Thursday, May 30, 2013

Drawing Board: Acura ILX

As car enthusiasts, we tend to look at a car's features and specifications and wonder what could be done to a car to make it better. Sure, there are some cars out there that do not need much improvement, but there are also cars that have a lot of potential, but are handicapped by poor planning, lack of clear direction, or are simply trying too hard to be too many things to too many people. Starting with this post, we will start a series of "what if" articles, focusing on what changes we would like to see on certain cars that we believe would make the car perform and sell better.

Our first specimen for this series is the Acura ILX.


The Acura ILX was developed to offer a less expensive entry point into Acura's luxury brand. Wanting to keep the cost of entry down, Acura based the ILX off of the current 9th generation Honda Civic's chassis, though completely reshaped the body to offer a more upscale design that would meet the desires of its buyers. The end result was a car that has decent looks, modest performance, but suffered from packaging issues that make it difficult to recommend. As most of you may remember, our review of the 2013 Acura ILX was not exactly favorable. The car's anemic base engine (the 2.0-liter R20 inline-4 cylinder), old school five-speed automatic transmission, and odd packaging choices left us feeling cold, and the car's year-to-date sales numbers seem to indicate that buyers agree with us.

Not too long ago though, Acura announced some changes for the 2014 model year ILX, which can be viewed here. Most of the changes made were to the base model, including now standard 17" alloy wheels, leather seats, power driver's seat, and multi-angle rear view camera. All of these changes add an additional $1,000 to the MSRP. Changes to the hybrid model of the ILX have not yet been announced, hopefully because Honda finally got it through their thick skulls the the Civic Hybrid's weak powertrain was a lousy choice for the ILX.

What has not changed though, is the base model's weak engine, or the fact that you cannot get the tech package (which includes Acura's ELS sound system and navigation system) on the 2.4 liter, 6-speed manual version. Oddly enough, Acura in Canada offers the ILX 2.4 with the tech package, bundled as the "Dynamic" package. Why is it the Canadians get the option of the tech package on their ILX 2.4, but those of us in America are left out?

What We Want to See

The Acura ILX has a lot of potential to be a good car, and Acura really needs this car to hit a home-run, especially with the introduction of the Mercedes CLA class and the new Audi A3. Acura's two biggest problems with the ILX are the engine choices and the way the car is packaged. As it currently stands, a 2013 Honda Civic Si is a far better buy than an ILX 2.4 since with the Civic, you basically get all the same equipment as the ILX 2.4 with the addition of a navigation system, a limited slip differential, and a few extra inches of room. If Acura wants enthusiasts like us to stop comparing the ILX to the Civic, here is what I think they need to do:

1. Change the engine in the base model.

Since the ILX's introduction, the enthusiast crowd has been saying that the R20's paltry 150 horsepower would make the ILX feel anemic, and multiple car reviews have said as such. What Acura should have done in the first place was offer the 201 horsepower, 2.4 liter engine as the base engine, coupled with a choice of six-speed automatic or six-speed manual. If that engine would not meet the fuel economy figures Acura wanted for the base model ILX, then Honda has another perfectly good 2.4 liter engine to turn to in the form of the "Earth Dreams" 2.4 liter in the new 2013 Honda Accord. The 189 horsepower, 182 lb./ft. 2.4 liter engine from the 2013 Accord Sport would fit this car well as a base engine, especially given the low curb weight. Coupled with a six-speed manual or automatic, this engine would not only achieve exceptional gas mileage figures, but also help fix the base model's problem of being too slow.

2. Offer a true performance model.

The 2.4 liter, six-speed manual equipped ILX performs decently, but has the potential to perform much better than it currently does. If Acura wants the ILX to be able to hold its own against the likes of the Mercedes CLA and Audi A3, it needs to perform better than just "decent." A true "Type-S" model of the ILX would go a long way in not only improving the performance of the car, but also improve the image of the car. West Brother envisions a true "Type-S" variant of the ILX with a 2.2 liter 240-horsepower/180 lb-ft naturally aspirated inline-four cylinder (something like the Mugen 2.2 liter from the Mugen Civic Type R) mated to a choice of six-speed manual with limited slip differential or 6 speed dual clutch transmission, 18" alloy wheels shod with at least 235mm width performance all-season or summer tires, and a sport tuned suspension similar to that of the third generation TL Type-S. Some other performance changes that would be nice include better brakes (the four piston Brembo brakes from the TL Type-S would be nice), and a subtle but functional aero kit of some sort.

East Brother would like to see the revival of the 2.3-liter turbo-charged motor that was originally introduced in the first-generation RDX. The turbocharger, in conjunction with the direct-injection recently introduced on the Earth Dreams line of motors could provide a huge boost in performance and potentially offer acceptable fuel economy on par with the competitors. Keep the sweet shifting 6-speed manual transmission and offer a dual-clutch 7-speed as an option, both with a standard limited slip differential. Heftier brakes, black chrome trim, wider wheels/tires, tauter suspension, and a pair of sporty Recaro sourced bucket seats are a minimum requirement and a rework of the electronic power steering algorithm to provide greater feedback and much less boost to ensure precise well weighted steering.

3. Change the trim levels.

In the past, Acura has always done fairly well by including two to three trim levels on each of their cars. With the 2014 ILX, Acura is headed in the right direction by offering more quality features on the base model of the ILX. Unfortunately, Acura left the ILX 2.4 out in the dust, leaving it only available with the premium package. If the Canadians can have a tech package (in the form of the "Dynamic" package) with their ILX 2.4, how come us Americans can not? With my proposed base engine model change, the current set of trim levels available for the base model are perfectly fine. If a Type-S variant were to become available, a Type-S would be a good place to start with features from the premium package, with a tech package Type-S available for those that want the 10 speaker ELS sound system and Navigation.

4. Bring back the exhaust!

For whatever reason, Acura has begun to remove their exposed exhaust pipes from the car. This trend started with the ILX and has carried over into the recently introduced RLX. If there was one thing I always appreciated about Acura's vehicles, especially their current crop of vehicles, it is that their exhaust pipes always blended well with the car and offered an aggressive flair to an otherwise conservative looking car. If Honda is willing to do it with the Accord, then why not the ILX? If they will not do it on the base model car, at least provide a set of aggressive looking exhaust tips for the performance model!

The ILX has the potential to be a true spiritual successor to the venerable Integra. The platform, while not ideal, is well engineered and with a little effort focused in the right areas, the car could offer exceptional performance and bring the performance crowd back to the Acura brand. With the upcoming release of a new NSX, Acura has the opportunity to rekindle a performance oriented image, something that has been lost in recent years.

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