If you’re looking for a premium Japanese hybrid without forking over mega bucks, Acura and Lexus both have relatively reasonable products to offer. New for 2013, Acura can offer the ILX Hybrid, a Civic-based gas sipper relying on Honda’s hopelessly outdated Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. Lexus brings its CT200h to the bargaining table. It’s a hatchback built on the same platform as a Toyota Corolla with Prius hybrid bits to boot.
They’re both called hybrids, but beside the Lexus, Honda’s system feels disappointingly unsophisticated. IMA-equipped vehicles can’t move without using their gasoline engines and that tend to play hell with real-world fuel economy. Toyota’s hybrid system is old, but it can move the car gasless for short distances.
The advertised fuel consumption rates are attainable in both, but the ILX is more sensitive to careless driver input. In fact, the ILX actually beat the advertised 38 mpg average under Feature’s Editor Sami Haj-Assaad’s stewardship, although I’ve found the car averaging around 29 mpg in the city in past tests. Bear in mind, I got that number while demanding hard acceleration from a dead stop only to brake a few hundred yards later on a repeat basis.
You’re probably a calmer driver than I and subsequently can expect better gas mileage from the ILX Hybrid. That said, the CT200h is advertised to return an average 42 mpg and even my lead feet can corroborate.
Both Lexus and Acura would have you believe these cars are fun to drive. Lexus sells the CT200h with its “F Sport” package and Acura just flat-out calls the ILX Hybrid “sporty.” It was with a thick streak of skepticism that I went about evaluating the respective assertions.
No surprises here; the idea of bickering with Ben Bernanke over economic minutia seems exhilarating beside driving either of these cars. On the other hand, you might be surprised to learn that the ILX Hybrid, which uses a 1.5-liter four-cylinder actually feels more powerful than the Lexus and its 1.8-liter mini-mill.
Like putting a few chili flakes on your pizza slice, there’s a hint of hustle here but no real heat. Both offer some sort of “sport” mode that encourages higher rpm through their respective CVTs and neither are pleasant to use.
Taxed as both cars feel, the Lexus cabin remains relatively quiet. Meanwhile, the ILX is especially noisy.
In almost every regard, Lexus emphasizes cabin comfort and Acura puts more stock in sporty handling; misplaced as that term really is. The CT200h feels heavier to steer and more sheltered from traffic noise. Steering in the ILX is light would emphasize nimble handling if it weren’t for the car’s predisposition for body roll.
Both feel fairly planted, but Acura’s poorly-bolstered seats will let you slide around while navigating a highway clover leaf. The Lexus buckets feel pleasantly snug.
Neither of these cars look menacing, but there’s no arguing that the Lexus carries a more aggressive style. Even without the most current iteration of Lexus design language, there’s a slightly pinched grille with a tougher look than the Acura musters. The optional F Sport package further amplifies its “all-bark-no-bite” guise.[vs-comparsion-table]
Both are handsome in their own way. If only that were also true on the inside.
A split second is all it takes to realize the difference in cabin quality between these two. The Lexus front seats are well bolstered while the Acura buckets have almost none. That quality disparity persists through every point you care to compare.
It isn’t that the ILX is particularly bad, but the CT200h is an awful lot better. Passenger space is sparing in both, but hatchback proportions lend an extra inch of back seat headroom to the Lexus. Then again, the ILX has roughly one more inch of second-row knee space.
Hybrids typically sacrifice cargo space to make room for their battery. Again, the hatchback is undeniably more practical. The base ILX Hybrid offers 10 cubic feet of truck space and models with the “tech” package have a scant 9.8. There’s half-again as much junk-carrying capacity in Lexus’ corner.
Base suggested pricing seems reasonable for both cars, but you’ll pay dearly for fancy optional features regardless of which you choose. Acura’s option starts at just under $30,000, but climbs to $35,295 when equipped with the “tech” package. That includes an improved sound system, navigation, leather seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver an auto-dimming rearview mirror and several other features. If there’s one thing that’s especially refreshing about the ILX in general, it’s how simple the packaging is.
Lexus starts the CT200h at almost $33,000. The F Sport package equipped on the AutoGuide test car costs about $5,200 more, and the most expensive options package costs almost $9,800. Fully loaded, the car comes in at $42,730. That price includes navigation with traffic and weather updates, a premium stereo, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out with automatic downward tilting in reverse. It also includes a pre-collision system, adaptive cruise control, auto-leveling headlights and parking assistance. Even still, the idea of paying almost 10 grand for that is downright silly.
The ILX Hybrid is cheaper and it feels that way. If you’re really strapped for cash, the Honda Civic Hybrid will offer you much the same experience without a vanity tax. But if you can afford to choose between the two, there’s really no contest. Lexus builds a much better “premium” hybrid.
2013 Lexus CT200h
2013 Acura ILX Hybrid