2013 Acura ILX

Another fine new entry in a small but important segment
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Auto industry observers will tell you that North America's most important and most competitive sales segment (not counting pickups) is midsize cars, probably followed by compact crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) then compact cars, as increasing numbers of buyers downsize from larger vehicles. Where does this feature-filled 2013 Acura ILX sedan fit?

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What is the Acura ILX?

Some call it "entry luxury," meaning (usually) small and (relatively) affordable cars with luxury trim, features and amenities. We think of them as "luxury compacts." And this segment is becoming more important as more folks downsize for better fuel efficiency, and few want to give up the features, quietness and comfort they have learned to love in larger vehicles.

Like Buick's new Verano is a platform-mate of the compact Chevy Cruze, yet otherwise nothing like it, this 2013 Acura ILX is based on the compact Honda Civic (Acura is Honda's luxury arm), but otherwise nothing like it.

The 2013 ILX replaces the long-running TSX as Acura's entry-level car, and (in case you're wondering) the letters in its name are not an acronym for anything. Acura lists its key competitors as the front-wheel-drive Buick Verano, Audi A3 and Lexus CT200h hybrid, a short list to which we would add the more expensive Audi A4 and the rear-drive Infiniti G25, BMW 3 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

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Three Engine Choices

The 2013 Acura ILX comes in three distinct flavors: standard 150-hp 2.0-liter four with a five-speed automatic transmission; 201-horse 2.4-liter four with a six-speed manual; and hybrid (Acura's first) with a 23-hp electric motor married to a 111-hp 1.5-liter gasoline 4-cylinder through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The higher-performance 2.4-liter ILX is essentially Honda's fun-to-drive Civic Si in four-door formal attire, while the hybrid's fuel-efficient drive system is borrowed from its Civic hybrid cousin.

The base SOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter/automatic combo gives EPA city/highway/combined efficiency ratings of 24/35/28 mpg, the DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter/manual pairing is good for 22/31/25 EPA mpg, and the hybrid's SOHC 8-valve 1.5-liter four/electric motor/CVT team checks in at 39/38/38 EPA mpg. As a "parallel" gas/electric hybrid, it is driven by the most energy-efficient combination of gas and electric power (depending on conditions); its motor becomes a generator to replenish its Li-ion battery pack during (regenerative) braking; and its engine shuts down to save fuel during stops, then restarts when the brake pedal is released.

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Acura ILX Design

Acura calls the 2013 ILX's exterior "sleek, sporty and windswept," meaning aero efficient. We call it the brand's best-looking vehicle (not just sedan) in some time. Styling is subjective, but the best exterior news is that the overdone chrome potato-peeler beak found on the fronts of most recent models has been toned way down. Its stance is substantial-low, wide and broad-shouldered, with a long nose, short tail and strong body-side character lines, and its underbody is essentially flat, with add-on covers (front, rear and center) for smooth air flow.

Inside the Acura ILX is a well-designed blend of upscale features and amenities, including soft-touch materials and satin metal finishes, with a high level of fit and finish. The standard black cloth and faux leather seats are comfortable and supportive, the instruments are high-tech LED, and shift paddles on the leather-wrapped, tilt-telescoping, three-spoke steering wheel enable easy manual control of the automatic transmission. The shifter is also leather-wrapped, and the steering wheel spokes offer handy cruise and audio controls.

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Features and Options

Even the base Acura ILX is well equipped. Among its many standard features are keyless access, a one-touch power moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a five-inch color central display, six-speaker audio with auxiliary and USB ports, Pandora internet radio, SMS text messaging (which reads incoming texts aloud over through the audio system, then allows the driver to reply with one of six factory preset messages), Bluetooth wireless interfaces, ride-smoothing Amplitude Reactive Dampers, auto on/off projector beam headlights that come on automatically with the windshield wipers and a Battery Management System (BMS) that helps prevent dead batteries.

A Premium option package adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat and seven-speaker audio with XM Radio. A Technology package combines 10-speaker, 365-watt Acura/ELS premium surround-sound audio and GPS navigation with voice recognition and real-time weather and traffic. Both include a multi-view rear camera (selectable to normal, wide or top view) and (except on the Hybrid) Active Noise Control.

2013 Acura ILX safety features include Acura's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure (nearly 60 percent high-strength steel) and six airbags, plus accident-avoidance technologies such as Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with new Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering (EPS) and electronic traction control (TCS), four-channel Anti-lock Braking (ABS), and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) with Brake Assist.

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2013 Acura ILX Driving impressions

We spent quality time in both a 2.4-liter/manual model and a hybrid. No 2.0-liter/automatic was available, so we can only surmise that it's slower and less fun to drive than the former but a bunch quicker and more enjoyable than the latter.

It figures that the 201-pony 2.4-liter ILX, with its crisp, precise six-speed manual, is quick and agile, since it's essentially a hoot-to-drive Civic Si underneath. It gets up and goes, steers, stops and handles like the sport sedan it's meant to be. On the other hand, we found the hybrid painfully slow and soft in normal operating mode. Selecting "ECO" mode makes it even lazier, though it does have steering wheel paddles that let you select specific CVT ratios.

One all-model Acura ILX complaint is the single 12V power outlet in the console box. That's okay for charging cell phones but lousy for plugging in dash-mounted accessories such as GPS navigation or a (purely defensive) radar detector, since the cord ends up stretched annoyingly across the console and shifter. When we find no 12V plug on the instrument panel of any modern vehicle, we can't understand what its interior designers were thinking.

Among the features we did appreciate were the multi-view rearview camera and the "expanded-view" driver-side mirror with a small, outer convex element to provide a broader field of view. But why not have one on the passenger-side mirror as well, which we've seen on other recent vehicles?

With prices starting at about $27K, the 2013 Acura ILX slots neatly between Buick's Verano and Audi's A4 front-drive luxury-compact sedans. If something in this emerging class might suit your wants and needs, you might give this one a serious look. www.acura.com

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