What It Is
Acura's racehorse in an emerging compact luxury sedan segment.
The engine and transmission make driving this car a pleasure.
Luxury car interior, economy car sound deadening.
We love driving it, but the ILX falls just short of being a proper luxury sports sedan.
At first we thought it was a little absurd that automakers were repackaging their compact sedans, equipping them with high-end features, and charging top-dollar for them. Then, we realized it made perfect sense.
Without getting too far into an "Economics for Dummies" course, automakers are gambling that the buying public has reprioritized its outlook on what makes a worthwhile buy. With $4 gas and tighter budgets, we don't need the bigger cars everyone used to drive, but we desire the features they have, once reserved for luxury vehicles: TFT screens, leather and heated seats, and xenon headlights among them.
That's why Acura developed the 2013 ILX. Well, that and the fact that the cars that used to sell at its price point from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi all easily crest $40,000 these days. Inflation's a killer. With this new niche, cars like the 2013 Acura ILX have emerged. Others in the fray include the Buick Verano and upcoming Audi A3 sedan and Mercedes CLA. So you know it's a hot target if the Germans are zoning in on it.
But does the segment make sense when you can get a larger family sedan for the same money? More specifically, does the Acura ILX make sense when you can get a loaded Honda Civic Si for $25,000? We spent a week with one to find out.
What We Drove
Acura doesn't give its customers a whole lot of leeway when it comes to how they can get their ILX. The 2013 ILX starts at $26,795, including $895 for destination and handling charges. But you don't want that model, do you? It has a mere 150 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, or 10 horsepower more than the Civic on which it's based. That engine comes paired only to a five-speed automatic transmission.
Our ILX came equipped with a darling of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, massaged to the same 200-horsepower rating you'll find in the Honda Civic Si. Like the Si, the ILX with this engine is mated exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. You want an automatic? Get the smaller engine or the pricy hybrid. There's no way to get the engine you want without three pedals and a stick shift.
Additionally, it only comes with the Premium package at $30,095, which doesn't have a navigation system. Want the navi? Again, go with an automatic model, or just bring along your Garmin like I did. We can't tell you how frustrated we are with Acura's content bundling in this car, especially since you can get a navigation system and a stick in the cheaper Civic Si. There's no leather available in the Si, though. Still, this is supposed to be a luxury model from a premium automaker, and navigation should be available on the top-end model.
Once you get past the options sheet, the ILX has a lot going for it, including a five-star overall government safety rating and a IIHS "2013 Top Safety Pick" status. Like everything else from Honda, this car was designed around pragmatism, and if you do have kids to tote around, you'll be happy knowing the ILX has LATCH points for two seats in the rear that will make you forget about the difficult parts of parenting, at least for a few moments.
If you don't enjoy driving, this car may not be for you. I'm sure someone has said that about the BMW 3 Series at one point or another, but there are plenty of badge snobs who buy those things every year simply because of the white and blue Roundel. In the ILX's case though, we mean it this time.
In our ILX, there is no adjustment in the steering weight to make the car easier to drive with a press of a button--not like it needs it. There's no cushy suspension setting. There's no way to escape the melodic crescendo of that engine--what a sound--or that satisfying feeling of what may be among the best manual shifters in the world. This beast is all about being involved in the driving experience.
Acura's engineers have bestowed upon the world a car that, when you want to get it going, has a hypnotic thrum to its engine that only makes you want to push it more. The car is a bit like Fran Drescher in her heyday to be around, though: There are times when you want it to shut up sometimes so you can admire the parts that aren't noisy. It never will, but the engine isn't responsible. To say road noise is pronounced would be doing a disservice to the word "pronounced"; this car is loud. At first, you sit in the glove-like leather seats, coddled with support without ever feeling pinched in any which way. As you merge onto the highway, you don't mind the high-revving engine. But as you settle into sixth gear, you'd think the car would quiet down; it doesn't. The volume knob becomes a good friend; listening to a friend or family member on the Bluetooth system becomes a chore. You hear every bump, crack, and thud under the tires as if there's hardly any sound deadening at all. No $30,000 car should have this much noise.
Everything else about the way the ILX drives is satisfying. It rides over bumps without any crashing sensation. While there are a ton of buttons on the dashboard, most are as intuitive as can be. Even if you've never been in an Acura before, it won't take more than a few minutes to become acclimated.
The Grocery Run
Part of what makes this vehicle so endearing is its compact size, making it incredibly maneuverable in whatever parking lot you may encounter. Even one on a hill.
We didn't notice it until then, but the ILX has a hill-holder that makes getting going from a standstill a snap. Some people like the feature; some find it intrusive. We didn't mind it at all.
When we packed up the 2013 ILX with groceries, we had no problems getting everything we needed into it. The 13.2 cubic feet of trunk space doesn't sound like a lot, but ILX managed to fit 16 grocery bags into its trunk in our testing, and still held seven with our stroller on board, a better number than expected.
Inside the car, we also found ample room for four passengers, albeit headroom was lacking in the rear--the cost of differentiating the car from its pedestrian origins with a more aggressive roof line.
The Weekend Fun
We could go on and on about that engine and transmission, but you know what we think of them already: They're fantastic. The engine isn't the torquiest setup out there, but it revs so quickly, settling into the heart of its powerband, that you'll never care. We recently sampled the same engine in the Honda CR-V, albeit detuned to 185 horsepower, and found it a bit anemic. Not in the ILX, though, which is hundreds of pounds lighter and comes with an extra cog in its transmission.
During our stint, we were hard-pressed to stray too far from the 24.6 mpg we eventually settled with, matching its 25-mpg mixed fuel economy rating. The car is rated for 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway, which seems like an easy target if not for the engine's willingness to rev and our inability to keep off the loud pedal.
Completing the ILX experience, we found its cabin comfortable and intuitive, albeit stoic, with dark colors and uninspired designs throughout. Perhaps that critique should extend to the rest of the car, too. It's handsome and feels like a solid, durable car, no matter how much we thrash on it. But to at least some of us it looks uninspired. When you're shopping for a luxury car, sometimes you want something that stands out from the crowd. The ILX comes off as understated and a bit innocuous. On the other hand, at least two staffers thought one could make the argument that it's the best looking car currently in Acura's stable. There's no accounting for taste.
Underrated. Underrated. Underrated. That's the bulk of what needs to be said of this car. The 2013 Acura ILX isn't perfect, but it's a car no one should mind driving if they care about driving something with a manual. The engine and transmission combination is as slick as it gets for the money, and the interior is a nice place to be once you get past everything coming in various shades of gray.
For 2014, Acura is further upgrading interior materials, adding features, and providing a new standard stereo with Active Noise Cancellation that should make some of our car's booming interior noise a thing of the past. That should distance it from the vastly upgraded 2013 Honda Civic Si. Figuring how much leather, xenon headlights, heated seats, ANC, and a premium badge add, and you're pretty much looking at a wash between this and the Civic. Better still, while Acura is increasing the price of the base ILX by $1,000, the 2.4-liter model with the manual transmission is staying right where it is, not moving one cent.
The Acura ILX looks like it's a scrappy underdog against the 250-horsepower Buick Verano Turbo, Mercedes-Benz CLA, and even a loaded-up Volkswagen Jetta GLI with the Autobahn package. We've not driven all of those cars yet, but we can confidently say this: If you're looking for the ultimate bargain-bin luxury car, look towards one of the competitors. If you're looking for the most fun and engaging premium vehicle, it's going to be tough to top what the ILX has to offer. If you're dead set on an ILX and want a quieter car, wait for the '14 model or buy a good set of earplugs.
EPA City: 22 mpg
EPA Highway: 31 mpg
EPA Combined: 25 mpg
Cargo Space: 16 grocery bags/seven bags with Britax stroller
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 330 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Excellent
"This adds an extra step between the Civic and the Acura with a new interior and some Acura-specific equipment. But it's still not premium enough, thanks to noise, to really be a premium offering." -Keith Buglewicz, News Editor
This article originally appeared on Automotive.com.