Acura ILX – a TSX in cheaper clothing
By Jim Bray
Acura's new entry level sedan is a nice blend of luxury and performance – and if you get the upmarket engine it's also more darn fun than you might think it should be.
The new car, dubbed the ILX (maybe it's the only one of its, er, ilks?), is based on the Honda Civic, which isn't a bad place to start, but you'd never know that to look at the car. It's luxurious enough to deserve the Acura badge, but not so high end that it's priced in the stratosphere. In fact, with a starting price of just under 30 grand, it offers excellent value considering what you get.
On the other hand, for that price you'll be getting the smaller, two liter engine with its 150 horsepower and 140 torquey thingies, which is more Civic-like than the up-and-comers Acura is aiming at may want. And it comes with a five speed automatic transmission – in an era of six speed competitors.
For a couple of extra grand, however, you can opt for the 2.4 liter power plant of the "ILX Dynamic" test car I drove for a week. That engine cranks out 201 hp @ 7000 rpm, with 170 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm. And in that configuration, which also includes a really nice six speed manual transmission that's a joy to shift, it's a blast! Power is more than adequate and flicking through the stick shift's gears really enhances the fun.
And the exhaust note is delicious.
The car, in the "Dynamic" livery, reminds me of the first generation Acura TSX, which was about as much fun as you could get back then. The TSX has gotten bigger and heavier in its current generation, however, and in my never humble opinion has lost that "joie de conduire" – though it's still a very nice car. But if you're looking for a luxurious sedan that'll carve up some curvy roads and put a smile on your face, this ILX Dynamic may just fit the bill. I don't think it quite hits the bulls eye that original TSX did, but it's close.
Or, if fun isn't on your agenda, you can get the ILX as Acura's first gasoline-electric hybrid, for about five grand more. Now, to be fair, I haven't driven the hybrid (nor the base model), but chances are it eschews excitement for ecology and economy.
The ILX is a handsome sedan, clean and attractive and sporty-looking. Acura considers it a "gateway" into the Acura brand, targeting what it describes as Generation Y (Y not?), "successful 20 and 30-somethings moving into the luxury car ranks but looking for high-value propositions in their purchases."
Last time I made a high-value proposition I ended up married, but that's a tale for another day…
Anyway, Acura calls the ILX a five passenger sedan, but that's a bit of a joke unless the three in back are about three feet tall and a foot wide. I rode back there with another adult and it was fine. Now, neither of us could be called large – well, tall, anyway – but putting a third adult back there would have bordered on abuse.
I would expect that folks in Acura's target market will probably either have no kids to haul around or fairly young ones, in which case the tight, flat-floored steerage class compartment would actually be quite functional.
Up front is a very nice place to be, however, comfortable and appointed well. The Dynamic version comes with lots of stuff, too, though Acura drew the line at including their excellent ELS audio system with its surround sound DVD-Audio capability; it's available on the hybrid or with the Technology package, however.
The center stack doesn't seem as busy as some Honda/Acuras, though it's been a while since I drove one so my memory may be faulty. Perhaps the apparently cleaner stack happens because there's an abundance of stuff on the steering wheel instead – not enough to be really annoying, but perhaps intimidating until you get used to it (which shouldn't take long).
Of course you get a Bluetooth phone interface (which also streams music from your device). It isn't the simplest interface to use. I refused to open the owner's manual and so had to pull over and stop before I could dial the phone via the cursor control/knob thingy on the center stack, which kind of defeats the purpose of a hands free system. Again, however, this is probably a minor complaint about a car that I really liked otherwise.
The ILX features an SMS text message function as standard equipment, which Acura says reads incoming texts over the audio system, letting you respond with one of six preset replies from steering wheel-mounted controls. I wonder if "get lost!" is one of them. I'd rather be torn apart by wild dogs than text, but I suspect the target audience might find it handy.
The front drive sedan features a very good greenhouse, so visibility outside is just fine, and my test sample had a nice, power operated moon roof. There's even a small, convex "blind spot indicator" on the driver's side mirror.
The seats up front are comfortable and supportive, and the driver's side of my test sample featured power operation with memory.
The Dynamic package comes with no options other than the package itself (and no automatic transmission is available with the Dynamic livery), so you also have to do without a navigation system. You do get such stuff as 17 inch wheels, a multi-angle rear view camera, leather (with heated seats up front), automatic climate control and the like, and even though you don't get the fantastic ELS stereo the system you do get is still a good one.
Another nice touch is the "one touch" directional signals, a feature stolen from – er, inspired by – European cars and which is becoming more common on Asian and North American vehicles. It means you can just blip the turn signal indicator without putting it all the way into its turn mode and the appropriate signal light will blink three times. This is very handy for changing lanes, though with the abundance of oblivious oafs (oaves?) on the roads these days perhaps companies should think about making it blink four times instead.
The suspension is sporty without being jarring; I don't think it's quite what that original TSX had, but the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension (with stabilizer bars front and rear) is a nice compromise for most driving conditions and moods. The Motion-Adaptive Electric Power-Assisted Rack-and-Pinion Steering (EPS) (operated via a tilt/telescoping steering wheel) offers good feel and the power-assisted, ventilated front disc/solid rear disc brakes do their job well, with no fuss and little grabbiness.
Acura thinks the ILX will appeal to people who might also consider the Audi A3 and the Lexus CT200h. That may be apt, though it's also a very apples-to-oranges comparison, since neither of those competitors are sedans and the Lexus is only available as a hybrid. But if you're thinking of either of these other cars, Acura wants to see you.
All in all, the ILX is a very nice offering, and more fun to drive than I had expected. It eschews the current TSX's softness – at least, in the Dynamic trim – and, while it's hardly a boy racer's dream come true, it's a welcome sedan from a company I had begun to suspect might have forgotten how to build such cars. I'm glad to be proven wrong.
The ILX starts at $27,790. The Dynamic version starts at $29,990.
Copyright 2012 Jim Bray
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