Acura ILX Concept at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show

  • Looks like: Acura isn't giving up on the “shield” grille  
  • Defining characteristics: A Civic-based Acura featuring the brand's first hybrid option 
  • Ridiculous features: Its Civic foundation could prove to be a credibility issue  
  • Chance of being mass-produced: 100%

In its heyday, Acura effectively straddled the line between entry-level luxury (a la Infiniti or Lexus) and premium (a la Volvo or Buick). It's a fine line, but when the carmaker ditched its Honda Civic-based RSX for the (unique to America) TSX in the middle of the last decade, you can argue that the brand finally landed solely in the entry-luxury category. It may be just coincidence, but since the changeover, Acura sales have dwindled steadily, now down about 60% from their peak in 2005.

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In that respect, think of the Acura ILX Concept as an admission that the company's previous marketing direction had led the brand astray. Instead of reaching for the luxury mantle, the ILX compact, a Civic-based model, marks the return of premium (not luxury) car making to at least part of the Acura stable. The compact will be priced “well below $30,000,” according to Acura, and it will augment, not replace, the TSX, which currently starts just south of $30,000. The ILX's likeliest competitors include the Volvo C30, Audi A3 and, most directly, the new Buick Verano.

The ILX models will come with three engine options: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 1.5-liter hybrid powertrain, Acura's first hybrid offering. While some variations of these powertrains can be found on the Civic, Civic Hybrid and TSX, we expect the ILX to get the updated “Earth Dreams” variants, which improve power and fuel efficiency.

The ILX will have a six-speed manual transmission with the 2.4-liter engine. There's no mention of other transmissions, though the hybrid trim will likely stick with the Civic Hybrid's continuously variable automatic transmission. At 179 inches long, the ILX is a tad longer than the Civic, though its wheelbase is identical at 105 inches. There's no word on what type of differentiation will happen underneath the ILX's skin — to the engine cradle or suspension, for instance — to make sure it doesn't step on the Civics' toes, or vice versa.

Besides the different powertrain options, the ILX will also distinguish itself from its Civic brethren with more luxurious amenities and tech wizardry. Features include a passive entry system, push-button start and smartphone tethering to access Pandora internet radio and text messaging.

The model will go into production this spring at Honda's Greensburg, Ind., plant, which currently builds just the Civic. Pictures of the interior weren't made available, but check back for our impressions from the show floor.

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