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Either there’s very little demand for budget-priced luxury cars, or Acura knows something that the vast majority of of its upscale competitors don’t. The 2013 ILX is the latest in a line of Honda Civic–based Acuras that began nearly 30 years ago, with the Integra. What makes it a rarity is that it’s one of very few “premium” cars with a starting price of less than $30,000.

The ILX also becomes Acura’s first hybrid model, which seems a long time coming, considering that Honda’s hybrid history began with its original 1997 Insight. Acura has waited a long time to add a hybrid to its lineup – too long a wait for a luxury car that uses the same underwhelming powertrain as the Civic Hybrid. It pairs an efficient gas engine with an electric motor, but the latter can’t run independently of the former, and with a net power output of 111 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, the ILX Hybrid is anything but quick.

The ILX Hybrid’s lazy acceleration (to be fair, it’s not that much slower than the Lexus CT 200h) isn’t the real problem here. This car’s true flaw is its disappointing continuously variable transmission (CVT), which feels like it’s connected to the engine via rubber bands. The CT 200h may not be fast either, but at least its Prius-based powertrain is a smooth operator, and can run on electricity alone. Like any hybrid, the ILX shuts its engine off when the car is stopped, but it starts up automatically when the brake pedal is released. This gets annoying in stop-and-go driving, where you start to wish it would just keep running, never mind the consequences for fuel economy.

Again, in fairness, Honda’s hybrid system allows for some electric-only operation, but only under very specific circumstances. It also doesn’t provide any obvious indication that it’s doing so, unless you happen to notice the zero reading on the instant fuel consumption display.

What makes the ILX Hybrid’s poor straight-line performance so disappointing is that this car is actually a bit of fun to drive if you’ve got the opportunity, inclination, and a great road in front of you. A firm but comfortable suspension and decent steering feel both contribute to on-road entertainment, but the rock-hard brake pedal detracts from the fun factor, and the regenerative braking function makes the pedal hard to modulate for smooth stopping.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
The Hybrid is the most expensive ILX variant. Its $34,990 price is justified somewhat by the fact that this car essentially takes the fully-loaded Tech Package model and replaces its 2.0L gas engine with the hybrid powertrain. That gets you a car with navigation, HID headlights, heated leather seats with eight-way power adjustability for the driver, fog lights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and a 365-watt surround-sound stereo.

Inside, the ILX gets honest Acura interior trimmings, instead of the warmed-over Civic accommodations found in its predecessors. The interior is one of this car’s high points: it’s well-assembled with quality materials and, though not exactly spacious, it is usefully roomy. Rear seat comfort (if not space) is a cut above most cars in this price range. The front chairs are firm, with good support for long drives.

The ILX brings a couple of new – but not novel – features to the Acura line. One is the intelligent keyless entry system; this has been around for years, and on a number of non-luxury cars, to boot, but this is the first Honda product I’ve tested with such a setup. Also new to Acura is this car’s one-touch, three-flash turn signals. Lexus also has just started adding this to its cars; it comes to Japanese luxury cars years after becoming common in German – not to mention Korean – cars.

On paper, the ILX Hybrid is a solid deal, but given that its standard kit is identical to the gas-only ILX Tech, I’d question the wisdom of paying $2,700 more for a car with a decidedly unimpressive powertrain, even if it does promise better fuel economy.

Natural Resources Canada estimates for the ILX Hybrid are 5.0/4.8 L/100 km (city/highway), compared to 8.6/5.6 for the base ILX, with its 2.0L engine. In real-world driving, I averaged 6.1 L/100 km in the hybrid. Not bad, but a Lexus CT 200h (with a powertrain lifted from the Toyota Prius) does better. I drove an ILX Dynamic (the real sports car of the bunch, with the Civic Si’s 2.4L engine and six-speed manual transmission) that averaged 9 L/100 km in a week of enthusiastic driving in cool autumn weather. Jonathan Yarkony saw 8.8 L/100 km in a more recent test of the ILX Tech.

The ILX Hybrid will save you fuel, but not enough to justify paying more for a car that drives like one that should cost a lot less.

Pricing: 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid
Base price: $34,990
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,945
Price as tested: $37,095

Lexus CT 200h

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Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid -
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