Thursday, September 6, 2012

Acura ILX - Return of the Integra

The Acura Integra was introduced in 1986 as the smaller of the two models from Honda’s brand new upscale division. It was popular through three generations until 2001, when it became the RSX (sold in coupe form only) as part of Acura’s change to boring alphabetical names. The RSX disappeared after 2006, when Acura changed its marketing strategy.

However, with fuel mileage and sales concerns, a compact Acura with a new name (starting with “I”) is once again on sale, slotting in under the slightly larger and more powerful TSX.

As before, the new car is based on the current Honda Civic, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. Every line inside and out is different—only the basic platform is shared. Here’s how the new ILX stacks up against the last of the Integras and its current TSX sibling:

2013 Acura ILX
2,959 lb
2.0 liter
2001 Acura Integra**
2,643 lb
1.8 liter
2013 Acura TSX
3,470 lb
2.4 liter
*Base model.
**Sedan. Coupe had a slightly shorter length and wheelbase.

The numbers show that the ILX is slightly larger and heavier than the Integra of a decade ago, but is still significantly smaller and lighter than the TSX.

The current Civic, while hailed for its spaciousness, design and efficiency, has been criticized for the perceived down-market look and feel of its interior. The ILX, however, has the nicely finished dash, doors and seats of its larger brethren. That includes the gleaming gray sweep on the dash trim and the finely detailed instrument panel. The leather seats are comfy, too, and the overall feel of the controls is solid and precise. The leather-wrapped steering wheel bristles with audio and cruise control buttons, silvery accents and a nice chrome logo in the center.

The 2.0-liter engine provides enough pep for this car, and I never felt it lag. Of course, the automatic took care of business for me—and that’s the only gearbox you can get with this engine. In the olden days, a manual transmission was standard with an Integra, but today, you need to buy the 2.4-liter model to shift for yourself. 

To be fair, this likely reflects the market. For example, my older son, who chose an RSX as his first new car, opted for the automatic. Today in the U.S., manual shifting is reserved for true enthusiasts, such as my wife, who proudly flaunts a manual six-speed in her car.

The ILX’s 2.0-liter engine earns laudable EPA scores for mileage – 24 City, 35 Highway and 28 Average. I got 24.7 mpg, driving mostly in town. 

The ILX’s styling is well proportioned and uses Acura’s revised grille design, but it isn’t groundbreaking. There’s an interesting meeting of lines below the rear side window that borrows from the oddball ZDX hatchback. The front and rear light units are carefully chiseled, and the undulating concave and convex side surfaces give tribute to BMWs of the recent past. My Polished Metal Metallic (gray) tester looked well dressed wherever we went, but no-one asked me what it was.

There are two ways to dress up the ILX: the Premium and Technology packages. The Premium Package adds leather seats, a powerful and fully-featured audio system, and other goodies, such as power and heated seats and a rear view camera. The Technology package gives you navigation along with the premium audio, including high-tech benefits such as real-time traffic and weather information.

The quality is higher than a Civic, but so is the price. Honda Civic sedan prices, with automatic transmission, begin at $17,645 while the entry ILX is $26,795. Even the Sporty Civic Si runs just $24,845. There is definitely a price jump to go for the Acura. When you add the Premium or Technology package to the ILX it crosses the $30,000 mark in a hurry. My ILX with both packages came to $32,295.

What’s the competition for the ILX? Lexus and Infiniti don’t offer anything to match it. The Infiniti G20 from the 1990s might compare, but it’s gone. The Audi A3, perhaps? It’s a five-door wagon, but a sedan is supposed to be on the way. It’s slightly smaller than the ILX, but hits the $30,000 price point and has nearly identical engine power. Cadillac has its new ATS sedan, but it’s more expensive—and its 2.0-liter engine is turbocharged. Lincoln has nothing. The Volvo S40 is gone. So, Acura now appears to have the compact entry luxury segment to itself!

This upscale compact, assembled in Greensburg, Indiana with a Japanese engine and transmission, is a nice car, if a bit pricey, and offers exclusivity.


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