December 18, 2012
2013 Acura ILX Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
|Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX 2.0
DBDR: 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic
Review and photos by Chris Chase
2013 Acura ILX
Either there’s very little demand for budget-priced luxury cars, or Acura knows something that the vast majority of of its upscale competitors don’t. The 2013 ILX is the latest in a line of Honda Civic–based Acuras that began nearly 30 years ago, with the Integra. What makes it a rarity is that it’s one of very few “premium” cars with a starting price of less than $30,000.
The ILX also becomes Acura’s first hybrid model, which seems a long time coming, considering that Honda’s hybrid history began with its original 1997 Insight. Acura has waited a long time to add a hybrid to its lineup – too long a wait for a luxury car that uses the same underwhelming powertrain as the Civic Hybrid. It pairs an efficient gas engine with an electric motor, but the latter can’t run independently of the former, and with a net power output of 111 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, the ILX Hybrid is anything but quick.
The ILX Hybrid’s lazy acceleration (to be fair, it’s not that much slower than the Lexus CT 200h) isn’t the real problem here. This car’s true flaw is its disappointing continuously variable transmission (CVT), which feels like it’s connected to the engine via rubber bands. The CT 200h may not be fast either, but at least its Prius-based powertrain is a smooth operator, and can run on electricity alone. Like any hybrid, the ILX shuts its engine off when the car is stopped, but it starts up automatically when the brake pedal is released. This gets annoying in stop-and-go driving, where you start to wish it would just keep running, never mind the consequences for fuel economy.
Again, in fairness, Honda’s hybrid system allows for some electric-only operation, but only under very specific circumstances. It also doesn’t provide any obvious indication that it’s doing so, unless you happen to notice the zero reading on the instant fuel consumption display.
What makes the ILX Hybrid’s poor straight-line performance so disappointing is that this car is actually a bit of fun to drive if you’ve got the opportunity, inclination, and a great road in front of you. A firm but comfortable suspension and decent steering feel both contribute to on-road entertainment, but the rock-hard brake pedal detracts from the fun factor, and the regenerative braking function makes the pedal hard to modulate for smooth stopping.