The 2013 Acura ILX vs. the 2013 Volkwagen CC, luxury lightweights: Motoramic Drives
With an uneasy economic recovery and automotive sales seemingly recovering, Acura's MBA-types identified a new demographic to target: the young, post-grad Generation Y with disposable income. In other words, those with a job and aren't buried under a mountain of student loans. It's a niche Acura calls "near premium," which will be served by the new 2013 Acura ILX.
But straddling the line between mainstream and luxury isn't new; Volkswagen filled that role with 2013 Volkswagen CC, subtly refreshed for 2013. On paper, the ILX and CC's specs are similar — the six-speed manual trims for both start at around $30,000 and have a 200-horsepower (well, 201 for the ILX), four-cylinder engine. Head to head, which would win?
The Acura ILX fights an uphill battle for acceptance. Built on the same proletariat underpinnings as the Honda Civic, the ILX — like GM's infamous Cadillac Cimarron — is haunted by the stigma of badge engineering. Thankfully, the ILX drives noticeably more refined than the Civic Si, even with the same 2.4-liter engine. The mildly upscale cabin competently isolates road and wind noise compared to the thrashy Civic, and the suspension does a decent job of scrubbing out mild road imperfections, thanks to its amplitude reactive dampers. That added pinache comes with little compromise to athleticism, and surprisingly it's just as nimble in the corners as the Civic Si, even with about extra 100 lbs.
But the Volkswagen CC is in a different league. Although the Wolfsburg five-seater feels heavier with a slightly duller turn-in, the superb suspension damping makes the drudgery of a morning commute feel like a tranquil mid-afternoon cruise—fitting for a car with affluent intentions. The CC's turbo 2.0 liter spiritedly scoots above 3,000 rpm, but the sudden change in torque at that turbo-lag crossover can be jarring. Around town, the ILX's naturally aspirated 2.4-liter is more pleasant; it's linear but with sufficient low-end torque, albeit lacking in torquey excitement.
The problem with the "near premium" Acura ILX is it's also near compelling; not a single facet stands out. It's not quite sporty, because the suspension's slightly under-damped, the clutch feel is too soft, and the lack of a limited slip differential (standard in the Civic Si) means you feel a hint of inside-wheel spin when aggressively pushing the corners. For luxury, the ubiquitous fake metal trim inside doesn't fool anyone, and the low-slung but sleepy exterior makes a Toyota Camry look winsome.
By contrast, the Volkswagen CC exudes class, even in its lowest, "leatherette" (German-speak for vinyl) trim. Slickly adorned in brushed metal accents, the cabin easily trumps not only the ILX, but even its bigger siblings like the TSX and TL. Acura has touted its standard multimedia features as a distinctive strength, but technophiles will prefer the high-resolution touch screen over the Civic-derived i-MID in the ILX. And the CC's under-the-radar styling is innocuously appealing, ideal for those that want uptown suburban swank without brand-waving pretention.