2013 Acura ILX Dynamic Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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While the 2013 Acura ILX is officially an all-new model, for Canadians it might just kindle a sense of deja vu - haven't we already seen this basic car in the guise of the recently discontinued CSX? Well, yes and no.

Like the CSX that came before it, the ILX is indeed based on the Honda Civic platform. But unlike the CSX, which only very thinly disguised its humble origins, the ILX is thoroughly revised compared to its Honda cousin, presenting a much different, more sculpted appearance and providing significantly greater levels of comfort, luxury and refinement. And unlike the CSX, which was a Canada-only model, the ILX is being sold across North America as Acura's new entry-level model.

Or perhaps I should say that the various ILX models are being sold as Acura's entry-level cars, because the ILX is actually offered with three different, and very distinctive, powertrains.

The base powertrain, which comes in the ILX, ILX Premium and ILX Technology models, is a 2.0-litre i-VTEC 4-cylinder that develops 150 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque (a nice bump over the 140-horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque produced by the Civic's 1.8-litre 4-cylinder) and is hooked up to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The ILX Hybrid, Acura's first-ever hybrid, gets a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder with integrated electric assist that develops a combined 111 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque (pretty much the same as the Honda Civic Hybrid) and is hooked up to a CVT automatic. And then there's the car I tested, the ILX Dynamic, which gets a 2.4-litre i-VTEC 4-cylinder that cranks out a healthy 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque (exactly the same, for those who pay attention to such things, as the Honda Civic Si) and is hooked up to a 6-speed manual transmission.

While the various ILX models all look pretty much the same and share the same basic interior fittings, this review really only applies to the ILX Dynamic because on the road the various flavours of ILX are really as different from each other as chalk and cheese. Driving the ILX Dynamic and the ILX Hybrid back-to-back, it was hard to reconcile them as being the same basic car.

As a long-time fan of small luxury performance sedans with manual transmissions I found it gratifying that Acura hasn't relegated the manual to only the base version of the ILX (indeed you can't actually get a manual transmission in the base car), but has seen fit to put it into the go-fast version. That said, Acura hasn't entirely broken free of the mindset that manuals are only for the budget-minded and the boy-racers: the ILX Dynamic has pretty much all the equipment from the ILX Premium package, but you can't get it with the additional Technology package equipment for love nor money. So if you want to get where you're going with the Dynamic's power and flair you'd better enjoy the exhaust note because you can't get the upgraded 10-speaker audio system with HDD media storage. And don't expect to know where exactly it is you're going either, because you likewise can't get the navigation system with 8-inch VGA screen.

What you do get with the ILX Dynamic is a nice selection of luxury accouterments including perforated leather upholstery with contrast stitching, heated front seats, a rich-sounding seven-speaker premium audio system, multi-angle rearview camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, upgraded 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and auto on/off HID headlights, all in addition to the ILX's standard lineup of features such as dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, one-touch power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, smart entry with pushbutton start and such.

Unlike the old CSX, which used the same basic interior layout as the Civic, the ILX has a distinctly Acura interior. Gone is the split-level instrument panel with digital speedo, and in its place is a set of simple, easy-to-read analog gauges with a small multi-information display set between them. There's a tall centre stack topped with a colour display, and the dash sweeps off to either side, highlighted by a wide brushed-metal accent - overall the effect is bang-on, a nice blend of tech and luxury. My only real complaints are that the A pillars seemed a bit more obstructive than most, and that the rear seat only offers a one-piece folding seatback rather than a split-folding design.

The driving experience is also bang on if you like a responsive and, yes, dynamic ride. The steering has a precise feel and sharp reflexes (the ILX uses a larger and more rigid steering shaft than the Civic), and the handling is crisp and responsive while still being comfortably compliant thanks to Acura's amplitude reactive shocks.

The 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine has a pleasant burbling exhaust note and pulls nicely even at low revs, and then really lights up past about 5,000 rpm and onward to the 7,000 rpm redline. Shift quickly enough (a delightful task thanks to the sweet, slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox) and you'll get to 100 km/h in about seven seconds. Ease up on the throttle and you can expect fuel economy figures of about 9.8 L/100km in the city and 6.5 L/100km on the highway.

Overall, as a driver's machine the Acura ILX Dynamic gets a thumbs-up from me, and as a value proposition it makes good sense too. At a suggested starting price of $31,935 (including destination charges) it's cheaper than the Lexus IS 250 (which starts at $36,245 destination in), and close to a comparably equipped Buick Verano (which starts at $30,195 with the leather package). The Buick can be had cheaper it's true, but then so can the ILX if you're willing to give up the sweet 2.4-litre powertrain (the base ILX starts at $29,735 with destination). The real competition, however, might come from the ILX's Honda cousin: At a listed suggested price of $27,485 for the 2012 model, the Civic Si offers essentially the same driving experience as the ILX Dynamic (less some of the luxury ambience – the 2013 Civic Si interior, arriving next month, is reportedly much improved over the 2012) for about $4,450 less. Still, if you've reached that stage in life when you appreciate the finer things in life such as leather seating, and prefer a subtler approach than Civic Si with its splashy "i-VTEC DOHC" graphics, then the difference may be money well spent.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Acura, 2013, ILX Dynamic, $30,000 - $39,999, Compact,

Organizations: Acura

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