2013 Acura ILX Review: Upscale Commuter, Defined

Jeff Perez

We drove the new Acura ILX, and if you’re not entirely sure what the ILX is, you’re not alone. It’s not the “big one,” nor the “middle one,” but rather, its Acura’s new compact luxury sedan. That seems to make more sense to people than telling them RLX or MDX or XXX, because like most other automakers (cough, Lincoln, cough), they think that luxury equates to random numerical and alphabetical symbols that normal people can’t actually interpret.

So we drove the 2013 ILX Premium. This model features a 2.4-liter VTEC engine and–wait for it–a standard manual transmission. There is an automatic option, but it will cost you in a big drop-off in power. Also, it cost just about $30K (or $29,200 if you want to be specific). But in the week we had it, here is what we learned:

Acura ILX 4
Acura ILX 4

The Better Civic?

Let’s be honest here– the ILX is a Civic (Si), wearing a dress and given a beak. You have to dig to find anything special about it other than the fact that it is more expensive. The six-speed manual transmission was a breath of fresh air, but again, the premium 2.4 option comes only with a manual transmission. And if you know anything about people who buy cars here in the US, especially low-range luxury sedans (which is surprisingly not a niche market, yet), the manual transmission is a fickle item. An Audi or BMW shopper might go for one in an A3 or 1 Series, respectively, but that’s about it.

However, for those who cannot row their own gearbox, Acura offers the 5-speed automatic, which comes exclusively with a 2.0-liter I4, making an anemic 150 horsepower. There is also the availability of the ILX Hybrid, which features a 1.5-liter gas engine, combined with an electric motor, sending power to the wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

But, thankfully, we had the manual, and the shifter had a connected feel, while the ride was responsive. This is because Acura employs its “Amplitude Reactive” dampers, combined with a steering shaft that is larger and more rigid. The result is ride characteristics that are a marked improvement over the Civic Si.

Acura ILX 2
Acura ILX 2

Toast. Fancy Toast.

Go to your nearest grocery store, and take a walk down the bread isle. There are lots of different options, and all are there for the same purpose- to nourish you. But they go about it in vastly different ways. The ILX? It’s plain white toast. It’s normal and edible and helps maintain my svelte figure. Toast is sort of like the Honda Civic Si: Functional, reliable, and stylish– but not too much. So, imagine that same toast, but pricier and in a nicer wrapper. Something like ‘Premium Toast,’ oh, sounds fancy. That is essentially the Acura ILX, fancy toast.

It’s functional, it’s decent looking, but words like ‘amazing’ and ‘glamorous’ have never once been uttered in reference to such a vehicle. The Acura signature beak on the front was the only thing made it somewhat more distinguishable. Even then, it still doesn’t stand out in a crowd.

Inside, it smacked of Honda engineering and design, which was a good thing. Digital screens and sharp angles from seemingly out of an 80s interpretation of what the future would be like. But actually pretty cool, at least more so than other “luxury” automakers, who try and fit ungodly amounts of fake wood trim to make it seem more refined. It seldom achieves that goal.

Acura ILX 5
Acura ILX 5

Finally, Technology That Works

We were incredibly surprised to find that Acura’s infotainment, navigation, bluetooth, etc. system worked, and it worked like it should work. We weren’t fussing around for 20 minutes trying to figure out what the hell does what and how to connect the phone to the Bluetooth hands-free system.

There was a thing that said “Bluetooth,” thus Bluetooth was connected, and did so every time we entered the car. There was another button that said “Navigation,” and whaddya know, it worked. Every time. And guess what, there were buttons, real buttons. No touchscreen air conditioning or volume. Just knobs that you turn and can actually control how they function. Would you believe it, things that actually worked in a luxury car without being overly complicated. Someone tell everyone else!

Acura ILX 6
Acura ILX 6

Overall: 79%

Wonder Bread-allusions aside, we actually liked the Acura ILX, more than expected. The technology worked, it drove well for a sedan, and the looks were nothing to gripe about. Perhaps the benefit of aesthetic ambiguity is a lack of detriment?

The ILX 2.4 Premium sits somewhere in the high ‘C’ grade, because it is slightly overpriced and because it comes only in a manual. Automatic drivers should not be penalized more than 50 horsepower (a 25% drop in power) for not being able to drive a stick shift. Valiant effort though, Acura.

For $30K, you might want to opt for an Audi A3 or even a Buick Regal over the spunky little ILX. It may be a new car, but already appears aging, and in desperate need of something to make it stand out in a crowded parking lot.

Acura ILX 3
Acura ILX 3

Make: Acura
Model: ILX
Engine: 2.4L i-VTEC
HP: 201

RELATED: See Photos of the 2013 Acura ILX

Image Credit: Jeff Perez for BoldRide