2013 Acura, a brand-new model that was sent out into the world to entice younger buyers into the fold. It’s a four-door, four-passenger sedan about the size of a BMW 3-Series or C-Class Merc, and it offers similar levels of floss and gloss for a lot less money. Underneath, however, lies the chassis of a far more humble car, the Honda Civic. It’s not necessarily easy to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but Acura has done just that. The ILX convincingly submerges its everyman roots beneath a different and much more sophisticated body, and its interior is far more luxurious, too. It helps that the Civic is a fine car to begin with, but Acura has compensated for the extra poundage of the ILX’s amenities by beefing up the Civic platform with better steel and greater rigidity. (In cars, rigidity is a good thing.) On the outside, Acura has stretched the hood, shortened the rear deck and added some enticing curves, to give the ILX an unmistakable "executive express" look. Inside, the cabin is first-class all around.
Our test mule was the $32,000 Premium model, equipped with the full bag of toys and armed with the larger of two available 4-cylinder engines, the 201-horsepower 2.4-liter. Honda lets it spin up to 7,000 RPM on the tachometer, and it makes a lot of sporty-sounding noise as it does so, but not all that much happens. A sedan with these upmarket goals should pin its driver into the seatback with more authority.
When you do give it the boot, however, especially in a corner, the front-wheel drive makes a bit of torque steer, which is no surprise and even contributes a bit to the sportiness of the car. It isn’t enough to put you into a tree, but it calls up what a lot of experienced drivers have said about the ILX’s costlier siblings, the Acura TSX and TL: Turn this terrific chassis around and let the rear wheels do the accelerating! (Not going to happen. For most drivers most of the time, FWD is better.)
Here’s an odd quibble: While the 6-speed manual changes gears precisely and willingly, the knob on the stubby shift lever is too small, or maybe the wrong shape, for the effort required. Don’t base a buy/no-buy decision on this alone, but it is ever so slightly jarring, especially from a maker that otherwise sweats the details obsessively.
Speaking of which: The suspension and steering shine. They’re Civic parts too, but Acura has upgraded them for the greater weight and demands of the ILX. The car stays flat in corners, rides firmly, and reacts relatively quickly and precisely. Overall, the ILX feels satisfyingly substantial and a step up from the somewhat adolescent Integra model it replaces. A 30-year-old account manager can not only afford an ILX, he or she shouldn’t feel the need to borrow the boss’s German dreadnaught when it’s time to pick up that new client at the airport. (Even if the client brings an assistant. The trunk will swallow two sets of overnight bags and carry-ons.)
An ILX with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission can be had for about $26,000. Starting at around $31,000, Acura also offers a gas-electric hybrid ILX with less power yet, but EPA-rated for 39 MPG.
Among the three luxury Japanese brands, Lexus (Toyota) has done a fine job of aping Mercedes-Benz while Infiniti (Nissan) has made itself into a convincing BMW-for-less. Acura’s identity has never been so clearly defined. Except for the top-line RL, which is a wonderfully lively small large sedan, and the awesome mid-engine NSX roadster (which disappeared in 2005), no Acura has been blessed with much of a persona, not to mention really good looks. The new ILX comes close, though.