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First Drive: 2013 Acura ILX

Small Acuras have always held a special place in the automotive pantheon. Small, nimble and always ready to be wrung out, they delivered a premium driving experience without the premium cost. The Integra and RSX were thesis statements for what the Acura brand stood for: technologically advanced, fun to drive, and a great value for the money. The new ILX is the newest small Acura, and although not a true successor, it looks like it will continue Acura’s brand mission.

Exterior

The ILX shares a platform with the Civic, like the Integra and RSX did, but it does not look as differentiated as its predecessors. Acura took great pains to change the look though. The windshield was brought forward and raked farther back; the nose of the car has less overhang; and scalloped sides were added, not to mention the premium touches added such as the headlights, taillights, and metallic surrounds around the windows.

But although it looks completely different than its platform mate, it’s just not distinctive enough for a near premium car. The Integra and RSX could be spotted from across a parking lot because of their distinctive look; looks that drew in a generation of car enthusiasts. The ILX does not – it is attractive, but not in a way that will tug at the heartstrings.

Interior

Acura spent a great deal of attention on the interior of the ILX to give it a premium feel over the Civic as well. Acura started out with the concept of a “cockpit” to make the driver feel connected and the passenger comfortable. To do this, Acura designers created two character lines on the dash on each side. The result, they believe, was to give it a sporty but mature character. Without hearing their motives behind the design, you may not notice it, but it can surely be felt while sitting in the car.

Fit of the interior is also top notch, but material quality falls flat. Some of the materials are soft touch, including the dash, but the buttons on the console and the plastic trim are brittle and harsh. Some of the detailing also falls short. For example, Acura saw fit to give the ILX the connectivity system a TFT screen, but didn’t see fit to upgrade the graphics from something seen on the N64. The interface works well, but its design is straight out of much older cars.

Performance

The ILX comes in three trims: Base, Sport and Hybrid. The base is motivated by a 2.0L 4cyl with 150 hp, the sport with a 2.4l 4-cyl with 200hp, and the hybrid with Honda’s IMA hybrid system with a 1.5L 4-cyl with 130 hp.

The engines may be familiar to Civic owners (they are offered in that car as well), but many subtle changes were added to give the motors a more luxurious feel. All the engines get a harmonic balancer for smoother operation. Programming for the throttle and shift times were revised, and more sound dampening was put around the engine bay to filter out harsh noises. Acura must be taken at their word about this because no dramatic differences were noticeable. Luckily, the engines are already silky smooth to begin with.

If you’re an enthusiast, get the sport model. With its engine out of a Civic Si, it delivers proper go for the car. Also, it only comes in a 6-speed manual. The throws have been revised but what hasn’t changed is its excellent feel. Crisp, responsive, and gloriously precise, it is this shifter that harkens back to those old small Acuras.

Handling

On the handling side, the ILX gets unique wheels and dampers that have two damping valves to be better suited for spirited driving while retaining comfort. The steering rack has also been quickened. Acura has also fitted the ILX with the Advanced VSA system, which imperceptibly adds steering angle to keep the car in line in the corners. The ILX rides well, but lacks any feedback from the wheel. The new dampers deliver on Acura’s promise of a sporty, comfortable ride, but road noises are still transmitted to the cabin too frequently for a near premium car.

Overview

The ghosts of Acura’s past haunt the ILX. Acura claims that this car is not a succesor to the Integra and RSX, and that shows. The ILX is more mature than either the Integra or RSX, but because those cars were so good, you can’t shake missing the driving dynamics of the Integra or the interior of the RSX. However, when holding that shifter, the spirits of those two cars come out and you get the feeling that there is a truly great little car in there, but it is held back by compromises. And with so many great cars competing indirectly, or soon to be directly, to the ILX, competent may not be good enough.

The ILX is a mature step up from midsize and compact cars from mass-market brands, but how much the Acura badge is worth is the real question as this car goes on sale. The ILX will find its way into many garages, but probably not into their owners’ hearts.

  

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