Thursday, March 14, 2013

Test Drive: 2nd Look at the 2013 Acura ILX

A couple of months ago, we test drove the 2.4L version of the Acura ILX. Fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission, that car offered an odd blend of decent power with mediocre steering feel and a middle of the road suspension that had us questioning whether or not it was worth the money over the latest Honda Civic Si. More recently, we had the opportunity to spend some time with its 2.0L-powered sibling for an extended test drive and we wanted to briefly revisit our thoughts on the ILX.


In our original test drive, the two redeeming features of the ILX were the 2.4L motor's excellent balance between mid-range punch and top-end power. However, when outfitted with the 2.0L motor, the car is very much a drag. This severely overtaxed motor is mated to a transmission that shifts well enough, but seems to do nothing for helping the motor find its power band. When first depressing the gas, the car steps away from a stop with reasonable aplomb, only to almost immediately feel like someone tied a ton of lead to the rear bumper. The drop-off in power is dramatic and sudden, making the car feel sleepier than a Calculus text book at midnight. Honestly, Acura launching this car without the direct-injection Earth Dreams engines might have been a tremendous mistake. While I understand that the smaller 2.0L motor does get excellent fuel economy, the way it detracts from the driving experience almost entirely negates any goodwill created by the extra MPGs.

The other area where the ILX continues to feel poorly thought out is the steering, which combines a terrible lack of on-center feeling with an over-boosted sensation when turned that all sense of precision and steering feel are lost. This may not be a big deal to the potential target market that Acura is seeking, which is largely younger buyers who grew up playing video games and are so enamored with the technology options that they are willing to overlook the mediocre driving dynamics, but after another go at this car, I really need to question this decision. What is the point of having this as an entry-level car if it offers a driving feel on par with a Toyota? Why not aspire to inspire these new buyers to want to enjoy the drive?

Finally, the interior is still very much a mixed bag, feeling nice in some ways, but cheap in others. Probably the biggest disappointment is the lack of lumbar adjustment of any kind on the seats, which makes them terribly uncomfortable to sit in, unlike the seats in nearly every other Acura product, which have all fit me perfectly. Cheapening out on some of these features may help keep the car in the target price range, but do nothing to get buyers to enjoy the car. Also, a major pet peeve of mine is to offer electric seat adjustment without seat position memory. If someone readjusts the seat to their liking, it can take forever to finally get the seat to be just right again. I would rather have manual adjustments in this case since at least I can easily reset everything to my liking.

However, it is not all bad. In fact, there are a number of small details that the ILX offers that I feel Acura has been remiss in taking so long to add to their vehicles. For instance, having the doors unlock when you pull on the door handles while the car is stopped. Such a minor thing can add so much convenience that I have to wonder why Acura had not been doing this for the last decade. Also, the improved MID display in the instrument cluster looks to be slightly higher resolution and have a smoother transition between screens while the 5-inch display screen for the radio are welcome additions that Acura really needed to finally add to their vehicles. And while I have always been somewhat ambivalent towards keyless ignition systems, the inclusion of if here addresses a rather serious omission when compared with competitors in the class. None of these things necessarily cures any of the car's major shortcomings, but at the very least gets Acura closer to feeling respectable in comparison to the competition.

In my mind, the ILX remains a mediocre and uninspired attempt to bring younger buyers into the Acura brand. While it certainly offers a more luxury feel than the Civic and a very high level of technology goodies for the price, it lacks many characteristics that make it a fun driver's car, and thus remains relegated to the also-ran pile for the meantime. Hopefully, with the MMC, Acura will see fit to offer a truly proper driver-focused version that will harken back to the Integra GSR and offer a wonderfully engaging driving experience  in conjunction with that slight dabble of luxury that created so much interest in the Acura brand in the late 1990s.

Thanks to Bernardi Acura of Boston for providing the vehicle for this revisit.