Our own Evan McCausland wrote favorably about his first drive of the Acura ILX months ago, but to me his report was just white noise, and I had not been able to consider any aspect of the new small sedan other than its exterior styling, which I find uninspiring. So it was with low expectations that I slid behind the wheel of the ILX yesterday evening. What a pleasant surprise: the ILX drives incredibly well. It's easy to forget how nice it is to be in a proper little sport sedan with a really good manual gear shifter and nice clutch pedal takeup. All the right nuances are there.
I love the ergonomically friendly interior. (Really, has Acura ever done a bad interior? I can't think of one.) Still, Acura is never quite sure of itself, so at the top of the car's center stack of instruments, they've put in big lettering, "PREMIUM AUDIO SYSTEM." Really, Acura, show some restraint. And get your designers to work on the mid-cycle exterior freshening of the ILX, to make it look sportier and more distinctive.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
My brief first impressions of the Acura ILX are pretty positive -- it's a nice, comfortable, quick, rev-happy car with a fabulous gearbox and attractive styling (well, I like it more than Joe does, at least). The numb, uncommunicative steering, however, is a major downer.
I haven't yet driven the new Honda Civic Si, but this car felt credibly like an Acura. (The ILX and the Civic do share their basic architectures and powertrains.)
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Acura did a great job bringing the ILX 2.4 to market for just over $30k with the manual transmission. The normally aspirated 2.4-liter I-4 sounds surprisingly aggressive during normal driving and the clutch and shifter work together brilliantly. Even a quick jaunt to the store for the last few dinner ingredients becomes something worth remembering. High-revving engines without forced induction are quickly becoming extinct, which made each run to the redline that much more enjoyable in this Acura.
The ILX could use a touch more confidence in corners, so I'd be shopping for slightly stickier rubber if I purchased one. I really like the ride quality on the 17-inch wheels, so I'd just look for something a little more aggressive that might provide the confident feel that's missing from this car in some situations. I quickly checked www.TireRack.com, Automobile Magazine's official tire and wheel supplier, and discovered 35 different summer tire choices (not including track-only tires) in the stock 215/45 R17 size. If you have an extra $400-600, there are several great performance rubber choices for the ILX.
Perhaps the lack of an available navigation system will deter some potential buyers from the manual transmission model, but the ILX offers every other option I would personally want in a small luxury car. In fact, the size of the ILX is one of its best attributes. The car is easy to park, nimble on a tight road, and there's plenty of room inside for four adults. Fuel economy isn't stellar at 31 mpg highway, but my mixed driving easily matched or exceeded the EPA combined rating of 25 mpg despite my frequent excursions past 7000 rpm. Unless you're dead-set on rear-wheel drive, this is easily a frontrunner in the $30k sporty luxury sedan class.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The Acura brand earned its way into our collective enthusiast consciousness by building nicely upgraded little Hondas that drove with surprising zest. After a long drought, we again have exactly that kind of car in the ILX 2.4. The Acura treatment basically amends everything we've complained about in the new Civic. The Honda's bland styling gives way to substantial, premium-looking sheetmetal that, as others have noted, looks much better in person than in pictures. The fact that many will mistake it for a larger and more expensive TSX or TL will only be a benefit in this segment. The interior is Acura at its best. The materials quality is beyond reproach, and the ergonomics are such that you can climb in and adjust all the controls without looking. I also continue to admire Honda/Acura for maintaining reasonably low beltlines and easy-to-see-around roof pillars.
Acura did not try to refine the Civic Si's 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and we're better off for it. The engine winds up quickly, begging you to rev past 6000 rpm. (I still miss the even higher-revving character of the 2.0-liter four-cylinders that powered the long-gone RSX Type S and the last-generation Civic Si.) The clutch and shifter are perfect, providing a mix of precision, smoothness, and mechanical texture that no one other than Honda seems to be able to master. The steering, as in the larger TL SH-AWD, is too light and numb--the sole letdown in a fun package.
To be clear, it's not as if the ILX is some kind of breakthrough. It's just a good little luxury car that you want to drive quickly. In other words, it's an Acura. Welcome back.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I was living in Florida when Honda introduced its luxury marque, Acura, in 1986. At the time, I had a friend who was looking for a new car, and he was having trouble deciding whether to by an Integra or a Chevy Beretta (!?). He wisely chose the Integra, which turned out to be a very capable small car that was fun to drive but also had an upmarket demeanor that was lacking in the Honda Civic and Accord of the day.
The same can be said of today's ILX. While today's Civic and Accord are not exactly downmarket, this ILX benefits from the extra attention that Acura has given it. The interior has higher-quality materials and great ergonomics, and the exterior styling is attractive if not head turning. The manual transmission in this car is Honda at its best--short, precise throws and a perfectly modulated clutch. The infotainment screen is small but well placed, high on the dash but with a deep hood to protect it from any glare. The climate controls are dead simple to use - a knob for temperature and toggle switches for fan speed and mode. The driver's seat is firm and comfortable, the steering wheel is covered with a high-quality leather that feels pleasant, and the metal-clad clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals look upmarket.
The 201-hp engine isn't overly powerful, but you can make the most of it with the manual transmission, and the ILX doesn't suffer from torque steer the way the Civic Si can. All in all, this ILX strikes me as a very good buy for $30,000.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor