Pros: Full feature set; available Hybrid version; engaging 2.4-liter engine; pleasantly premium interior

Cons: Lackluster 2.0-liter engine; the Hybrid is downright slow; 2.4-liter engine is manual only

What's New: The ILX is completely redesigned for 2013.

Introduction

The 2013 Acura ILX is that rarest of creatures: a compact economy sedan that's been converted into a luxury car.

But it won't be rare for much longer.

Thanks to a combination of tightening fuel economy regulations and consumer fuel-consciousness, downsizing is suddenly in vogue, even in the most indulgent vehicle segments. So Acura's transformation of the humble Honda Civic into the premium ILX is the sort of thing we'll be seeing frequently in years to come.

Let us say this upfront: If you pay close attention, you can feel the Civic in the ILX model's soul. For example, the base 2.0-liter engine is a bit more advanced than the Civic's standard motor. But at just 150 horsepower and a maximum of 35 miles per gallon, it's still 10 hp and a few mpg behind the workaday Ford Focus model's 2.0-liter unit. Moreover, the ILX model's optional 2.4-liter engine with the 6-speed manual transmission is pulled directly from the sporty Civic Si, except for that model's handling-enhancing limited-slip differential, which the ILX does not have. The Hybrid model's power system is another straight swap from the Civic.

But judging by the exterior and interior treatments, the transformation is a success. Outside, the ILX mostly pulls off the premium act, highlighted by a sleek nose that could teach the bigger TSX and TL sedans a thing or two about style. Inside, the material quality is leaps and bounds ahead of what you get in the Civic, and the optional leather seats are typical Acura: firm and wonderfully supportive. The available technology is likewise superior.

Overall, then, we think folks will quickly get accustomed to this new breed of luxury sedan, especially at the ILX model's enticing starting price of around $26,000. It may not have the commanding power and presence of past premium sedans, but it's a good fit for these fast-changing times.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Acura ILX sedan is offered in three basic versions that are classified by engine. There's the base 2.0-liter model, the gas/electric Hybrid and the sporty 2.4-liter.

Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth, a 5-in color display that controls many accessory functions (including a read-aloud SMS text feature) and a 6-speaker 160-watt sound system with iPod/USB connectivity and Pandora Internet radio.

The Premium Package (not available on the ILX Hybrid) adds 17-in alloy wheels, fog lights, xenon headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an 8-way power driver's seat, a rearview camera, an active sound cancellation system to reduce road noise and an upgraded 360-watt stereo system with a subwoofer.

The Technology Package tacks on the top-of-the-line ELS audio system and a number of other technologies, including an 8-in display and a hard-drive-based navigation system that offers 15 gigabytes of music storage.

In our interior evaluation, we agreed that the leather upholstery is the way to go. The hides bring enhanced seat comfort and support, and they give the interior that special something that makes you feel like you really did buy a premium vehicle.

The quality of the other materials is generally satisfactory, though if you poke around enough, you can find some hard plastics that betray those Civic roots.

In back, the ILX has plenty of room for a couple of adults, which shouldn't come as a surprise. The Civic has been similarly roomy for quite a few years. So, although this is a compact sedan, your rear passengers won't necessarily feel the pinch.

You will, however, notice space limitations in the trunk, where maximum cargo capacity is a modest 12.3 cu ft. That drops to 10 cu ft in the Hybrid.

Technology

The ILX offers plenty of standard high-tech features, including a 5-in display with SMS-reading capability, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity. So no ILX owner will be left wanting for gadgets. We do much prefer the optional navigation system's 8-in screen, though, as it's quite functional and also adds a clearly premium look to the interior. Also, don't leave the Acura dealership without trying the available ELS sound system. It's pretty impressive.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The base ILX gets a so-so 2.0-liter inline-4 engine with 150 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. This engine frankly doesn't feel that special given the ILX model's premium aspirations, but it gets the job done without too much fuss. The transmission is a 5-speed automatic. Most rivals offer six speeds by now, but again this unit does the job well enough. Fuel economy is 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway, which is average-minus these days for an economy sedan.

Optional is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Smooth and engaging, this is the little motor that could, and with good reason. It's plucked from the Civic Si sport sedan, even though the handy limited-slip differential (for better cornering traction) didn't make the transition. Oddly, the only transmission is the Civic Si's admittedly excellent 6-speed manual, which will naturally limit the ILX 2.4 model's appeal. Fuel economy is an underwhelming 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.

As for the Hybrid, it has Honda's 1.5-liter inline-4 with Integrated Motor Assist, a gas/electric combination that returns 39 mpg city/38 mpg hwy. Just don't expect much in the way of speed: Acceleration to 60 miles per hour takes over 10 seconds.

Safety

The ILX comes with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and a full roster of airbags. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it perfect Good marks across the board in crash tests, while the government gave it a top 5-star crash rating overall, including four stars in front impacts and five in side impacts.

Driving Impressions

The ILX is softer than the Civic, and that's a good thing. It has a ride quality that we're comfortable calling premium, even if you still feel more impacts than perhaps you're accustomed to in an Acura. Road noise, too, is thankfully reduced. Handling isn't a real highlight of this car (get a Civic Si if that's a concern of yours), but it's certainly secure.

AutoTrader Recommends

The base ILX is where it's at. For $25,900, you get a lot of standard kit and those premium looks to boot.

What do you think of the new Acura ILX? Let us know in the comments below. 

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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