2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX 2.0

Manufacturer’s web site
Acura Canada

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
2013 Acura ILX

The Acura ILX is a new compact sedan from Honda’s luxury division. It replaces the CSX in the Acura lineup, a Honda Civic–based Acura that was sold only in Canada. Unlike the CSX and the EL before it, the ILX will also be sold in the US. It is essentially the same car continuing with a new moniker.

Acura has always been the most accessible of the luxury brands, but with the ILX, Acura has inched up the price of admission. The base ILX with automatic transmission starts at $27,790, $2,200 more than the outgoing CSX (2011). That is still several thousand dollars below the cost of the TSX in Canada and for the US, it means having a new vehicle that will appeal to less affluent buyers at the top and bottom of the demographic ladder. The CSX was Acura Canada’s biggest selling model and Acura, like other upscale manufacturers, is discovering a market south of our border for luxury compacts.

This week’s tester is the 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic, essentially an ILX Premium equipped with the higher performance engine and manual transmission from the Honda Civic Si. It is the sport ILX and amazingly, it is available at no extra charge over the ILX with Premium package equipped with the base 150-hp 2.0L four-cylinder and five-speed automatic transmission.

2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic. Click image to enlarge

For $29,990, $2,200 more than the base $27,790 price, the buyer gets an Acura ILX equipped with 17-inch alloys, fog lights, HID headlights with auto on and off, auto day/night rear-view mirror, rear-view camera with smallish five-inch display screen, premium sound system, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-trimmed seating, heated front seats, a 201-hp 2.4L four-cylinder engine, and a six-speed manual transmission. Metal racing pedals are also a part of the Dynamic package.
The ILX Dynamic is not available with an automatic transmission and an auto is only available with the smaller engine. I don’t really comprehend this strategy, as the TSX is available with the 2.4L engine and an automatic.

The Acura ILX is very conservatively styled. Although signature style cues, like Acura’s corporate beak are still there, they are just not as in your face as they are on other models. The ILX is even more toned down than the TL after a nose job. Acura may feel this will appeal to America’s more conservative consumer, but I fear the ILX has just become less noticeable.

There is an extra cost $2,700 aero kit, but our press car wasn’t wearing it. Otherwise, there is nothing on the exterior to differentiate the Dynamic from any other ILX trim or to tell anyone at all that this car is anything other than just another compact four door sedan with really nice wheels.

And the prospective buyer, on opening the ILX’s doors, might be confused about the sedan’s role in life too. Amid the monotone black luxury of leather-trimmed this and leather-trimmed that rests a manual transmission shifter. It looks out of place, but then you realize it is out of someplace else. It is the Honda Civic Si shifter with black stitching (the Si has red stitching) and a different plastic doodad in the knob.

At least when you open the door of a Civic Si and sink into its tight, logo-stitched sport seats you know the little sedan is meant to be driven. With the ILX Dynamic one does not sink into the seats and they cannot be described as tight. They are the same seats found in all but the base ILX trim, seats that should have wide appeal, as wide and flat as the butts that will likely sit in them.

The gauge cluster and layout of switch gear on the centre console are derived from the Acura corporate interior treatment, which is a lot more traditional than the modern two-level gauge and info display found in a Civic. It is a matter of taste; the ILX will appeal to tastes that are more traditional, the Civic to those who prefer modern treatments. Personally, I prefer the latter.

2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic. Click image to enlarge

Standard comfort and convenience features include a five-inch colour information display with integrated back-up camera, auto-off headlights, dual zone climate control, power windows with driver and passenger auto up and down, smart entry with push-button start, steering wheel–mounted audio and cruise controls and variable intermittent windshield wipers.

The ILX has a fold-down rear seat, but it is not split. There is a large pass through behind the seat for longer cargo, but the shape of the opening and the single-piece fold-down seat limit the ILX’s cargo and passenger carrying flexibility.

The 201-hp 2.4L engine and six-speed close ratio manual transmission is the same drivetrain found under the hood of the more expensive Acura TSX and the less expensive Honda Civic Si Sedan. The 2.4L engine replaces the high-revving 2.0L iVTEC that had gathered quite a following among four-cylinder enthusiasts.

While hardcore Si fans might view the new 2.4L as toned down, it still has a redline of 7,000 rpm. And getting the rpm up into that heady range releases a ton of power. Although entering a freeway can be a lot of fun—shifting into third at 80 km/h just below the redline then sliding the shift lever way over to sixth at 100—it isn’t very practical for everyday driving. The 2.4L iVTEC engine has the performance available to be very entertaining, but it’s just not in the right place for 60 km/h streets. The ILX can be fun on a freeway onramp, probably more fun on a track with some suspension tweaks, but around town it can be just a lot of work despite a light clutch and tight shifter.

The six-speed manual, which is geared to provide five acceleration gears and one overdriven gear, is part of the problem. To get the engine operating in the most fuel efficient gear requires more shifts than a five-speed manual or a six-speed with two overdrives. So you learn to take short cuts using a 1/3/5 or 2/4/6 pattern or some other more direct route to letting your left foot rest and taming the noise.

What may be the sound of engineering music in the Civic Si is just noise in the ILX: repeated higher rpm shifts, the drone of the engine at 3,000 rpm (110 km/h), the slap and rumble of the tires on the pavement. The ILX may well be quieter (and heavier) than the Civic Si, but the mechanical choir is only a bit muted and still quite aggravating after a while, and very un-luxury car-like.

Even though $28K and change is a lot of money, being the price leader in the luxury car market is risky. The ILX represents a quick and profitable way for Honda to bring a compact to its luxury Acura brand in the US, just as the CSX and EL had in Canada. Badge engineering is common in the car business, but one of the risks is lowered perceptions of a company’s brand. I have no doubt that Acura will sell ILXs by the trainload, but Acura will remain the luxury brand wannabe that it has always been.

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