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Mark Phelan: Acura is off-target

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ILX is an attractive premium sedan, but it lacks performance and key features in its class

Despite an attractive design and cushy interior, Acura's * * 2013 ILX compact sedan lacks the features and performance to compete with the best small premium sedans.

The ILX is the first misstep in Acura's reboot, which will include several new models over the next few years. It's smaller and less expensive than the TSX that has been Acura's entry model.

Prices for the 2013 Acura ILX start at $25,900 for a model with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The sporty model features a 201-horsepower 2.4-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission. It goes for $29,200. The fuel-saving ILX hybrid features a 111-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. It starts at $28,900.

I tested a well-equipped 2.0-liter ILX with the optional Tech package that includes a navigation system, mediocre voice recognition, an ELS premium sound system and other features. It stickered at $31,400. All prices exclude destination charges.The ILX shares its platform and major mechanical systems with the mainstream Honda Civic, but its exterior and interior appearance are unique, with plenty of upscale touches. Audi and Buick use the same formula for their premium compacts. The A3 and Verano, respectively, share their platforms and many systems with the high-volume Volkswagen Golf and Chevrolet Cruze.

The A3, ILX and Verano are among the first entrants in what's likely to become a crowded field of premium compacts with features, style and performance traditionally associated with larger prestige models. The BMW 128i, Lexus CT 200h hybrid and Volkswagen Jetta GLI or TDI also could be considered competitors.

The ILX that I tested cost about $4,000 more than a comparably equipped Buick Verano, $1,000 more than a comparable Jetta GLI and $1,000 less than a comparably equipped A3.

The ILX 2.0L's strongest selling point is its fuel economy. The EPA rates it 24 m.p.g. in the city, 35 on the highway and 28 combined.

The ILX's fuel economy is particularly impressive given that its five-speed automatic transmission competes primarily with six-speeds in the other cars. Credit the ILX's low 2,970-pound curb weight and its less-powerful engine.

The 2.0-liter produces considerably less power than the A3, Verano and Jetta. With just 140 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 r.p.m., acceleration from a standstill is unimpressive. Performance at highway speeds, when the engine is already running more than 2,200 r.p.m., is fine.

The suspension is tuned more for comfort than handling. It absorbs bumps well, but does not inspire eager driving. The steering is a bit numb, without much feedback or on-center feel.

The ILX's proportions are similar to the Civic, whose platform it shares, but every exterior panel is unique. The crisp lines and planted stance give the ILX a sporty and capable look.

The interior is attractive and trimmed with good materials. Virtually every surface is padded. The front seat provides plenty of room. Rear legroom is about par for compact sedans. At 12.3 cubic feet, the trunk is on the small side.

The car I tested had neither blind-spot alert nor memory for the driver's seat, a couple of features that seem well within reach for a $31,400 compact.

The infotainment and voice-recognition system is very annoying. Among other faults, it requires too many steps and doesn't provide spoken access to contacts in your phone's directory. It also repeatedly interrupted phone calls to tell me it was indexing the hard-drive music library -- despite the fact that I had not activated that feature.

The 2013 Acura ILX is a good-looking, fuel-efficient compact, but its unexceptional performance and frustrating electronics make it less appealing than other premium compacts.

Mark Phelan: Acura is off-target | Mark Phelan | Detroit Free Press |
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