Regular readers of this column might remember the recent review of the new Buick Verano compact entry-level luxury sedan. In that review, the only notable competitor was the Acura ILX, formally known as the Acura CSX, which was preceded by the Acura EL. With the Verano, General Motors is just catching onto the trend Acura started here in Canada back in the 1990s; build a luxury sedan that regular people can afford. The EL, CSX and now this 2013 ILX share the same basic formula of taking the Honda Civic platform and modifying it into something slightly more luxurious. The EL and CSX were thinly veiled Civic's, meaning the changes were minimal, and in the case of the recent CSX, almost pathetic. This ILX is a much better attempt at developing a different car. It has a more cohesive design, engine options and a more refined interior, befitting the Acura name.
From 10 paces the CSX was almost impossible to discern if it was an Acura or a Civic that it was based on. The styling was poor. That's not the case with the new ILX, as Acura designers have done a wonderful job of grafting the Acura DNA onto the Civic bones. The front grille is similar to the bigger TSX; the sweeping roofline is stylish; and the side body accents dip just before the rear quarter panel, providing rear hips that give the ILX a sense of movement. The most elegant view is the rear, accented with flush-mounted tail lights. The base ILX starts at $27,790 and comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, moon roof and halogen headlamps. To get 17-inch wheels the Premium model at $29,990 needs to be ordered. Rounding out the ILX lineup is the Dynamic model ($29,990) with the same engine found in the Civic Si, and a hybrid ILX ($34,990), featuring the same drive train found in the Civic hybrid.
The same attention to detail found on the outside is mirrored on the inside, with a vastly improved dash and finish. Gone is the cheap Civic interior, making way to a design that is used in all the Acura products. Each side of the dash has trim that accents the upper and lower section, which in turn is separated by a centre console that would look at home in an Acura TL. The dash, doors and touch-points are covered with top-notch, soft-touch materials and the contrast of chrome, brushed and coloured plastic makes the interior pop. What is noticeable is the rake of the front windshield and roofline, which I found rather low, making me recline the driver's seat more than I would regularly do to add more headroom. A push button start is standard along with automatic climate control and Bluetooth. In order to get power, heated leather seats and backup camera, the ILX Premium trim needs to be ordered. The technology trim adds a navigation system, better stereo and larger centre screen.
There are two conventional gasoline engines to choose from and a hybrid system. The car most people will purchase is powered by a 2.0-litre 4-cyl-inder with 150 horsepower, which is only 10 hp more than the Civic. And it requires premium fuel - not sure that the extra power is worth the added fuel cost. This model comes with only a 5-speed automatic, not a 6-speed as is the trend with the competition, especially the more powerful Buick Verano (180 hp on regular gas). The Dynamic model is fitted with the same 2.4-litre 4-cylinder found in the Civic Si, which is rated at 201 hp, but is only offered with a 6-speed manual. It is too bad an automatic is not offered in this trim. As mentioned, the hybrid is the same one used in the Civic and it uses a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder matched to an electric motor for a total of 111 hp. The suspension on the ILX has been modified, including a more refined shock absorber, closer steering ratio and more sound insulation. The quieter interior is welcome as the Civic is far too loud. The Verano by comparison is even quieter and smoother.
THE GOOD, THE BAD
Good: Much better looking inside and out compared to the CSX. Bad: The price might be high when compared to the very good Buick Verano.
The model tested here is the ILX Premium with leather interior, larger wheels and a 2.0-litre engine. The car handles well, the engine is lively and the changes to the chassis are notice-able compared to the Civic. The problem is that Acura doesn't have this market cornered any more and the direct competitor, the Buick Verano, is a better car. It has more power, a 6-speed automatic, just as refined an interior, doesn't require premium fuel, and fully loaded ($27,620) is cheaper than a base model ILX. Yes, many Acura buyers would never be caught dead in a Buick, but there are some who might consider it. Competition is good for the car market and this new crop of entry-level compact luxury cars is proof. The 2013 ILX is perfect for buyers looking for the reliability of a Civic, a more spirited suspension and a more youthful brand.
Power: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder with 150 hp
Fill-up: 8.6L/5.6L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $27,790-$34,990
Road test: 2013 Acura ILX