Acura has had a hard time building and maintaining a brand identity over the past decade. Itself unsure of whether it should strive for "Tier 1" luxury status or position itself as a near-luxury, high-tech brand for up-and-coming professionals and hip retirees, its product has reflected this lack of direction. The 2013 ILX continues this confusion, especially in light of the coming reborn NSX, but it's worth evaluating the smallest Acura sedan on its own merits.
Based not-so-loosely on the latest generation of the Honda Civic, the ILX nonetheless has its own face: a more toned-down, widely-palatable version of the chromed plastic grille Acura introduced a few years ago. The fenders swell gently from the sides, there are character lines to accent its shape, and the greenhouse arches gracefully ove the passenger compartment. On the whole it's a handsome, if not lust-inducing, sedan. Inside, it looks like a typical Acura: edgy curves, contoured surfaces, and easy-to-read gauges. It's a pleasant place to travel.
There are three versions of the ILX available, named for their drivetrains: the 2.0L, the 2.4L, and the Hybrid. The 2.0L offers a four-cylinder, 2.0-liter engine rated at 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard. It scores an EPA-estimated gas mileage rating of 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.
The 2.4L is the sporty model, with what is essentially the Civic Si's 201-horsepower, 170-pound-foot 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual transmission--no automatic is offered with this model. It's the fun-to-drive version, but you'll have to sacrifice more creature comforts than the automatic transmission to get it, but more on that later. It's rated at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
Finally, the ILX Hybrid gets its go from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an integrated hybrid drive system and continuously variable transmission (CVT). Total combined power is rated at 111 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. The EPA estimates gas mileage at 39 mpg city* and 38 mpg highway.
All three share the same basic lightweight chassis, which means all three feel nimble enough in the corners, and brake very well. The suspension tuning on the 2.4L the same as the other two models, and falls short of true sport-sedan feel. The 2.0L and Hybrid models put comfort above outright pace, and succeed in delivering smooth, even ride quality. While the 2.4L is the sportiest model, the 2.0L is also fun-to-drive, with enough pep for most people and somewhat better gas mileage. The Hybrid, on the other hand, feels very slow in many situations--too slow even for fast-flowing suburban traffic at times.
Inside, the cabin is comfortable and spacious--surprisingly so in the rear seats, with enough room even for taller adults to fit comfortably. Ergonomically, things are laid out very well, with all controls easy to identify and use without taking one's eyes from the road. Fit and finish is also very good, with solid-feeling construction and quality materials (plastic, rubber, and leather) in all touch-points. Cabin noise is low, though not quite mausoleum-quiet like you'll find in some luxury cars a bit farther up the ladder, including Acura's own.
There's also a fairly roomy trunk, ample in-cabin storage in cubbies and door pockets, with well-placed cup holders. Cargo volume is a solid 12.4 cubic feet (10.0 cubic feet for the Hybrid, which places the battery pack behind the rear seats). Visibility is very good thanks to the large windows and well-placed seating position.
Features and options for the 2013 Acura ILX are grouped neatly into packages: Premium and Technology. The Premium Package includes leather seating surfaces; eight-way power adjustable driver seat; two-way heated front seats; a premium sound system with Bluetooth, USB, and Pandora functionality; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; a multi-view rear camera; and on non-Hybrid models, an active sound cancellation system that further damps noise within the cabin. The Technology Package includes: navigation with voice recognition, a rear-view camera, real-time traffic/weather, and AcuraLink satellite communications system; plus a premium sound system with Bluetooth, USB, and Pandora among its capabilities. The Premium Package is available on all ILX models, while the Technology Package is available only on 2.0L and Hybrid models.
Standard equipment on all 2013 ILX models includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel; cloth-trimmed front seats (2.0L base and Hybrid); dual-zone automatic climate control; Bluetooth hands-free phone interface; power moonroof; keyless entry with push-button start; rear-view camera; and a 12-volt power outlet. Available accessories include larger 17-inch alloy wheels, aerodynamic bodywork, fog lights, a remote engine start, and an engine block heater.