2013 Acura ILX first drive: Civic minded

2013 Acura ILX

Acura’s new ILX serves as the ‘gateway’ to the Acura brand.

You’ll remember the Seinfeld commercial from this year’s Super Bowl. The setup: Jerry wants to secure the very first retail delivery of Acura’s all-new NSX, and while pursuing same with the guy whose name is on that first Acura has the negotiation usurped by Jay Leno; Leno absconds with the Acura buyer via a rooftop getaway. Notably, during a week-long get-to-know-it session with Acura’s all-new 2013 ILX Seinfeld didn’t call, text or tweet me. And given the apparent scarcity of the new ILX on the street since going on sale over 90 days ago, I may be in possession of the very first retail delivery. If, of course, this car were a retail delivery and not a loan from Acura’s press fleet.

This near-luxury category is what Acura cultivated so successfully in the early years of its U.S.-only act. At the beginning it was the Integra serving as Joe Biden to the Legend’s Barack Obama. Later, after Acura’s Alphanumeric Spring, the recreational RSX supported with volume sales the less-than-ubiquitous Legend replacement, dubbed RL. Not that many years ago, however, Acura’s brain trust decreed that the RSX was a distraction to the brand, and that the Accord-based TSX would serve as the gateway to Acura’s aspirations – and those of its clientele. In an agonizingly long economic downturn, however, these things have a way of changing, which brings us back to today’s subject, the ILX. Today it serves as the introduction to the Acura brand, which begs the question: Couldn’t they have called it the RSX Integra?

To Acura’s credit the ILX specs tend to support its near-luxury descriptive. To be sure, with its transversely-mounted four cylinder powertrain and front-wheel drive you won’t confuse it with the V6-powered Lexus IS 250 or M-B’s rear-wheel-drive C250. But then, the Acura showroom has never provided alternatives to the top-of-the-line Lexus LS, or offered a V8-powered anything. So, an entry-level Acura with four cylinders propelling only the front wheels is a credible intro to the Acura franchise. The assemblage of those components, however, might give one pause. With sheetmetal that is, at best, relatively generic and a price point that can easily flirt with $30K, the ILX may achieve a relatively unique form of exclusivity, born of very few sold.

This isn’t, however, an attempt to debase or deride Acura’s newly released upstart. At first (and second) glance it enjoys all the makings of an attractive entry in the upmarket sweepstakes. Outside sheetmetal is tasteful, albeit lacking in any sense of originality. The nose speaks to the controversial Acura beak, albeit restrained to the point that it could front a Mazda6. At the sides an upswept character line beginning at the rear door and extending over the rear fender is expressive, but it’s also somewhat Elantra. And the C-Pillar, blending beautifully into the rear fender and deck, looks as much ‘Dartful’ as artful.

The overall appearance – despite careful construction and an Acura level of solidity – is relatively anonymous. Even Lexus (forgawdsake) took a stylistic leap with its CT 200h; we would have hoped Acura might have made a similar stretch, if only to shake things up on what has become a comparatively (relative to Audi, BMW or M-B) moribund showroom.

2013 Acura ILX

Acura’s cockpit is completely intuitive.

Inside, appointments may be equally conservative, but then, our expectations may have also been lower. Our ILX 2.4 Premium is clothed in attractive, perforated leather. Given that our Acura is the ‘performance’ iteration we’d have hoped the front seats might have provided more lateral support; instead, we seemed to sit ‘on’ them rather than in them. The instrument panel is clearly legible, while the centerstack – although lacking navigation – provided everything necessary for an entertaining and enjoyable drive.

In back, this 5’7” evaluator would have been very comfortable behind a similarly-sized driver. For anyone taller the legroom in back might have been adequate, while headroom may have grown a tad tight. And despite relatively tidy exterior dimensions the middle passenger – if one existed – would have been reasonably comfortable; it needn’t be the penalty box served up by most airlines.

The Acura’s shining moment was under the hood. Its 2.4 liter DOHC four produces 201 horsepower (@ 7,000 rpm), supplemented by 170 lb-ft of torque (@ 4,400 rpm). This powertrain, shared with that of the Civic Si, is sweet. As it rushed to its redline it moves the Acura’s 3,000 pounds with genuine alacrity, and sounds absolutely symphonic while going about the task. The standard 6-speed manual – exclusive to the 2.4 powertrain – is equally attractive, moving between gears with that special combination of ease and precision which Honda products oh-so-often get right, and which oh-so-many other carmakers oh-so-often get wrong.

For driver and passengers the ride/handling balance would seem to be about right for those wanting near-luxury. If, however, the powertrain is bringing out your inner ‘Pilote’ the suspension will adequately suppress same. We were thinking Civic Si, with which the ILX Premium is closely associated. Regrettably, the result of Acura’s fiddling is more ‘sigh’ than Si. For the majority of its prospects this will probably be fine, but if you want the most precision for the least amount of money, proceed to your Honda showroom (but take your own cup of coffee…).

Acura supplies two other powertrains for the ILX menu. The ILX 2.0 receives a 2.0 liter SOHC four producing 150 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, while the ILX Hybrid enjoys a 1.5 liter four with 11 horsepower and electric assist. The EPA forecasts a combined 25 miles-per-gallon for our 2.4 liter Premium, which is exactly the number we achieved over some 220 miles of combined (passive and aggressive) driving.

Were we standing on an Acura showroom with either $30K of cash or $30K of ‘credits’ we’d opt for Acura’s Accord-based TSX in a nanosecond. But then, we’re some thirty years removed from the ILX’s target demographic. You pay your money and you take your choice, but we continue to wish the less expensive choices on an Acura showroom would be more individualistic, while the more expensive choices might be more mainstream.