It’s a formula that has worked well for Honda/Acura. Take an existing model, gussy it up, add a few upscale extras – leather interior, upgraded stereo system, different wheels and tires and so on – re-badge it and sell it as something else.
It’s also worked nicely for Toyota, with its Camry/Lexus ES duo and General Motors, with the new Chevy Cruze/Buick Verano compacts.
In fact, the strategy has worked so well for Honda that the EL, which debuted in 1997, has gone on to spawn the CSX and now, the ILX. All three are based on the Civic and, with a few differences, are essentially the same car, but with more stuff.
Offered in five variations, the ILX is arguably less Civic-ish than its predecessors. For one thing, it has the Acura corporate grille treatment, although in a slightly toned-down form, and it conveys the upscale driving experience more convincingly than, say, the CSX, which received mixed reviews from most who drove it.
Three engines are available, depending upon the model. My tester, the Technology package, was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that develops 150 horsepower. This engine is also in the base and Premium models. The Dynamic model has a 201-horsepower, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder also found in the Accord. On top of that, there is a hybrid ILX that has a 1.5-litre engine mated to Honda’s Integrated Electric Motor setup. It develops 111 horsepower and is almost a completely different automobile.
Curiously, the base, Premium and Technology models only have the five-speed automatic transmission. There is a six-speed manual available, but only with the Dynamic model. And, of course, the Hybrid has a CVT.
Confused? Me too. I’ve never understood how or why manufacturers mix and match their drivetrains so much. For example, why can’t you get a manual transmission with the Technology model? It would be a nice fit and Honda has one in its parts bin, so bung it in there and be done with it. That said, I suppose we should be grateful Acura didn’t stick a CVT into this model.
Moving on, the ILX is fairly utilitarian inside. It’s nicely finished, but doesn’t feel like a luxury interior. No over-abundance of knobs, buttons, wood trim, brushed aluminum or mysterious switches, in other words, and everything is readily understandable and easy to figure out. It actually feels like a Civic in there, which suits me down to the ground. Car ergonomics and switchgear are getting far too complicated and cryptic, and some Acura products are the biggest culprits of all. Thankfully, the ILX is not as excessive as the MDX in this department.
What I did like was the Eco light front and centre on the instrument panel. All Honda products have this now and it basically lets you see when you’re driving at optimum fuel economy. Not that I paid attention to it that much, but it’s a good idea for those concerned about these things. What I didn’t care for is the new breed of “one-touch” signals. Too many manufacturers are adopting these – Ford is another example. Supposedly, they make difficult, labour-intensive things like signalling easier, but all they do is make it more complicated than it need be and you spend an inordinate amount of time cancelling and re-cancelling the signals when they won’t stop. Nonsensical and time-wasting.
And I may as well bellyache about the push-button start/stop setup here. I realize this is pretty much standard throughout the industry these days, but it’s pointless. A conventional key in the ignition works just as well, and makes using the radio and other accessories when you’re parked more straightforward. Again, this is change for its own sake and it should be optional.
Acura is claiming fuel economy of 8.6 litres/100 km in town and 5.6 on the highway for the ILX and, as usual, the drivetrain in this car is beyond reproach. The engine is lively, quiet, remarkably refined and well-behaved, and the whole drivetrain is quieter than that in the CSX. Engine/road noise is an issue Honda has been grappling with, and it has made some progress here. The new Accord has an interesting noise-cancelling feature in the form of microphones in the headliner that pick up excessive ambient noise and reduce it through the stereo system. No doubt we’ll see this on the ILX soon.
Despite my petty gripes, I like the idea of the ILX. It’s an economical, well-appointed compact sedan that does everything you can ask for in a luxury car without costing a small fortune.
2013 Acura ILX Technology
Base Price and as tested: $32,290
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 150 hp/140 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city; 5.6 highway; premium recommended
Alternatives: Kia Rio SX, Buick Verano, Hyundai Elantra Limited, Ford Focus Titanium, Toyota Corolla S