Though it has wandered through a handful of brand identities and images over the past decade, Acura continues to reinvent itself. This time, the next new thing is a hybrid using Acura's first ever implementation of Honda's familiar hybrid system (on a modified Civic platform) in the 2013 ILX.
Entry level, luxury, and hybrid are three words that aren't often said together, so the ILX comes out of the gate with a unique angle. The question, as ever, is whether it can live up to its promise. The answer, for the most part, is yes.
Also available as a 2.0-liter or 2.4-liter four-cylinder in varying degrees of sport trim, the ILX most likely to interest the gas mileage-conscious shopper is the ILX Hybrid. The Hybrid uses a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an integrated 23-horsepower electric motor, a small lithium-ion battery pack, and a combined output of 111 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque.
Those aren't particularly impressive figures in terms of power, but given the ILX's 2,900-3,000 pound weight range (depending on trim) it seems like it ought to be enough to move it around in traffic right? It is--mostly--but at times, the ILX feels very, very sluggish, particularly with the ECON mode enabled, which widens the idle-stop window, retards the throttle response, and minimizes climate control loads.
Unfortunately, those times are often when least desired, like when pulling out onto a busy street with traffic flowing at 50 mph.
Add in the slight delay of re-firing the engine with the automatic idle stop (stop-start system), the very conservative throttle map, and the CVT's (continuously variable transmission) slight hesitation from a stop, and you have a recipe for some pulse-raising moments--when all you want to do is go about your day.
That said, the other 95 percent of the time, the ILX is essentially a transparently hybrid near-luxury sedan. The accommodations are nice, if not quite plush, with nice leathers, quality plastics, and good build quality--small gaps, no rattles or squeaks, and a general sense of solidity. It's a nice little car.
The ILX even handles pretty well, its inherent tendency toward lightness and a comfortable yet well-damped suspension delivering driving feel that's more engaging than many other affordable hybrids.
Unfortunately, the ILX Hybrid doesn't quite deliver on the gas mileage front, which is where a slightly underpowered, not-quite-luxury hybrid sedan really needs to step up and show its real worth. The EPA estimates the Hybrid's fuel economy at 39 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined.
CARB states will recognize it as an AT-PZEV vehicle. In the real world, 38 mpg is achievable, but so is 32 mpg, and so is 40 mpg.
It all depends on how you're driving it, where you're driving it, and when you're driving it, of course. Spend plenty of time in slowish traffic with enough acceleration/deceleration to keep the hybrid drive system charged and happy, and you'll easily meet the EPA estimates (or exceed them).
Hold a constant 80 mph on the freeway and you won't likely see 35 mpg, much less 38 mpg. But this is par for the course with any car--the problem is we're working in a range that's about 10 mpg below what it should be.
A nicely equipped Toyota Prius can offer much of the near-luxury feel and equipment of the ILX, for about the same price, while getting 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway per the EPA. The Sonata Hybrid offers much better performance, a style some may find preferable to the ILX's, and very similar fuel economy of 35/40 mpg and 37 mpg combined. The list goes on.
But perhaps it's the blend of compromises in the ILX that makes it interesting; it's not as efficient as the Prius or as sporty as the Sonata Hybrid, but it's a notch more luxurious than either, for about the same price. It's gas mileage won't set hybrid-lovers' hearts aflutter, but it won't empty their wallets, either.
The 2013 Acura ILX is, ultimately, a compromised car in not just one aspect, but many. Whether those compromises work for your purposes depends on how much efficiency you're willing to sacrifice for comfort, how much acceleration and passing power your driving environment requires, and what your idea of image and aesthetics finds attractive.
For us, however, the ILX Hybrid leaves a bit too much on the table without offering enough value in other areas.
The 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid carries a base price of $28,900 (plus a mandatory $895 delivery fee), and the ILX Hybrid with Technology Package starts at $34,400--putting the latter vehicle at the very top of the ILX price range.