For luxury automakers, it seems the next big thing is -- ironically -- small cars. Premium brands are quickly warming up to the idea of well-equipped C-segment models in order to snag young, first-time luxury buyers; empty nesters on a downsizing spree; or some combination of the two. Acura’s no exception to this trend, and hopes to play in the growing segment with the new 2013 ILX sedan, which debuts this week at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.
Yes, we know; the TSX model line -- first added to Acura’s portfolio in late 2003 -- already serves as a smaller, more affordable gateway for the Acura brand. But it may not be small enough. As it’s essentially a rebadged version of the European Honda Accord, its size and shape is dictated first by the needs and wants of Europe, not those of Acura’s American dealers or customers. The ILX allows American Honda’s product planners to break free from those restraints.
Acura believes most ILX buyers will typically be younger, and place a considerable amount of weight on exterior design. The ILX isn’t a huge departure from Acura’s corporate design language, but the small car does still have a clean, if not somewhat sporty appearance. As previewed with the ILX concept from this year’s Detroit auto show, the ILX’s front fascia still boasts sharp lines and oddly folded edges, but its overall shape is far less aggressive and -- and potentially less divisive -- than that of the TSX. Although the lower air intakes are a little less aggressive than those on the concept, the production-ready ILX retains the concept's distinctive ZDX-link kink into the rear fenders. The cue looks odd in photos, but is somewhat more becoming when viewed in person.
Your reaction may vary, of course, but it’s hard to argue that sheetmetal does a good job of obscuring the ILX’s roots. The sedan shares its platform with the ninth-generation Honda Civic that launched in last year. Subsequently, its dimensions are also rather similar. The two share a 105.1-inch wheelbase, but the ILX is about 1.8 inches longer, 1.6 inches wider, and almost an inch shorter than a 2012 Civic sedan. Additionally, the ILX is more than six inches shorter, an inch and a half narrower, and two inches lower than Acura’s current “small” offering. As is the case on the Civic, the ILX continues to utilize a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link independent setup in back, but Acura adds its tuning along with what it calls amplitude reactive dampeners.
Two of the ILX’s three driveline choices are shared with the Civic, but the base combination -- which uses a 2.0-liter I-4 in lieu of the Civic’s 1.8-liter four -- is a little unique. Acura says this engine provides 150 hp at 6500 rpm, and 140 lb-ft at 4300 rpm, which is about 10 hp and 12 lb-ft more than the Civic’s smaller engine. Acura’s pairing this engine only with a five-speed automatic transmission, which should allow it to earn an EPA rating of 24/32 mpg (city/highway).
Buyers wanting a little more spice -- or, at the very least, a manual transmission -- can always opt for the larger 2.4-liter, DOHC I-4. As is the case in the Civic Si, this engine provides a solid 201 hp at a screaming 7000 rpm, and 170 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm. ILX models so equipped are fitted only with a six-speed manual transaxle. Provided you can keep your foot out of it, Acura predicts the pairing should earn a 20/29 mpg (city/highway) rating from the EPA.
Of course, true fuel misers need only look at the ILX Hybrid. It too shares its hybrid-electric driveline -- including the 1.5-liter I-4 and its 23-hp electric motor -- with the Civic, but Acura pledges the system is tuned a little more for the pursuit of performance than its Honda-sold counterpart. On paper, the ILX Hybrid seems to have a 1-hp gain over the Civic Hybrid (111 vs 110 hp), but its estimated EPA figures -- 35/38 mpg -- are way below the Civic’s 44/44 mpg rating.
But a small car isn’t a premium small car without a long list of upscale amenities. ILX models will be offered in multiple trim levels, but base cars should be equipped with keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a new infotainment system that incorporates Pandora Internet radio functionality and SMS text message integration as standard equipment. The optional Premium Package adds leather seating, heated front seats, an upgraded 360-watt audio system with an active noise cancellation function, and a rear-view camera. The top-end Technology Package throws in navigation, 15 gigabytes of on-board digital audio storage, and the ELS surround sound system found in other Acura models.
Pricing has yet to be formally announced, but we’re told the base model should start “well below $30,000” -- something the TSX doesn’t do, once destination charges are added to the window sticker. Given other competitors, like the Buick Verano, Audi A3, and Lexus CT200h, run the gamut between $23,000 and $29,000, we wouldn’t be surprised if the ILX slots in mid-way between those two price points.
Precisely how the premium small car segment will shake out in the near future remains to be seen, but the three flavors of the 2013 ILX suggest Acura has most of its bases covered. Should buyers in this growing niche trend towards frugality, performance, or fuel economy, there seems to be an Acura for that. Expect production to begin at Honda’s plant in Greenville, Indiana, this spring.
2013 Acura ILX
On-sale: Spring 2012
Base price: $25,000 (estimated)
Overall length: 179.1 in
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
Width: 70.6 in
Height: 55.6 in