Acura hosted a media event introducing both the 2013 ILX and RDX (impressions coming soon) out in Scottsdale, AZ last month, and we were lucky enough to have been invited. The event spanned 2 full days of driving and technical presentations, with one full day dedicated to each vehicle. We spent the first day of the event sampling the three key ILX variants, including a 2.0L with Technology Package, a 1.5 Hybrid with Technology package, and a 2.4L with Premium Package (the only configuration available with the 2.4L).
The drive loop that Acura had set up for the ILX was a little over 120 miles round trip. The majority of the drive loop was split between the 2.0 and 1.5 Hybrid models. During lunch, there were a pair of 2.4L 6MT models available for the journalists to drive on a short and windy loop near the lunch venue. The first car we drove was the 2.0L 5AT model with the Technology Package.
On paper, 10hp and 12lb-ft don't sound like much to offset a weight difference of nearly 200lbs compared to a Civic EX-L, but in the case of the ILX, those figures combined with the nature of the R20's power delivery makes enough of a difference to be noticeable. The 2.0 delivers more low and midrange torque than the R18, and this added zest helps considerably with the widely spaced gearing in the 5-speed automatic. Acura claims the 2.0L ILX offers acceleration on par with the 2.4 5AT TSX, and from a seat of the pants perspective, the claim doesn't seem too far fetched, though the torquier and more powerful TSX would likely feel less burdened by a full passenger load than the 2.0L ILX.
The ILX's 2.0L engine is a good match with the standard 5-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are smooth and quick, and the engine feels responsive and lively under foot, providing good torque at low and midrange rpms, and it revs willingly up to its 6700rpm redline. Acura has also done a good job managing NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) from this powertrain, though it doesn't quite match the silky pull of the TSX's K24. With only a 10hp advantage over the 1.8L Civic, I wasn't anticipating blistering acceleration from the ILX 2.0, but it does seem to be a fair bit livelier than the relative numbers would suggest. What impressed me the most about this 2.0L powertrain was the combination of responsiveness and the (reported) fuel economy. On our ~60 mile drive in the 2.0L ILX, according to the trip computer we easily averaged well over 35mpg without really trying.
My seat time in the 2.4L model was limited (as was everybody else's), but I still feel like got a pretty good sense of what the car was about. It actually feels quite a bit like a 2012 Si sedan, only with a more muted intake and exhaust note, and (of course) no limited-slip-differential. Even though the ILX is a bit heavier than the Si, acceleration (at least in the first 2 gears; I didn't get a chance to go much faster than 60mph) seemed quite similar. While the K24 feels like the wrong engine for the Si, it's a much better match to the "near premium" character of the ILX. Compared to the Si, the ILX is less about clipping apexes and more about low exertion motoring, so having a powertrain that delivers buckets of grunt in the lower rev ranges makes sense, especially in the type of gridlock encountered on a daily commute.
Acura designed the ILX 2.4's 6-speed shifter to be a little stiffer in operation than the Si's, but with the exact same throw, and I think it's exactly what the doctor ordered. The added heft returns the quality feel that the 2012 Civic Si's shifter just narrowly misses.
Similarly, while the chassis in the 2012 Si feels a bit too soft for its mission, it feels like a much better match to the more luxury-oriented ILX. There's a bit of body roll, as well as some disappointing understeer, but both of these are manageable and fall well within the context of a "near premium" sedan. Like the 2012 Si, this ILX reminds me a bit of the V6 Accord coupe in that it doesn't have the best cornering speed on tight, twisty roads but it manages to compensate with its torque. This is in contrast to past Hondas such as the 8th generation Civic Si, Acura RSX, and Honda S2000 which attacked the twisties with high cornering speeds and high rpm power.
Acura seems to be missing the boat by not offering the 2.4L model with an automatic transmission. The R20 is fine for the entry ILX at a price of around $25k, but with the R20 Technology surging past $32k (with the destination fee), the 150hp 2.0L engine is a pretty tough sell.
ILX 1.5 Hybrid CVT
With a $34,400 sticker price (+destination) tagged onto the ILX Hybrid with Technology Package, it's hard to imagine too many people getting hyped up about this particular configuration. This is a fully loaded hybrid, but we're still talking about a vehicle with 111hp and 16" wheels. With the exception of some chrome lower grill trim, a 'Hybrid' badge, and a lip spoiler on the decklid, the ILX Hybrid looks almost exactly like the base model. Inside the ILX Hybrid, there's an ECON switch and the instrument panel MID gets a few extra screens. As with all previous Honda Hybrids, the ILX Hybrid loses the folding rear seat that's found in the 2.0 and 2.4L versions. This ILX Hybrid is about as inconspicuous as Hybrids get.
With a peak of 111hp on tap, acceleration in the ILX Hybrid is probably best described as "adequate". Honda has programmed the ILX Hybrid's throttle, CVT transmission, and IMA assist mapping to give the ILX a more responsive feel than the 2012 Civic Hybrid, and the more aggressive tuning does make the ILX more enjoyable to drive as well as more refined than the Civic Hybrid. Imagine if the Civic Hybrid offered a "Sport" mode (as in the CR-Z) - the "normal" mode of the ILX Hybrid feels about like that. Like the CR-Z, this gives the illusion of more power than is actually there. Sadly, it is only an illusion, as that snappy part throttle feel doesn't translate into a proportionate level of thrust at full throttle. The mantra seems to be "Part throttle is the new full throttle". The ILX also offers an "Econ" mode. Even in the "Econ" mode, the ILX didn't feel too flat, certainly not as lifeless as the CR-Z or Civic Hybrid in the same mode. For those who are interested in maximizing fuel economy, the MID has a special driving coach screen which uses a glowing green orb to indicate optimal driving behavior. This orb shrinks to a single dot in the center of the display when the driving is the most menacing towards fuel economy. According to the ILX's trip computer, the "real world" fuel economy of the ILX Hybrid may end up bettering the EPA numbers. We had little trouble achieving an average of over 43mpg.
The ILX offers a good level of refinement along with a responsive driving feel. Acura's engineers worked hard to improve the feel of the Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering (EPS). The ILX's steering system actually borrows ideas from the system that was engineered for Acura's stillborn FR (front-engine, rear drive) flagship project. To achieve the goals of responsive handling and high quality steering feel, Acura employed a number of upgrades compared to the Civic's steering system. First of all, the main steering shaft was upgraded from 22mm in diameter to 30mm. Acura also specified a forged yoke joint and a more precise machining process for the gears on the rack to improve initial response, linearity, and to provide a more direct feel. The steering ratio is also 6.8% quicker than the 2012 Civic's steering ratio. The end result is an overall improvement in every aspect, though the most noticeable improvement seems to come in the quality of the feel.
For the most part, road and wind noise in the ILX have been kept pretty well in check. For this, credit goes to a number of things, but foremost, Acura has engineered an extremely rigid body structure for the ILX, utilizing high strength steel and aluminum bits (hood and bumper beams) to maximize stiffness while minimizing body weight. On top of that, compared to the Civic the ILX uses a sound insulated windshield, thicker side glass, thicker carpeting, more body insulation pieces, improved floor melt sheets and revised engine and transmission mounts. The result is a quieter, more refined drive than the Civic.
Overall, the ILX offers an interesting option for those who prefer the driving feel and lower operating costs of smaller vehicles, yet desire more premium features than are offered on cars like the Honda Civic. With three different powertrains offered, the ILX attempts to cover the spectrum of "youthful" to "mature" audiences, but does it manage to hit the bullseye on any of them? Time will reveal the answer to this, but for now our guess is that the semi-attractive pricing of the base 2.0L model will keep it in the hunt, while the pricing of the remainder of the ILX lineup may have a sobering effect on sales. The lack of any real powertrain differentiation seems like it could ultimately be an issue.
Targets and Pricing
Acura is hoping to sell around 40000 ILXs annually, and will be assembling the ILX here in the States at their new Greensburg, Indiana plant. The onsale date for the ILX is set for May 25, 2012.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, vehicle options and destination charge of $895.00. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2013 EPA mileage estimates. Use for comparison purposes only. Your actual mileage will vary depending on how you drive and maintain your vehicle.