PHOENIX -- After leaving the entry-luxury fray when it killed the RSX hatchback in 2006, Acura has returned with the 2013 ILX sedan.
Like the RSX -- and the Integra that preceded it -- the ILX shares its bones with the Honda Civic. This isn't the first luxury car to take its underpinnings from a mass-market cousin. But while the interiors of the Civic and the ILX are suitably different, the driving dynamics of the Acura feel too similar to the Civic.
The basics: The base 2.0-liter engine -- exclusive to the ILX -- can manage 60 mph from a stop in 9.6 seconds, a bit poky for this segment. It comes with a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It has quicker shift response than Acura's slightly larger TSX, but with reduced shift shock.
For those who want more ILX performance, the 201-hp 2.4-liter four-banger from the Civic Si also is available, but only with a six-speed stick. And for fuel misers, the ILX offers an Acura version of the Civic Hybrid that allows for cruising in EV mode between 10 and 45 mph. The ILX Hybrid gets an estimated 39 mpg city/38 highway.
The base ILX 2.0-liter edition is priced from $26,795, including destination charges. The upgraded 2.4-liter version starts at $30,095, while the ILX Hybrid starts at $29,795.
Notable features: The ILX has the same suspension setup as the Civic, but with slightly different geometry. The shocks have additional damping for a smoother ride. Also, the steering ratio is quicker than the Civic's for more immediate response. The diameter of the ILX steering shaft is thicker than the Civic's, reducing steering wheel vibrations.
The interior fittings, switchgear and materials have nothing in common with the Civic, which is a relief. Active noise control uses the audio speakers to limit road noise in the cabin.
Standard features include keyless access, moonroof, 16-inch wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, speed-sensing windshield wipers, multi-information display, one-touch turn signals, and multiview rearview camera. There's also a CD stereo with USB connection, Pandora Internet radio and SMS text messaging.
What Acura says: "We originally thought of developing and styling the car to be low and wide with a coupe flavor," said Takeshi Nakamura, ILX large project leader. "But young customers use the back seat for business and in other ways. There's a real convenience of having four doors."
Compromises and shortcomings: Headroom is tight for a six-footer. The base seats are cloth, not faux leather. As for the suspension, the emphasis is more on smooth ride than precision handling -- another way of saying that the "I" in ILX does not stand for "Integra."
The market: The ILX goes on sale May 22. Acura hopes to sell 40,000 U.S. units annually. Acura predicts the "near-premium" segment will grow from 76,000 units this year to 165,500 in 2017 as Gen Y buyers want a taste of luxury on a budget.
The ILX is produced on the same line as the Civic, in Greensburg, Ind. Originally it was to be built in Sayama, Japan. But last year's earthquake and tsunami -- not to mention the strong yen -- spurred Honda to change plans. The ILX also will be sold in Canada, Mexico and China.
The skinny: The base engine, which will account for most ILX sales, is underpowered for an entry-luxury vehicle. The exterior styling is bland, and too close to the down-market Hyundai Elantra. Second-row seating is tight, but not as bad as the Buick Verano. And it's a $7,000 price bump from the Civic from which it is derived. Could be a tough sell against the Verano, Lexus CT 200h and Audi A3.