A second look at a favourite from last year
I am a sucker for good shifter and clutch interfaces, so when a car gets this item right, everything else just seems to get better.
Canada has often seen some experimentation on Honda’s part when compared to the US market. When the four-door version of the popular Integra ceased availability north of the border, Honda Canada had to do something to fill the hole in their lineup. The original Acura 1.6EL was not much more than a dressed-up Civic EX, but with the usual Canadian preference for smaller cars, the EL sold like hotcakes. It offered more luxurious features not available on the standard Civic, such as leather seating, power sunroof, rear disc brakes, and a VTEC-equipped version of the Civic engine. The front and rear ends of the EL were different enough to provide the public with something new. The EL was eventually replaced by the Acura CSX, which kept the 8th-generation Civic underpinnings, but applied the same old EL philosophy of better equipment and engines.
Acura Canada saw healthy sales of the 1.6EL, updated 1.7EL, and CSX – all Canadian exclusives. When it came time to replace the CSX, Acura USA had a change of heart and decided to offer the newest entry-level offering to the American population as well. I was handed the keys to the new 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic.
This is the same car we reviewed late last year. My colleague did seem to like it, but couldn’t overlook the (similar sized) elephant in the room: the Honda Civic Si. There are a few things that differentiate these two cars, but the verdict still comes down to the price difference between the two. I prefer the buttoned-down look of the ILX, but it is almost too conservative. There is literally no badging anywhere on the ILX that would suggest that you opted for the better powertrain. I do, however, like Acura’s latest implementation of their “Power Plenum” front grille. The grille isn’t overly large, and nicely flows into the headlights. The rear of the car doesn’t quite follow the same styling cues first seen on the bigger TL – it is again conservative with no contrasting silver touches to match the front grille. ILX Dynamic rides on 215-section tires on 17” wheels. The tires, Michelin Pilot HX MXM4s (a long-time Acura favourite), do a decent job at city driving, but I feel they increase overall road noise on the highway.
Moving to the inside, drivers familiar with the eight-generation and ninth-generation Civic will instantly notice the missing (and slightly polarizing) dual-layer instrument cluster, changed out for something much more traditional: two circular gauges containing the tachometer and speedometer readouts. The interior styling is again fairly conservative, with soft-touch plastics covering most of the touch points. Mounted up top and centre is the main information display. Audio, climate control, and system configuration are all controlled by the large circular dial below. One item missing on the 2013 ILX Dynamic is optional navigation. Even though you are paying for the top-level trim package, navigation is simply not available with the Dynamic trim. Luckily, Acura has rectified this slight oversight for 2014. One interesting item about the interior: the rear seat folds down in one piece – no 60/40 split here.
The ILX, being linked to the standard Civic, also inherits its powertrains. My particular Dynamic tester was equipped with the same 2.4L inline-four from the Civic, producing 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. In typical Honda fashion, this motor really loves to zing right up to the redline, moving you forward with good authority. When flogging the motor hard, the exhaust note kicks up and produces a great deep sound, without sounding like a soggy noodle. Honda purists all over the internet bemoaned the replacement of the rev-happier K20 2.0L inline-four from the previous generation Civic Si and CSX Type-S. As fun as a high-revving Honda mill can be, the increased displacement provided by the updated K24 in-line four brings much-needed torque to the ILX. More of that power is made more accessible, which brings more benefits to more people who don’t necessarily wring out their powertrains all the time. The ILX Dynamic pairs up this motor up with a six-speed manual, but disappointingly, not with the helical limited-slip differential featured on the Civic Si. I never found power delivery to be an issue with the ILX, but having the limited-slip differential helps in poor weather conditions and when driving enthusiastically. No matter – the important interface that is the shifter and clutch are so buttery excellent that you almost forget about the very-short “close-ratio” gearing Acura has set up with the ILX. Your hands and feet are very busy in this car, but with such a good interface to use, the short gearing is good news to me, most of the time. One benefit of the short gearing: downshifting is not always necessary to get back into the powerband.
If you put those busy hands and feet to good use, the ILX Dynamic will manage 9.8L/100km in the city, 6.5L/100km on the highway, and 8.3L/100km. I managed an indicated 7.5L/100km with a heavy bias towards highway driving on my week-long test. Skip-shifting from fourth to sixth gear is recommended for keeping revs down, and not at all impossible thanks to the short gearing (again). Premium fuel is required.
The 2013 Acura ILX Dynamic is priced at $31,990, minus the navigation that you can’t get for this model year. The elephant in the room mentioned earlier, the Civic Si, always looms in the background. Honda asks $26,250 for the Civic Si, and you get all the important bits from the ILX Dynamic, and then some. You do lose out on leather seating surfaces, HID low-beam headlamps, and some different styling cues (entirely subjective), but you gain the useful limited-slip differential as well as navigation. The Dynamic is a good value because it delivers an excellent driving experience (the all-important driver’s interface that Honda always gets right), most of the luxuries, good build quality, all in a manageable city-friendly size. It just so happens that the Civic Si, to me, is an even better value because you can get your hands on a similar package for about five grand less with a few compromises. The large rear decklid spoiler can be a small deterrent, but at least it is easily removed for a cleaner look. Stepping away from the Honda fold is the similarly-sized Buick Verano Turbo. Also drawing its lineage from the more-pedestrian Chevrolet Cruze, Buick injected it with way more power (250hp!) and dramatically increased the luxury quotient. It is quite a bit faster in a straight line and does extremely well in the noise-vibration-harshness department – something Honda has never excelled at. On the other hand, the added weight negatively affects handling and fuel efficiency compared to the ILX. The Buick’s shifter and clutch interface can’t compare to Honda’s excellence in this area.
My week with the Acura ILX was a fun one. I am a sucker for good shifter and clutch interfaces, so when a car gets this item right, everything else just seems to get better. The small and premium version of the Civic has always sold in good numbers up here in Canada where the EL and CSX enjoyed exclusive status for many years. I expect the strong sales to continue, mainly to those who don’t quite fancy the younger boy-racer style of cars like the Civic Si. The conservative styling of the ILX certainly will not alienate the traditional customer base that this car is aimed squarely at, and for this reason, shoppers should put the ILX close to the top of their list.
2013 Acura ILX Dynamic Gallery