Thursday

2013 Acura ILX Premium review


Not too long ago, Acura decided to ax a sweet little sport compact called the RSX because it was simply too close to the Honda Civic, with which it shared its underpinnings. I was sad to see the RSX go, but even I had to admit that there was some logic there. Aside from having a radically different body style than its contemporary Civic cousin, the last iteration of the top-of-the-line RSX Type-S was basically just a Civic Si without a limited-slip differential. So, just five years after its introduction, the RSX was no more.

That was back in 2006. Now, fast forward six years to the launch of the 2013 ILX, a new entry-level Acura model that shares the underpinnings of its contemporary Honda Civic. Like the RSX, the high-performance trim level is basically just a Civic Si without a limited-slip differential. What gives? Is history repeating itself here?
Well, the RSX was designed to be a higher-performance version of the Civic. The ILX, on the other hand, heads in the opposite direction, justifying its higher price tag with more creature comforts, softer seats, and sharper styling. Essentially, it's the more luxurious, more expensive version of the Civic. When one of the Civic's major selling points is its sticker price, I'm not sure that more expensive is the right direction to head and can't help but wonder if we'll see the ILX meet the same fate as the RSX that came before it.
It's just like a Civic...
Let's start beneath the sheet metal. The ILX is available with the same power train as the Honda Civic. Prospective buyers are also given the choice of a 2.0-liter engine and a 1.5-liter Hybrid engine, but our ILX was powered by the 2.4-liter engine from the Civic Si. A typical, high-revving Honda mill, the 2.4-liter's maximum rated at 201-horsepower comes at a lofty 7,000rpm, but the full 170 pound-feet of available torque comes on at a more reasonable 4,400rpm. The optional six-speed manual gearbox is the same and features the same effortless, snappy throw as the Si. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg combined.
The ILX's 105.1 wheelbase is identical to the Civic's, and the rest of its exterior dimensions are within millimeters of the Honda's (the variation coming primarily in from the differences in the sheet metal). The Acura sits on the same MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink independent rear suspension. Spec the 2.4-liter engine and the ILX 17-inch wheels are of a different design from the Civic Si's, but the P215/45-R17 all-season tires wrapped around those wheels are the same.
The throttle is the same drive-by-wire system, and the front wheels are steered by the same electronic power-steering system, but the steering ratio has been quickened to 15.11:1 versus 16.08:1. The ILX's steering is a precise point and shoot affair -- a rarity in front-wheel-drive cars these days -- but it lacks feel, feedback, and weightiness. Interestingly, the ILX's turning radius is about 8.4 inches wider than the Civic Si's. Despite its cushier cabin, the ILX only gains 83 pounds of curb weight over its H-badged cousin.
...but it doesn't look like a Civic...
Like the Acura RSX that came before it, the ILX is, of course, a bit more than just a rebadged Civic. There are a number of differences between the two models.
The primary difference is an aesthetic one. The ILX is wrapped in sheet metal that's slightly more curvaceous than its wedge-shaped cousin; its rump is rounded ever-so-slightly and its shoulders emphasized with a dramatic crease that rises over the rear wheel well and plunges to join the high beltline that runs the length of the vehicle. The side windows have been reshaped into something a bit more BMW-esque, and the overall vehicle length increased slightly with body work.
The upgraded lighting is a welcome addition to the ILX's spec sheet, casting crisp HID illumination on the road ahead without blinding oncoming drivers. The lights feature automatic illumination, but don't feature any sort of lateral steering or automatic high-beam technology. I found the shape of the lights at both ends of the vehicle to be very handsome. The fronts complement the Acura corporate beak fantastically, and the rear tie together what could easily be a badonkadonk rear end.
From certain angles, the ILX looks downright classy, an improvement over the space cadet looks of the Civic. However, from other angles, the Acura seems a bit goofy. Most notably, the lower intakes of the angular, boat prow front bumper add an odd bulbous look to what is otherwise a sharply designed face. Overall, the ILX's design is decidedly "meh." It's generally inoffensive, but the styling takes so few chances that the result is rather anonymous.
As I already stated, beneath the sheet metal, most Acura ILX models are identical to their Honda Civic analogs. However, our 2.4-liter model differs from the Civic Si in two critical ways. For starters, it lacks a helical limited-slip differential (LSD) and the option for stickier summer tires isn't available -- both indicators that the ILX 2.4's primary goal isn't outright performance. A revival of the Acura RSX Type-S this is not, but I doubt most ILX drivers will even notice the omission.
...and it's more luxurious than a Civic...
Inside the cabin, the ILX receives a number of substantial "upgrades" over the Honda Civic as well. I put "upgrades" in quotes because whether many of these changes should be considered improvements is a bit subjective.
For starters, there's the plushier leather upholstery that wraps the new eight-way power adjustable driver's seat that comes as part of the Premium package. There's the new curvaceous, soft-touch dashboard that rises before you. Keyless entry and push-button start are my favorite new features. The Civic's bi-level digital gauges have been replaced with a more traditional dual analog, speedometer and tachometer gauge setup. Automatic climate controls do most of the HVAC fiddling for you and heated seating surfaces on the front buckets keep your rear end toasty in the wintertime.
However, that tall dashboard means that I had to raise the seat a bit more than I was comfortable with to see out over the extremely tall hood at the center of the dashboard, which cuts into available headroom. The soft-touch, Godzllla-skin material that covers much of the dashboard just feels cheap and rubbery. Those more cushy leather seats don't offer very much lateral support during cornering. The ILX's cabin does look better than a Civic's on paper and in photos, but ergonomically, I think I prefer the cheaper model.
And then there's the cabin tech. Models, like our tester, that don't come equipped with navigation utilize the same 5-inch i-MID system that is found on the Honda Civic. The only difference is that now it's commanded with a large knob and button system found in the center of the dashboard, rather than with steering-wheel controls as is on the Civic. This makes it harder to work with while driving, since you have to take a hand off of the wheel.
In this configuration, the ILX features Bluetooth hands-free calling with address book sync, but the voice command system that controls the hands-free system doesn't feature automatic voice tagging or speech-to-text recognition. So, after syncing your address book, you'll have to go in and manually choose favorites to manually add voice tags for -- a tedious process that I'd rather just skip. Of course, the full address book can be browsed manually as well, but that requires using the big control knob and taking a hand off of the wheel and eyes, momentarily, off of the road.
The system also features standard Bluetooth audio streaming, USB connectivity for mass storage devices and iPods/iPhones, an auxiliary audio input, and the ability to interface with the Pandora Internet Radio app on a connected iPhone. SiriusXM Satellite Radio, AM/FM radio, and a single-slot CD player round out the audio sources that feed the Premium model's seven-speaker, 200-watt audio system (including an 8-inch subwoofer).
There is a step-up Technology package available that replaces the 5-inch interface with an 8-inch AcuraLink navigation system with traffic, weather, and Zagat reviews. This package also upgrades the audio system to a 410-watt, 10-speaker ELS surround sound system with a more robust voice command system that lets passengers select from songs on a connected iPhone with the sound of their voice. This is probably the trim level to get because the Premium configuration already looks pretty dated compared to even the Hyundai Veloster. However, Acura doesn't offer the technology package in conjunction with the 2.4-liter engine, so you'll have to step down to the 2.0-liter model or up to the Hybrid to even have a shot at this.
...but, is it worth the premium price?
The short answer is "probably not."
The ILX starts at $25,900 for the 2.0-liter base model with the standard five-speed automatic transmission. However, for $5,245 more than a Civic EX, you only get a 10-horsepower bump, less fuel economy, and an Acura badge. Even Honda's own vehicle comparison tool shows the 2013 Civic as the clear winner in this comparison.
As tested, our 2013 ILX 2.4 Premium's sticker price jumps up to $30,095 (including an $895 destination charge), a whopping $6,750 more than a fully loaded Civic Si sedan with navigation with which it shares its bones. For the extra dough, you get the leather trim with heated front seats, power adjustment on driver's seat, a slightly nicer stereo system, a rearview camera, HID headlamps, and, of course, an Acura badge. That may not sound like that bad of a deal until you realize that you're also losing the Si's navigation system, summer performance tires, and limited-slip differential. Whether you're comparing performance, cabin technology, or bang for the buck, at this trim level the Civic Si simply wins again.
One could make an argument for the fully loaded, teched-out ILX Hybrid with Technology package with its AcuraLink navigation and ELS premium audio rig, but its $35,295 price tag ventures far too deeply into BMW territory for what is ostensibly still just a Honda Civic.
Tech specs
Model2013 Acura ILX
Trim2.4-liter, Premium
Power train2.4-liter, FWD, six-speed manual
EPA fuel economy22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, 25 mpg combined mpg
Observed fuel economyn/a
NavigationAvailable AcuraLink with traffic, weather, and Zagat POIs
Bluetooth phone supportYes, standard
Disc playerSingle-slot CD
MP3 player supportStandard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audioOptional SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio systemSeven-speaker Premium audio system with 8-inch subwoofer
Driver aidsRearview camera
Base price$25,900
Price as tested$30,095