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2013 Acura ILX First Impressions

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Mathieu St-Pierre
Underwhelmingly good
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona - Acura is in the process of rebuilding itself. At this event, they introduced to the gathered members of the automotive media two core products with which they hope to reset not only the brand's slipping sales but also their image.

2013 Acura ILX

The first vehicle I reviewed was the 2013 Acura RDX. In order to render the brand's appeal more appealing, they've devised a marketing strategy that intends on putting desire back in into Acura's DNA. If you peruse my story, you'll note that the RDX, while a valiant competitor and vehicle, does not light my proverbial fire. The RDX remains a sensible, smart choice. Nothing more.

As for the ILX, it's much the same but with a slight twist.

The Gateway
Honda has dubbed the ILX the Gateway to its luxury brand. This, I believe. Acura is in a good position to talk about "first steps" and luxury in the same breath as they pioneered the compact luxury car segment in the mid-'80s with the now-defunct Integra and then with the 1.6EL, the 2013 Acura ILX being its direct descendant.

More like the CSX before it than the Integra, the new ILX stands in a corner of the compact luxury car segment hoping to not be picked last when the teams are being put together. But the ILX can actually play ball. And well.

The looks of the ILX are misleading. Far from being unattractive, the ILX does not ignite any particular emotions, good or bad. It just is. For some, this is not an issue. For most others, the ILX's subtleties in the styling department are what will keep them away from showrooms and giving it deserves.

The car is clearly inspired by the ILX concept that was shown at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show but it has traded some of its pizzazz such as wheels and front and rear bumpers for production styling cues that have all but deflated the balloon.

2013 Acura ILX front view
Honda has dubbed the ILX the Gateway to its luxury brand. (Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre/

Once again, familiar territory
Like that of the 2013 RDX, the ILX's cabin is well-known Acura territory. All that one would expect from a luxury car is present: touch-worthy surfaces, numerous user-friendly controls and all of it put together with skill. Most cars on hand were draped in ebony cloth or leather. The interior you see in the gallery is parchment leather, which adds a touch of class. I, for one, still very much like the more common sombre, dark, monochromatic presentation.

Even if the 2013 Acura ILX is the gateway car, the company provides buyers with very good seats with plenty of room for the passengers and plenty in the trunk (unless it's a hybrid) . The gauge display includes all the desirable features including a shift indicator for the 2.0L and hybrid models.

Technology plays a large role in making the car more attractive to Gen-Y-ers, the ILX's principal target market. Bluetooth, SMS texting and other features including keyless access with push-button start are all standard. Multi-view rear camera, navigation and an ELS 10-speaker audio system are available with the Tech package.

2013 Acura ILX dashboard
All that one would expect from a luxury car is present inside: touch-worthy surfaces, numerous user-friendly controls and all of it put together with skill. (Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre/

Three versions when one would do
The ILX comes in three distinct flavours but only one will sell. Think in terms of ice cream: the 2.0L is vanilla-bean, the Hybrid is carrot and the 2.4L is asparagus. You can deduce right away which will do best.

The 2.0L, an R20A, not to be confused with the K20Z from the previous CSX, puts out 150 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. If you know your Honda specs, you'll note that the R is 5 hp down and 1 torque up on the outgoing K. What does this mean? Nothing really except perhaps that the R seems to run smoother and quieter that the K. For certain, throttle response is sharper but that's an electronics aspect.

To it is mated a 5-speed autobox, the only transmission offered with the 2.0L. I would normally rip into the fiver but it impressed me. Shift shock is reduced compared to that of the TSX and what's more, it is responsive, shifts surprisingly fast and even matches engines revs on a paddle-prodded downshift.

Power is decent, and will not ruin your hairdo at wide-open throttle. Racing a 2.5L Volkswagen Jetta will have you returning home with your tail between your legs. The saving grace is the powertrain's expected fuel consumption average of barely more than 7L/100km.

The other two versions of the 2013 Acura ILX merit little attention. The $34,990 Hybrid (now with Lithium-ion batteries instead of Nickel-hydride) is underwhelming but the CVT 'box offers up seven pre-programmed gears ratios through wheel-mounted paddles. The $29,990 2.4L (see Honda Civic Si for specs) feels barely faster than the 2.0L and the 17" wheels do little to enhance its sporty nature.

2013 Acura ILX R20A engine
The 2.0L, an R20A puts out 150 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. (Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre/

Big car ride and drive
The ILX's road manners are quite good. If you give the poor child a chance, he might just impress you. The car's torsional rigidity is up thanks to the use of high tensile steel, and weight is down slightly through the use of aluminium for the hood and bumper beams.

The chassis improvements are matched to a revised suspension that uses amplitude reactive dampers. In other words, they do more work to bring the occupants more peace. Refinement is, as in the RDX, a key aspect of the car. The ride is smooth and given the ameliorated aerodynamics and loads of sound-absorbing materials all over the place, the ILX is especially quiet for a compact.

The ILX's electric steering (EPS) reacts quicker and has "motion adaptive-ness" through the car's vehicle stability assist (VSA) systems, which applies corrective assist forces should the computers think the car is going off its intended course. Brake pedal feel is great and response is well calibrated.

Overall, the ILX is more pleasurable to drive than expected; however, it does not match the Audi A3, 2013 Mercedes B-Class or BMW 1 Series where involvement is concerned.

2013 Acura ILX right side view
The chassis improvements are matched to a revised suspension that uses amplitude reactive dampers. (Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre/

Big job
This car is an important player in Acura's grandiose plans. Into 2014, the ILX will represent 20% of total Acura volume. The compact luxo segment is expected to grow 45% by 2015 and Acura wants a piece of it.

The ILX will do well with its base 2.0L car, which will be the volume leader. This car is the least expensive step into the luxury car world, depending on the buyer's perception of the Acura brand, as its pricing starts at $27,790.

The 2013 Acura ILX goes on sale May 25. It will be built in Indiana and sold alongside the TSX, in case you were wondering.

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Mathieu St-Pierre
Mathieu St-Pierre
Automotive expert