While the Acura ILX is a forgettable car, thin competition makes the Hybrid version worth a look for anyone who values mileage over performance and lushness.
I touched briefly on the ILX Hybrid in my review of the 2013 ILX (see the review), and our editors have since gotten more time in the hybrid, so I will share more impressions here.
The group of high-efficiency small cars of a luxury persuasion is a relatively small one. With EPA-estimated mileage of 39/38/38 mpg city/highway/combined, the ILX Hybrid compares to the Lexus CT 200h (43/40/42 mpg) and, arguably, to the clean-diesel Audi A3 TDI (30/42/34 mpg). If you're not swayed by brand name alone, a loaded Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid competes on both capability and price, and is rated 42/48/45 mpg. See the four models compared.
While the slightly larger Acura TSX sedan curiously overlaps with the gas-only ILX, it doesn't come in hybrid form.
How it Drives
More experience with the ILX hybrid didn't endear us to the driving experience. None of the quirks of hybrids are popular among critical drivers, but they pass under the radar of the average motorist. (Were this not the case, hybrids wouldn't sell in the numbers they have.) The ILX Hybrid's mushy brake pedal, however, could frustrate the masses.
During passing maneuvers, the ILX Hybrid's use of a continuously variable automatic transmission gives it the typical motorboat effect, where acceleration lags and then builds more slowly than in a normal car, but it's not the worst example I've experienced. Ditto for the sometimes droning engine noise. Some of this behavior, and the associated noise, is evident in the CT 200h as well. Diesels tend to feel more natural, but come with their own distinctive sounds.
The noise level isn't as high as it is in the Honda Civic Hybrid on which this model is based (loosely, Acura insists), thanks to additional soundproofing in the Acura. Unfortunately, the hybrid drivetrain hardware is the same, so the car isn't quicker. (Luxury models are typically quicker than more modest vehicles.) The hybrid system is tuned differently, so the accelerator feels more responsive, but the power rating is essentially unchanged, at 111 horsepower. Between the more aggressive calibration and the ILX Hybrid's additional weight (around 100 pounds), the Acura's mileage is 6 mpg combined lower than the Civic Hybrid's.
The gas-only ILX's engines provide 150 or 201 horsepower, but they're rated just 28 and 25 mpg combined, respectively. The base ILX does zero to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, according to our friends at MotorWeek, so as you can imagine, the weaker Hybrid isn't exactly a rocket.
Though the ILX's ride quality isn't super soft, it's more comfortable than the Civic's, and the car shares the Honda's precise steering and able handling. The CT 200h is also considered sporty, though which of these two cars is sportier depends on whom you ask.
For a compact car, the ILX is reasonably accommodating. With 89 cubic feet of interior volume, it matches the A3, exceeds the CT 200h by 3 cubic feet and falls below the Jetta by 5 cubic feet. The Jetta has a good deal more legroom in the backseat, but the ILX makes good use of its available space, with enough backseat legroom for adults and a nearly flat floor that does wonders for the feeling of roominess.
For comparison, the TSX doesn't capitalize as much on its larger exterior as I'd expect. Mainly it gives wider hip and shoulder room. The two models' headroom and legroom measurements are mostly within a few tenths of an inch of each other.
Equipped with the Technology Package, our test car was optioned up with quality leather. Without this package you lose not just the leather, but also the heated front seats and driver's power adjustment. Rather than leatherette (imitation leather, which is standard on the CT 200h and Jetta Hybrid), the base ILX has cloth. You decide which you consider more valuable. The A3 TDI has leather standard.
The ILX improves markedly on the Civic's cabin in many ways, but the fairer comparison is against comparable luxury models. Here it does OK in some ways but less so in others. Many of the surfaces are in line with this price class, but I could do without the silvery plastic trim. The combination fuel-door and trunk-release lever on the floor isn't very classy. Typically when you pay this much for a car, you don't have to grab a dirt-covered handle to open the trunk from inside. All three of the other fuel misers mentioned above have power trunk and fuel-door releases.
I'm also down on the instrument panel, where the gauges are decent but not as classy as they could be, and the small display between them is too low-resolution for an upscale car. More-affordable cars have done away with the blocky pixels seen here, and the selectable screen with a green ball that grows, shrinks and changes hue to reflect how efficiently you're driving looks crude versus the Civic, where a similar light show is executed with more refinement and subtlety.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The ILX has a nice conventional gear selector, and everything that looks like a button is exactly that — a real, mechanical button rather than a touch-sensitive panel, the likes of which besmirch even more-expensive vehicles. Standard on all ILXs is a high-mounted 8-inch display that's controlled by a multifunction knob on the center control panel. The knob is within reach but not as comfortable to use as the type found farther back on a center console, where your arm naturally rests.
I was never a fan of Acura's knob-based control system, but now that I've seen how the company has executed its dual-screen approach in more recent models, I'm suddenly more approving of this one. I still think a touch-screen is the best way to go, but this knob setup is pretty easy to use once you figure it out.
The Hybrid model comes standard with a USB port, an analog auxiliary input, Bluetooth audio streaming, and compatibility with Pandora internet radio when paired to a compatible mobile device. Satellite radio, voice activation and navigation come in the Technology Package along with a premium stereo.
Cargo & Storage
Like most hybrid sedans, the ILX Hybrid sacrifices some trunk volume — more than 2 cubic feet — versus the gas-only version because of the hybrid battery pack. It also loses the folding backseat, which isn't uncommon among hybrid sedans, though the Jetta Hybrid sedan does retain a narrow pass-through. Even better, the CT 200h, being a hatchback, preserves the traditional folding-backseat functionality.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the ILX earned the top score of "good" in side, rear and roof-strength tests. It also scored "good" in the conventional moderate-overlap frontal test. The car hasn't been subjected to the stringent small-overlap test, in which few cars perform well. The Honda Civic is one of the exceptions, with a good small-overlap rating, but Acura says the ILX and current Civic are different enough under the skin that we can't assign the Honda's test score to the Acura.
The ILX earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The ILX has a standard backup camera but isn't long on active-safety features for when the car is in motion: It lacks blind spot, lane departure and frontal collision warning features. The CT 200h offers forward collision warning as an option.
Value in Its Class
The ILX Hybrid comes at a starting price of just under $30,000, including destination, and that's decent. The problem is that upgrading it at all requires a single option package of $5,700. The Lexus, by contrast, starts $3,165 higher but offers a healthy list of more affordable packages and stand-alone options.
The regular ILX hasn't set the sales charts on fire. Buick has sold almost two and a half times more Veranos so far this year. Perhaps the Verano has more momentum after a head start as a new 2012 model. Perhaps the ILX just doesn't compare or is too close to the TSX (whose sales have indeed plunged since the ILX came along). Though it isn't long on power, the ILX Hybrid might be the most attractive option in its niche, mainly because there aren't too many fuel-misers in the growing compact-luxury class.
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