In a step back towards its roots, Acura, Honda’s luxury division, is once again offering a less-is-more entry luxury compact car. Slotted below the TSX, the 2013 Acura ILX is somewhat reminiscent of the 1986-2001 Integra, but outfitted with more luxury. This time around Honda’s entry-level car will come with some environmental credentials and therefore deserves a review in Clean Fleet Report.
Like the Integra before it, the ILX shares its platform with the latest generation Honda Civic. However, don’t dismiss the ILX as just a dressed up Civic with an Acura nameplate; there are noteworthy engineering changes and interior refinements. Three models are available — base, Wahoo! and green. The base ILX is priced starting at $26,900 and is equipped with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. For lots of Wahoos, the ILX Premium is powered by a 201 horsepower four connected to a close-ratio six speed manual shifter and is priced at $29,200.
The green version is the ILX Hybrid, Acura’s first ever hybrid offering. Ironic considering Honda was the first carmaker to introduce a hybrid, the Honda Insight in 2000. Borrowing the hybrid system from the Civic Hybrid, the ILX Hybrid has a base price of $28,900; add the Technology Package and the price jumps to $34,400.
Honda’s IMA Hybrid System
The 2013 ILX Hybrid employs Honda’s fifth generation hybrid powertrain system that the automaker calls Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). It’s a descriptive name in that an ultra-thin, 17.2-kilowatt brushless electric motor/generator is “integrated” between the engine and transmission and only “assists” the gasoline engine during acceleration, which saves gas. This compares to other hybrid systems where the electric motor can assist the gas engine plus, propel the vehicle on electric power alone. In certain instances, the ILX Hybrid engine does cut off fuel and the car operates briefly on electric power only, but the engine’s parts still move.
Like other hybrid vehicles, the ILX has an idle-stop operation, which shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop, and then fires up again when the brake pedal is released.
When the car is coasting or brakes are applied, the motor performs as a generator and charges the 20-kilowtt lithium ion battery pack located in the trunk.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine features Honda’s i-VTEC intake and exhaust valve control system. The engine produces 90 horsepower and 97 pounds-feet of torque. Powered by the lithium ion battery, the electric motor makes 23 horsepower and 78 pounds-feet of torque for a combined system output of 111 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet.
Completing the IMA system is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that directs power to the front wheels. The CVT consists of a drive pulley and driven pulley that are linked by a steel belt, and operates somewhat like a 10-speed bicycle. It combines the fuel economy of a high-gear ratio manual transmission, the performance of a low-gear manual and the step-less shifting of a conventional geared automatic transmission.
Unlike the Civic, the ILX Hybrid has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which lets the driver to manually choose seven fixed shift points for the CVT. Manual shifting can be used in either the Drive mode — ideal for most driving situations, or Sport mode — for more performance-oriented driving. For maximum fuel economy, an ECON mode provides increased battery assistance.
Surprising, and puzzling, the ILX Hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 39 mpg city/38 highway and 38 combined while the Civic Hybrid bests those numbers with 44/44/44. The IXL does weight around 100 pounds more than the Civic but…. ?
Styling, Cabin and Features
Styling won’t have you running to the closest Acura dealer; however, the ILX is quite handsome, albeit a tad conservative. Kudos to the designer who toned down Acura’s current overly large, nefarious chrome grille that certainly grabs attention, but for the wrong reasons. The new face has a slender version of the grille that is accented with thin, tapered lower air intakes and gets attention for the right reasons — it’s good design.
Distinct hood creases, pronounced side character lines and shapely rear wheel arches project a sculpted appearance that quietly says luxury. There is little to distinguish the Hybrid from the other two models, just a small rear deck lid spoiler and the now obligatory discrete hybrid badges.
The ILX cabin coddles its passengers in typical Acura fashion. That means comfortable and well equipped. The dash design follows the larger TL sedan’s curved shapes that give the interior a well-crafted appearance of
understated luxury. White on black conventional gauges are well lighted and easily readable. For a quick glance at the myriad infotainment features, a five-inch info screen is placed atop the center stack.
Front seats are supportive in the right places and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The rest of the ergonomics are straightforward, the switches and controls are high quality and everything is assembled perfectly.
This is compact car so, two rear seat passengers have adequate room, but nix a third person. And, since it’s a hybrid, the battery robs trunk cargo room, reducing it to 10 cubic feet versus 12.3 for its gas-only siblings.
Following Acura’s tradition, the base ILX Hybrid is very well equipped: keyless access with push-button ignition, heated exterior mirrors, speed sensing wipers, leather steering wheel and shift knob and of course, power windows and outside mirrors as well as cruise control. There’s no need to upgrade to the Technology package for features like Bluetooth, a USB port and voice text messaging because they are standard.
Acura doesn’t offer a list of options, rather the company bundles them into packages. The Technology Package is the only upgrade available for the Hybrid model. It includes a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink communication system, leather seating, driver’s eight-way power seat, heated front seats, Xenon HID headlights and rearview camera. For music aficionados with long commutes, the ELB surround sound system alone is worth the additional $5,100 price.
On The Road
With the Honda Civic’s ride and handling reputation of being among the very best in class, engineers had a leg up in tweaking the chassis to conform with Acura’s tradition of overall driving fun with a refined feel in ride and handling. Acura reworked the rear multi-link rear suspension’s geometry, revised bushings and added dampers with two-stage valving at all four corners. The ILX also has a quicker steering ratio for a crisper steering response and body tensional rigidity is increased for added control during cornering.
The upgraded suspension tuning and more rigid body provides a refined ride comfort while delivering agile and responsive handling. Steering is nicely weighted and executes sharp cornering in an effortless manner.
When accelerating rapidly from a stop or merging into fast moving traffic, the ILX doesn’t exhibit much gusto. This can remedied by using the paddle shifters — hold after downshifting two or three gear settings and acceleration quickens. In ordinary driving conditions, however, the powertrain absolves itself well enough and the car becomes a solid performer on the highway.
Around town the Hybrid has a smooth, fairly well damped ride and it’s easy-to-drive and easy-to-park. The highway ride is firm, controlled and pleasant, not harsh. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints have a negligible impact.
One thing that sets the Acura apart from the Civic that lets you know it is in the entry luxury class is the quiet ride. This is accomplished by the use of laminated glass and the audio system’s noise cancellation feature.
But, there is one thing Acura didn’t overcome. When the gas engine restarts after shutting down temporarily at stops, the car shudders as it gets up to speed, just like the Civic Hybrid and that’s a luxury demerit.
Hybrid cars are all about fuel economy and the ILX, like most cars, gas-only powered or hybrid, can deliver fuel economy results that are better than the EPA numbers if driven properly, and I don’t mean hypermiling techniques.
Our travels during a week with the ILX Hybrid racked up 379 miles, 187 miles on Interstates, the balance was mixed in town and some highway miles. Results? Our combined fuel economy was 41 mpg, three mpg more than the EPA’s estimate.
ILX Hybrid in the Marketplace
Acura says the target customers for the new ILX are the younger members of Generation X and members of Generation Y— successful 20- and 30-somethings moving into the luxury car ranks but looking for high-value propositions in their purchases. The automaker is counting on this group of buyers to become longtime Acura customers.
The ILX Hybrid’s only direct hybrid competitor is the Lexus CT 200h. It’s $3,150 more than the Acura but the 43-city/40 highway fuel economy bests the ILX. However, Lexus will soon be dropping the 200h from the lineup, leaving the ILX as the least expensive luxury hybrid.
Acura considers Audi’s A3 a competitor, even though it is not a hybrid. Indeed, the A3 TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy — 30 city and 42 highway — and has a base price of $30,250, $1,350 more than the ILX.
The ILX fills a gap in Acura’s lineup that has been missing for some time and opens door for new buyers wanting to step up to a premium car without a premium price. The added bonus is there’s a premium hybrid without a premium price.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.
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