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Acura’s been in a bit of a jam lately. The company known for its technically proficient cars has priced itself beyond the entry-level buyer. While the sporty TSX went BMW chasing, leaving its post as Acura’s low end gate-keeper, a void developed at the bottom of the lineup. Acura’s solution was to leverage its parent company Honda’s model line by grooming a Civic to near luxury status. What rolled out of Acura’s Indiana USA factory was an extensively reworked Civic based car, resulting in another letter name designation for Acura. What ILX stands for is anyone’s guess, but it probably does not mean Integra Luxury.
Acura’s new entry-level car is a more dramatic departure from the Civic than the old Integra or Canadian EL. For starters, the ILX comes only as a sedan and is longer and wider than the Civic. The expanded dimensions meant that the contorted cab forward design of the Civic was discarded for more traditional luxury proportions in the ILX. Add sound insulation and throw in a range of engines that include Acura’s first hybrid and you have the makings of a near luxury car.
Although the ILX uses Civic four-cylinder VTEC engines and powertrains, they have been modified to achieve more of what luxury buyers would expect in throttle response. Three models exist that loosely follow the Civic range; starting with a 2.0L with 140hp (bigger than the Civic’s 1.8) and a 2.4L with 201hp. The third engine is a 1.5L hybrid that uses a gasoline engine in combination with an electric motor for a total output of 110hp. The hybrid is Acura’s late response to Lexus and Infiniti who have had the option for years.
The base 2.0 model starts around $25,000 while the 2.4 and hybrid can approach the $30,000 mark. The ILX attempts to cover all bases with reasonable performance and gas mileage ratings as high as 38mpg for the Hybrid. The base 2.0 gets a respectable 35 mpg on the highway while delivering 150 hp. That’s less than a typical Ford Focus (40mpg @ 160hp) or any number of cars that can claim 40mpg without the use of electric assist motors. In the ILX, the hybrid is not the most compelling of electric/gas duos, but better meets expectations than Honda’s CRZ. City and highway mileage are close with a 38/39 rating respectively. Honda missed an opportunity with the sporty CRZ, whose similar powertrain motivates the hybrid version of the ILX.
Fuel economy aside, the fun model in this trio uses the gasoline DOHC 2.4 L, the same engine found in the Civic Si. The other two models use SOHC designs like lesser Civics and are tuned more for economy. When paired with the 6 speed manual, the ILX displays some personality that would otherwise be lost in its non-offensive, if not bland exterior design. Nowadays near-luxury implies some enhanced level of performance and style. The ILX disappoints in that regard. Ironically this car might have made for a great Buick a few years ago, but new Buicks like the Verano are aspiring to be more TSX-like than the ILX is.
By no means a sprinter, the 2.4 with the six-speed manages 0 to 60 in 7 seconds. Acura could have distanced the ILX further from its Civic host by using a double wishbone suspension for a true driver’s car in the vein of the 3 Series (or even the Subaru Impreza). Instead, they opted for the same MacPherson strut and multilink setup from the Civic. Larger front and rear stabilizer bars, and a system called “amplitude reactive dampers” using two stage shock absorbers are about the only thing that separates the ILX from the run of the mill Civic’s suspension. Increased sound insulation keeps the outside noise down while keeping with the image of luxury. The ILX is like most Acura; quiet and comfortable inside.
Where the new Civic has got mixed reviews for its handling, the ILX has fared better. Handling is closer to the Civic Si. Car and Driver called the 2.4 version a frisky sports sedan. Thanks to a front weight bias, the ILX can be prone to under steer if pushed hard. Stability control and the optional 17’ wheels help performance, but most buyers are likely to make due with one of the two more sedate models with the 5 speed automatic transmission. Improved noise isolation and softer spring rates complete the luxury car ambience of the ILX over the Civic.
There are few surprises inside. The interior is attractive with multiple colors and surface materials for an upscale look. Clearly a step above the Civic that recently has seen the quality of its interiors go down. The control stack looks typical of the robot inspired setups seen in cars, but has an adult inspired restraint that looks pleasant and inviting. Especially attractive is Acura’s simplified, yet informative gauge cluster that removes the video game sensibilities of the Civic Si for a more refined look.
The ILX is a competent car from a company with a pedigree for excellent engineering and value. The completion in this segment is starting to heat up cars like Buick’s new Verano offering more power and style. Acura will have to make the ILX more exciting on the outside and possible improve the hybrid’s fuel economy to make it a true player in the growing segment.