2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Introduction
This 2013 Acura ILX is the best Honda Civic I have ever driven, as it should be for a Ben Franklin over $30,000. My test car was equipped with the same high-revving 201-horsepower engine and manual transmission as the Honda Civic Si, and its $6,500 price premium over the Civic Si is almost justifiable if for no other reason than the Acura’s superior interior design, layout, and materials.
Strangely, though, the Honda is offered with a factory navigation system, while this version of the ILX goes without. The ILX also goes without the option of an automatic transmission in combination with the more powerful 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is utter nonsense, and which also renders the most credible version of this car impossible to drive for the majority of the population.
These limitations further compound the new Acura ILX’s awkward position in the market, where it competes with equally well-equipped and refined, but larger, mainstream midsize sedans while simultaneously facing increased pressure from A-list brands that are bringing new models to market for about the same price.
Despite the product planning gaffes and the lack of a clear value proposition, the ILX convinces as a quality piece of Honda engineering that’s entertaining to drive with this larger engine and manual gearbox. The question is: Will that be enough to, as my wife wondered, convince loyal Civic fan-boys moving up the corporate ladder to switch allegiance to the ILX?
Acura sells three versions of the 2013 ILX. The standard model – the one I think ought to be shelved – is equipped with a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. It costs $26,795 in base trim, a full $2,240 more than a loaded Honda Civic EX-L with navigation, and can be upgraded with Premium ($3,300) and Technology ($2,200) option packages that degrade the value proposition even further when compared to the Civic.
Acura also sells an ILX Hybrid model, powered by the same gas-electric hybrid powertrain as is found in the Honda Civic Hybrid. The base price is $29,795, and a comprehensive Technology Package ($5,500) is optional, adding most of the contents from both the Premium and Technology option packages offered for the base model.
My test car was equipped with a larger 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission donated by the Honda Civic Si. As with the Civic Si, an automatic transmission is unavailable, despite the fact that this same engine is standard in the larger Acura TSX, which offers both row-‘em-yourself and automatic transmissions.
A Premium Package is standard with this ILX powertrain combo, but a Technology Package is not offered with the more powerful engine, so forget about getting a navigation system, AcuraLink technology, a premium audio system, solar-sensing climate control, and a HomeLink universal garage door opener if you want to drive the speediest and most entertaining version of the Acura ILX.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Design
- The Acura ILX is a new model based on the Honda Civic
- Slots into Acura’s lineup beneath the TSX
- Further evolves Acura’s shield-style grille
- Built in Greensburg, Indiana
The awkward convergence of the Acura ILX’s two primary profile character lines on the rear doors isn’t entirely without stylistic merit, but my admittedly untrained eye thinks this bit of unnecessary flair makes the ILX look a little bit fat and stubby while simultaneously causing onlookers to do a double take and wonder to themselves: “Is the rear door supposed to look like that?”
Aside from this misstep, the new ILX is an attractive small sedan, and this application of Acura’s signature shield grille exhibits a much more natural relationship to the shape and location of the headlights, giving the front of the car a distinctive and attractive appearance instantly recognizable as an Acura. Around back, the horizontally oriented taillights extend into the trunk lid and are underscored by red reflectors mounted on the lower edges of the rear bumper. The ILX’s tail is tidy, if a tad plain.
Inside, the real benefit of choosing the Acura ILX over the Honda Civic is instantly evident. The Civic’s wacky 2-tiered dashboard and funky front quarter window glass is gone, replaced by a conventional dashboard design, quality materials, refined controls, and clear markings.
From the driver’s seat, the ILX feels wider than it is, in part thanks to the way the center control panel sweeps up and out from the center console. Large knobs, buttons, and lettering contribute to the expansive feel of the cabin, as well as a broad central display screen. At night, all controls are backlit in a soft white light, the center console is bathed in soothing blue ambient illumination, and the gauges feature red needles and secondary markers. Stainless steel pedals are exclusive to this model.
In short, the ILX boasts a sophisticated and technical interior, one that I like very much.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Standard cloth front sport seats
- Leather, a power driver’s seat, and heated front seats are included in Premium and Technology option packages
- GPS, solar-sensing climate control is included in the Technology option package
Firm and comfortable front seats, with surprisingly sizable and supportive bottom cushions, make the Acura ILX comfortable to drive for hours at a time. Soft materials cover the center console, door panel armrests, and upper door panel trim, and the steering wheel is pleasing to hold, wrapped in smooth leather perfect for shuffle steering.
The rear seat, as might be expected, is a bit on the tight side with taller people seated up front, but occupants sit high on a supportive bench seat and enjoy good – but not great – leg and foot space. Acura claims the ILX will seat five people, but I think four adults will be much happier. I installed a couple of forward-facing child seats in the back seat and employed the ILX as family transportation with no trouble at all.
The Acura’s trunk measures 12.3 cu.-ft., proving to be adequate space and no more. The trunk’s opening was rather small, and the inside of the lid lacked a grab handle to make it easier to close the trunk without dirtying one’s hands.
Inside, the flocked glove box and rubber-lined center console offer substantial storage, along with a deep covered cubby residing forward of the gear selector. The door pulls have recesses that should be lengthened to better hold a smartphone, and I can’t help but think Acura missed an opportunity to provide a handy tray in front of the in-dash screen.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard keyless entry with push-button start
- Standard SMS text messaging capability
- Standard Pandora Internet radio interface
Driving the Acura ILX is a pleasure, in part, because the controls are located right where you expect to find them, operate exactly as you expect them to, and feel exceptionally good as they are twisted, pushed, or pulled.
There aren’t any touch-sensitive screens, haptic feedback buttons, or gesture-recognition technologies inside the ILX, and nothing responds to finger swiping, spreading, or pinching. Wisely, Acura leaves this kind of design to the wizards in Cupertino, and to consumers browsing in stores where they need not concern themselves with the potential side-effects of distraction while piloting a 3,000-pound road missile that’s covering ground at a rate equivalent to a football field every few seconds.
It is, however, a real drag that the most powerful and entertaining version of the Acura ILX, the one I tested with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, cannot be equipped with a Technology Package. Not for the navigation system – anyone with a smartphone just uses an app to get around. Rather, the Technology Package is required to get a premium Acura/ELS surround sound system with a 15-gig music hard drive, AcuraLink services, and a solar-sensing automatic climate control system.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- A simple, but effective, package of safety features
Based on crash-test ratings, the Acura ILX is a safe car, but it’s not like there’s a bunch of technology aboard helping to make it so. Six airbags, traction and stability control, and 4-wheel-disc brakes are standard, and the ILX employs Advanced Compatibility Engineering construction, which means the car’s frame is designed to better protect occupants in collisions with a wider variety of vehicles.
Every ILX equipped with a Premium or Technology option package has a multi-view reversing camera system. My test car had this feature, and it was a disappointment. The image displayed on the 5-inch in-dash screen lacked resolution and color, largely limiting its usefulness in many maneuvering situations.
2013 Acura ILX Crash-Test Ratings:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2013 Acura ILX receives a 5-star overall crash-test rating, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls the ILX a “Top Safety Pick.” It doesn’t get any better than this.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Choice between three different powertrains, including Acura’s first-ever hybrid
What’s that? You don’t know how to drive a car with a manual transmission? Well then, my friend, you are going to miss out on the Acura ILX’s satisfying 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, which generates 201 horsepower at a lofty 7,000 rpm and 170 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm while returning 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway operating on premium fuel. Compared to the standard 2.0-liter engine, which also requires premium, it makes 51 extra horsepower and 30 lb.-ft. of extra torque while giving up 3 miles per gallon in combined driving. I averaged 27.1 mpg, with most of my test miles covered on California freeways.
Acura also sells a hybrid version of the ILX, the first hybrid it has ever offered. The 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid pairs a 1.5-liter gasoline engine with an electric assist motor and a lithium-ion battery to produce a combined 111 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,000 rpm and 3,500 rpm. You’re right. That’s not much go-go juice. But since the car is rated to get 38 mpg in combined driving by the EPA, maybe you can cut it a little bit of slack.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Whether commuting on the freeway, running errands around town, or slamming down a favorite stretch of empty two-lane, the 2013 Acura ILX with the 2.4-liter engine is a visceral machine. The car’s refined mechanicals deliver an aural and tactile symphony best appreciated by people who like to drive, and who don’t mind raising a voice to be heard.
The engine delivers more torque at lower revs than previous performance-oriented 4-cylinder engines from Honda, making it easier to execute passes and accelerate up hills. Yet, like the Civic Si upon which it is based, the ILX is at its best when utterly abused by its driver, slung to redline time after time with earplugs safely in use, the weighty aluminum shift knob solidly planted in one’s palm while executing short, precise, delightful throws between gears.
For a front-drive sedan with 61% of its weight sitting over the front tires, the ILX proves surprisingly tossable, feeling light, agile, and eager to dive into corners. Body roll is impressively controlled, and the ILX provides plenty of communication about what’s happening at the contact patches, delivering significant aural and tactile feedback from the tires and suspension. Additionally, the brake pedal is a friend rather than a foe, allowing the driver to fine-tune pressure for smoother sailing.
If there’s room for dynamic improvement, the electric steering could benefit from a quicker ratio and greater effort levels. I found the wheel to be uncomfortably light and unsure when bending the ILX into high-speed sweeping freeway ramps, where the steering also exhibited occasional and odd oscillations.
The ILX 2.4’s energetic and engaging character is of good use on freeway ramps, and for slicing and dicing city traffic. It’s when you’re going with traffic flow on expressways, coastal or country highways, suburban boulevards, and city streets that the ILX’s lack of isolation, and lack of an automatic transmission with this engine, is likely to have the driver questioning, in a very loud internal voice, just what the heck justifies a $30,000 price tag.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Many Americans believe that you are what you drive, and will choose certain cars to project a level of success, status, and wealth, whether real or imagined. This mindset plays to both the Acura ILX’s strengths and its weaknesses. The base version of this Acura is priced in the same neighborhood as mainstream, mid-level family sedans, making it appealing to people seeking a brand new car wearing a premium brand name. However, to get an ILX that’s actually equipped like a luxury car, the price rises to a point where consumers are likely to decide that perhaps a certified pre-owned version of a more prestigious model is a better choice.
Remember, ours is a society in which some people will rent tiny studio apartments, or even live at home with Mom and Dad, in order to afford the lease payment for something decorated with an A-list luxury brand like Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, or Porsche. In an environment such as this, the Acura ILX, which is a more impressive small car than you might expect given its humble Civic roots, is a tough sell, one that instantly becomes more difficult if Mercedes successfully brings the sleek 2014 CLA250 to market for $30,000.
My advice to Acura is to drop the base model and the 150-horsepower engine, make the Premium Package standard for the ILX Hybrid, make an automatic transmission standard with the 2.4-liter engine, and then price both ILX models at $27,695. Versions with the Technology Package would go for $29,995, and the manual gearbox would be a no-charge option for the 2.4-liter engine.
That way, the price tag for a loaded model remains below $30,000, ensuring that this Acura continues to represent a sound value compared to less expensive entry-level models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, as well as compared to the Honda Civic upon which this Acura is based.2013 Acura ILX Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Comfortable, high-quality interior
- Refined mechanicals
- Excellent crash-test ratings
- Impressive fuel economy ratings
- Fun to drive with 2.4-liter engine
- Likely to prove durable, and affordable, over time
- Lacks sound insulation
- Requires premium gas
- No automatic transmission with 2.4-liter engine
- No Technology Package with 2.4-liter engine
- Not a proper replacement for the TSX
Acura supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Acura ILX photos by Christian Wardlaw