SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Acura once had the Integra, then the RSX and first-generation TSX to lure the young driving enthusiast.

Now the ILX, launched into production at Honda’s Greensburg, IN, assembly plant April 24 and on sale in the U.S. May 22, aims to fill that niche.

But the new sedan is more expensive than similarly equipped competitors and lacks the power and design panache to justify its higher price.

The ILX starts at $25,900, not too high for the near-premium segment considering the $30,000 Lexus CT and BMW 1-Series.

But Buick’s Verano, the ILX’s only 4-door competition, begins at $22,585 and boasts a standard 180-hp 2.4L mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The ILX's 2.0L maxes out at 150 hp and is paired with a 5-speed automatic.

A Verano with leather and navigation will set a buyer back just shy of $29,000, while a similarly equipped ILX is $31,400.

The Verano lacks the ILX’s broader engine lineup, but the Acura’s 201-hp 2.4L will draw few takers, as it’s available only with a 6-speed manual transmission.

Acura also projects a low take-rate for the ILX hybrid, which offers zero powertrain enhancements from the Civic Hybrid and is $4,000-$10,000 more than its Honda cousin.

Like the TSX, the ILX rides on the Honda Civic platform.

But rather than being a re-skinned Civic a la the Canadian Acura CSX model, the ILX gets a slew of changes below the surface.

The 1.8 ins. (4.6 cm) of added length and width gives the ILX more interior space than the Civic, providing rear-seat passengers almost the same amount of room found in the slightly larger TSX, Acura says.

The added length also gives ILX’s nose more prominence, for a luxury-like road presence. To further enhance its profile, ILX engineers lowered the body 1 in. (2.5 cm) for a hunkered-down, sporty appearance.

To improve ride and handling, torsional rigidity is increased 18% in the front and 11% in the rear, and high-strength steel makes up 62% of the ILX’s body, compared with 55% of the Civic.

An aluminum hood and front-bumper beam reduces weight across all variants. The hybrid ILX also has an aluminum rear-bumper beam.

Three under-covers boost aerodynamics, but Acura isn’t revealing the ILX’s coefficient of drag.

The ILX uses the Civic’s suspension setup: MacPherson strut front and multilink rear, but adds Teflon-lined stabilizer bushings and inner-ring-style lower bushings in the front and rear to balance refinement with handling.

Per the industry trend, the ILX’s three engines all are fours: the bread-and-butter 2.0L, the 2.4L; and a 91-hp 1.5L SOHC mill, in conjunction with a 17.2-kW (23-hp) electric motor, a lithium-ion battery and continuously variable transmission.

As in the Civic Hybrid, beating the Environmental Protection Agency-estimated fuel economy is easy in the ILX, which returns 47.8 mpg (4.9 L/100 km) on a 37-mile (94-km) route here at an average speed of 38 mph (61 km/h). The ILX Hybrid is rated at 38 mpg (6.2 L/100 km) combined.

But the preproduction test car has some unpleasant quirks, including an intermittent metal-on-metal sound when pulling away from a stop and a vibrating accelerator pedal. The Civic Hybrid we tested last year also had low-speed pedal vibration issues.

The ILX gets electric power steering, adding a larger-diameter steering shaft and 6.8% quicker steering ratio compared with the Civic. All of the cars tested suffer from a light, numb steering calibration that errs toward comfort rather than sport.

The ILX uses the same Sachs Amplitude Reactive Dampers as the next-generation RDX cross/utility vehicle, which have a second piston to smooth out larger bumps in the road. That makes the suspension softer than expected for a sport sedan, a setup likely aimed to please Baby Boomers, targeted as a secondary buyer group for the car.

Our time in the ILX 2.0L was short, and the 2.4L test drive shorter still, but neither variant sends hearts racing. Heavy traffic prevented opening up the latter car, so we’ll reserve some judgment until a longer trek is possible.

The 2.4L ILX’s gearbox has short throws, but they are a tad longer and the rowing more notch-y than with the original TSX’s snick-snick, buttery-smooth manual.

The 2.0L ILX returns a respectable 36.5 mpg (6.4 L/100 km) over 23 mostly highway miles (58 km). While its 150 hp is nothing to get excited about, the car’s 140 lb.-ft. (190 Nm) of torque peaks at a not-too-shabby 4,300 rpm.

Still, even with its optional paddle shifters, the 2.0L ILX’s 5-speed is comfort- rather than fun-focused, promoted by Acura to have less shift shock vs. the TSX’s auto. Anyone wanting a more enthusiastic driving experience should opt for the 2.4L manual model or a turbocharged Audi A3 or Volvo C30.

The ILX interior is typical Acura: excellent fit and so-so finish. The texture-less hard-plastic pillar trim is disappointing, especially in the $34,400 top-grade ILX Hybrid.

A soft-touch dash is nice, as are metallic surfaces, but the ILX breaks no new ground for the brand, with its standard issue black and silver. A funkier seat fabric and more color in 2.0L models (red flourishes are in the 2.4L ILX) would go a long way.

Speaking of seats, the ILX Hybrid’s are weirdly wide and lack thigh support, even though marketing data suggests the young urban hipster buyer the car seeks is a svelte creature.

One could argue Acura will have better luck than Buick in getting young butts in seats. But if image is everything to younger buyers, and content-for-money is important, the Acura brand will be challenged by the Europeans and the sportier, utility-rich and more fuel-efficient Lexus CT.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com
 

’13 Acura ILX
Vehicle type 4-door, front-wheel drive sedan
Engine 2.0L SOHC i-VTEC 4-cyl., aluminum block, head
Power (SAE net) 150 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 140 lb.-ft. (190 Nm) @ 4,300 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 81 x 97
Compression ratio 10.6:1
Transmission 5-speed automatic with Sequential SportShift, Grade Logic Control, paddles
Wheelbase 105.1 ins. (267 cm)
Overall length 179.1 ins. (455 cm)
Overall width 70.9 ins. (180 cm)
Overall height 55.5 ins. (141 cm)
Curb weight 2,970 lbs. (1,347 kg)
Base price $25,900, excluding $895 destination and handling
Fuel economy 24/35 mpg (9.8/6.7 L/100 km) city/highway
Pros Cons
Hybrid fuel sipper Accelerator vibration
$25,900 luxury car Verano $22,585 luxury car
Great fit Blah finish