the front-drive ILX comes with cloth seats standard and a 150 hp, 2-liter, four with a five-speed automatic. It's rated 24 mpg in town, 35 highway, 28 combine. Spending $30,095 gets you a trim with more standard features and a 201 hp. four -- though the sportier engine comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. It's rated 22/31/25.
For the eco- or gas-price sensitive, there's also a gas-electric hybrid starting at $29, 795 with an mpg rating of 39/38/38.
The base engine seemed anemic to reviewer James R. Healey in a recent Test Drive, though Acura says the target younger buyers' won't care. Having grown up their parents' luxury cars, these folks want the snob appeal of the premium nameplate. "They put a higher priority on looking good than on going fast," Acura told Healey.