Oh how we love firsts: Our first steps, our first car, our first time having… well never mind that.
With the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid, we celebrate two milestones. “ILX” is a brand-new nameplate for Honda’s luxury division and it’s also the first hybrid the Acura brand has ever offered.
And while it shares much with its corporate cousin, the Honda Civic, the ILX Hybrid burst onto the scene with a smarter drivetrain, a more stylish exterior, and greater level of sophistication both in regards to its onboard tech and aesthetically enhanced interior.
Will Acura’s newest baby become the luxury segment’s equivalent to the Honda Civic? Or will it suffer the same identity crisis many Acuras of late have undergone?
The tech option
Most automakers have turned to cramming their hybrid models with all the latest tech features (especially in the luxury segment) by default. Meaning, you don’t get the option to opt out, you just automatically get to pay more for the hybrid drivetrain and all the extra goodies thrown in as “standard.”
Acura has driven down a slightly different road with the ILX, offering both a base hybrid model ($28,900) and an upgraded version that’s equipped with a technology package ($34,000).
Our review car had the tech package and sported a decent number of welcome features that certainly add up to make the 2013 ILX Hybrid a strong choice for drivers hoping to get a large serving of digital goodness to go along with that fuel-sipping, earth-saving drivetrain.
The ILX Hybrid prominently sports a hard drive-based navigation system that projects out of an eight-inch display recessed atop the center stack.
In addition to touchscreen controls, which prove only mildly reliable, the nav system can also be controlled by Acura’s voice recognition technology. Voice recognition is fairly intuitive and is operated by a pressing the “talk” button on the steering wheel. Here, we were able to enter in addresses hands-free, and the system even allows for voice control over climate and audio controls.
Audio controls are particularly nifty and allowed us to easily connect our iPod to the car and search for music by song, artist, album, or genre.
The navigation system also pipes real-time weather and traffic conditions straight to the driver. Traffic information is aggregated every 90 seconds by Nokia-owned NAVTEQ, which itself gathers the information from a multitude of sources, including transportation departments and highway patrol incident reports.
Both weather and traffic reports are bundle free of charge for 90 days with the ILX’s XM subscription service, however these can be subscribed to a la carte as well.
We only had a few major beefs with Acura’s systems during testing.
First, the voice recognition technology is a little lackluster. It works well most of the time, but had trouble understanding our prompts on many occasions.
Second, Acura’s interface simply doesn’t look premium enough. Were we to blindfold you and throw (or gently place) you into a Honda, followed by an Acura, with just the interface to look at, you’d find it difficult to distinguish between the two, which is pretty unacceptable when making the jump to a premium brand.
Admittedly, we’re more picky when it comes to these things but why else buy a luxury car if not to get that ego boost that comes along with it? Were he alive, we’re sure Freud would have a great deal to say about this.
Finally, Acura’s interface designers continue to implement a crowded button layout around a central controller dial.
Even as techies, we had trouble getting comfortable with the confusing layout so we imagine drivers stepping into ILX for the first time will have the same issues. And while it’s admittedly more intimidating at first, it did become more intuitive as time progressed. However, it’s still feels extremely cluttered.
It was also hard to gauge button prompts. For example, the rearview camera provides multiple viewing angles, which we appreciated. These include a normal, wide angle, and top-down view, but it took some time to figure out we actually had to press down on the selector dial to switch between them. We imagine others will have the same problem so we’d like to see Acura make these types of interface complications less of an issue in the future.
The ILX tech package includes Acura’s ELS premium sound system. Ten speakers are littered throughout the cabin, including one per door, two tweeters, one center mid-range, two rear surround, and an eight-inch subwoofer. A 410-watt amplifier is also on board and the system can even manage high-resolution audio playback of up to 96 kHz.
We don’t have anything negative to say about the ELS system. Sound quality is sharp with rich tones and deep basses standing out in particular. And we didn’t have to tinker too much with the settings either. The ELS system even sports a built-in 15GB hard drive (about 3,600 songs worth) so you can load your own media directly to the car, complete with shuffle and playlist creation options, too.
Hear a song you love on the radio but can’t whip out your phone in time to Shazam it? A Note function that ties into the car’s XM Radio allows you to record a 10-second snippet to listen to and tag later.
Hope you (really) like the color black
What truly distinguishes an Acura from the Civic isn’t just the badge on the car but the overall quality and design of its interior.
Here the ILX boasts a sharply-penned design that checks all the appropriate boxes in order to provide a pleasant, stylish cabin. We just hope you like really like black, because other than tan colored “Parchment”, it’s your only option.
Material quality is good, with plenty of soft plastics on board. It’s certainly not the most luxurious cabin but the standard perforated leather seats certainly help matters and the overall design layout is sharp and sensible, with a handy hidden compartment located beneath the center dash, two cupholders, and a wide enough armrest to support both passenger and driver. Did we mention it was all black?
Up front, eight-way driver and four-way passenger adjustable power seats help make finding a comfortable position a cinch, while heated front seats ensure tushes stay toasty on chilly mornings.
Backseat brigadiers don’t have much room to complain though — literally. The second row keeps the same entry-level luxury aesthetic but doesn’t offer much in the way of shoulder, leg, and waist room.
And while the standard ILX boasts a modest 12.4 cubic feet or cargo space, our Hybrid model measures in with a less than stellar 10 cubic feet due to its onboard lithium-ion battery pack soaking up some of the space.
Handsome, but still too humble
Outside, there isn’t much to distinguish the ILX Hybrid with the non-hybrid models save for two blue hybrid badges to the side and rear of the vehicle.
Overall, the design is handsome if not a little unassuming. It’s not as dramatic or refined as we’d come to expect from an entry-level luxury car but we’ll take it all the same. And to be fair, it’s not the weakest-looking model in Acura’s lineup – that honor goes to the TSX’s annoying mug.
It’s as if the ILX showed up to a soirée dressed all “business casual” when everyone else is rocking a suit or cocktail dress (people still wear cocktail dresses, right?). The ILX’s exterior doesn’t look bad but it doesn’t exactly stand out either.
We’d really like to see some more drama from Acura’s design team but we’ve been barking up this tree to Honda and Acura for some time now and we’ve all but given up.
A Honda hybrid at heart
The 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid is outfitted with a 1.5-liter, eight-valve i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, which produces a modest 111 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which we’ll go into more depth about in a bit.
Because of its hybrid setup, the ILX also features a lithium-ion powered electric motor that churns out a further 23hp and 78 lb-ft of torque.
Unlike other hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and even the Honda Civic Hybrid, the ILX is unable to operate on electricity alone; however it does employ a regenerative braking system that traps the kinetic energy created during braking and converts it to electricity in order to give the lithium-ion battery a little more zap.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because the ILX shares the same powertrain and transmission as the Civic Hybrid (surprise!) and thus incorporates Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system.
Honda’s IMA technology has been around for what seems like an eternity (since 1999 to be precise), debuting in the original Insight. IMA essentially acts as a kick-starter (not the kind that asks for money) for the gasoline engine as well as an engine balancer. Because inline four-cylinders have a tendency to be asymmetrical, the IMA helps offset unwanted vibrations.
Because the bulk of an engine’s power is typically reserved for hard acceleration and on steep inclines, the ILX’s electric motor makes an appearance when the ILX needs a boost. It’ll also kick in while traveling at steady cruising speeds but its primary design is to alleviate the workload for the gasoline engine.
The incorporation of Honda’s IMA system also allows for a start-stop feature. Pressing on the brake and bringing the car to a complete stop shuts off the engine, while releasing the brake starts it back up again.
Two things to mention here: We appreciate the fuel-saving intentions behind such a system, but the fact that the ILX does not allow us to disable the engine start-stop feature completely feels like a large oversight.
This fuel-saving gimmick is made even worse by the fact that Acura’s system is more sensitive than a teenager getting de-friended on Facebook.
The engine turning back on took a little longer than it should and left us to feel stranded for a second when we needed to get up and go with some quickness. And there were multiple instances when the feature kicked in too early, particularly when sizing up a parking space and trying to squeeze in with caution.
Apparently, Acura’s designers are a lot braver than we are and while its sensitivity calibration is certainly not a dealbreaker, it does become a nuisance.
Of course the whole purpose of a hybrid is improved fuel economy. Part of this endeavor is aided by vehicles ECON mode, a large (surprisingly not green) button located to the left of the steering wheel.
When engaged, ECON mode helps improve the ILX Hybrid’s fuel efficiency by greatly limiting throttle response, requiring drivers to press harder on the pedal to push it off the line. It also widens the operating window of the automatic start-stop feature and keeps acceleration in check when engaging the ILX’s cruise control function.
Interestingly, ECON Mode also minimizes the activation of the air conditioning compressors, so the threshold for maintaining a preset cabin temperature when automatic climate control is turned on is slightly increased.
Sadly, the ILX doesn’t return the same numbers as its working-class Honda cousin. Indeed, it certainly puts up some crowd-pleasing numbers (39 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 38 mpg combined) but the ILX can’t match the Civic Hybrid’s 44 mpg in all categories.
The engine note is also an issue. It sounded perfectly balanced during the bulk of our drives but thrust down on the gas and prepares to hear the CVT wheeze like a chain-smoking asthmatic attempting a marathon.
A great first go
They say you rarely get it right the first time but despite the fact that ILX Hybrid is the first hybrid-electric vehicle ever produced by Acura, it’s not a bad start.
The underpinnings are based on the current Civic so the ride character is inherently smooth — if a little numb. With Macpherson struts up front and a multilink setup in the back the Acura admirably conducts itself during corners and soaks up road discrepancies well, but the CVT makes its feel more anemic than animated when called on in a pinch.
Balance in the ride is maintained well during corners and despite its front-wheel drive setup the ILX keeps its grip on the road, although the lack of side bolstering in the seats lets drivers and passengers drift around a bit during cornering.
Dropping into S mode and utilizing the ILX’s paddle shifters help shake things up — but again the CVT puts a damper on the fun.
We’ve already written in detail about the benefits of CVT transmissions but suffice it to say the use of it in the ILX greatly restricts the feel and excitement of Acura’s first hybrid. It’s meant to optimize the fuel economy but in truth it also minimizes excitement. In an era where fuel economy now seems to trump fun, that amounts to something both good – and sort of bad.
And truthfully, that’s ok. The ILX Hybrid isn’t meant for Le Mans but it will get you to Lamaze class comfortably. Remember: just keep breathing.
The 2013 ILX Hybrid is a mixed bag and with a number of alternatives on the market, it’s hardly the top choice for a hybrid – luxury or not.
It doesn’t achieve the gas mileage of the 2013 Civic Hybrid but it is a step up in styling, luxury, and tech features. It also costs a great deal more: a fully loaded Civic Hybrid will price in at just under $30,000.
There is also a fully loaded Prius V to consider, which after all gussied-up with every option available (including a more inclusive safety tech package) stickers for $35,860. It, too, sports better fuel economy, netting crazy numbers like 51 mpg in the city, 48 mpg on the highway, and 50 combined. Well, it is a Prius.
And if you’re resolute in sticking with a luxury brand, the 2013 Lexus CT 200h is also a viable option, although prepare to pay even more for that luxury lineage.
Still, if what you desire is a smooth, even-handed ride then the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid won’t disappoint. It will happily escort you on your daily commute with minimal fuss. It’s just a shame it’s not a wee bit livelier and more economical.
- Nimble handling, especially during hard corners
- Ride quality is smooth and comfortable
- Interior design is (mostly) sensible
- Lacking a number of safety tech features
- Fuel economy isn’t as efficient as some of the competition
- A little overpriced for what you get