Contrasting against the warm light brown rocks and dirt of the Arizona desert the midnight black asphalt winds like a mangled slinky higher and higher. Catching tourists in minivans and motorcycles that politely move aside when possible, I’m right on the bumper of an Acura TSX piloted by another automotive journalist.
|1. The ILX 2.4L is powered by the same engine as the Honda Civic Si, with 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque and comes exclusively with a 6-speed manual transmission.
2. All ILX models get reactive dampers, while the 2.4L gets larger 17-inch wheels and upgraded front brakes.
3. Inside, all ILX models get standard dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, Bluetooth and keyless access with a push button ignition while the 2.4L adds leather seats and a leather steering wheel.
4. Available as one model with no options the ILX 2.4L is priced at $29,200.
ANOTHER REDUNDANT ACURA?
My car is also an Acura. It’s also front-wheel drive. It’s also a 4-door. And it’s also powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. It’s not, however, another TSX. Rather, it’s the brand’s new ILX, which based on those similarities, raises concerns that it might be a redundant product in a brand lineup that already suffers from repetition and which desperately needs fresh new models.
Compared to the TSX, the Civic-based ILX is more compact. It’s also lighter by 400 lbs at just under 3,000 lbs, giving it an edge in terms of acceleration. Identical gear shifters (the ILX 2.4L is sold exclusively with a 6-speed manual) are well-weighted and smooth, with short shifts. The TSX unit sits higher up, however, delivering more of a sports car feel.
Despite weighing far less than it’s big brother, the ILX feels less agile. Much like the Civic on which it’s based, the softer setup of the ILX means body roll is noticeable – the sway bars are the same on the 2.4 as on the base car. Still, don’t be afraid of a little tipping, as the car then holds on and is quite controllable.
Rear drive cornering characteristics, for which the front-drive TSX is celebrated, are less obvious on the ILX. Perhaps more significant, though, is how much more aggressively the TSX turns in.
Delving further into reasons for this, an investigation of tire sizes and compounds reveals more mystery. Both cars use the same Michelin rubber and while the 225/50/17s of the TSX are a size wider, they’re also a higher profile than the 215/45/17s of the ILX.
The less-than-TSX driving dynamics of the ILX are compounded by remarkably poor visibility, severely limiting driver confidence. To achieve the more stylish look of the ILX, compared to the Civic, the roof dropped 1.5-inches. That might not matter too much if you’re 5’10” or below, but at the 6 foot mark there’s little headroom (a fact that’s exacerbated by the standard sunroof) and the roof overhang begins to encroach on sight lines. Again, if you sit lower in the seat, the A-pillar isn’t likely to get in your way, as it’s not terribly thick, but with my hair brushing the ceiling, the intersection between the A-pillar and the roof means a look to the left is like staring at a fabric-coated wall – making for a rather unnerving chase down the switchbacks.
On the plus side, (there is a plus side), the ILX does get a defeatable traction control system, unlike the VW Jetta GLI, allowing for some serious performance driving.
Absent, however, is a limited slip differential, a tool that on the Civic Si works so well that the traction and stability control systems only come on at the limits of adhesion. When asked why the grip-enhancer isn’t available on the ILX, senior product planner Lee DaSilva commented that it didn’t suit the car’s image. Acura wanted to ensure the ILX delivered a luxury driving experience that maintained the brand’s premium feel and it was determined that the mechanical and sometime jerky pulling feeling of the Civic’s LSD wouldn’t work.
So, why this tit-for-tat comparison between the ILX ad TSX: two similar, yet unique products? Apart from the fact that Acura was brazen (read crazy) enough to promote the comparo between the two by offering a TSX to drive, consumers will no doubt line them up as well, based purely on price. Pegged at $29,200 to start, the ILX is just $1,610 less than the TSX with a manual transmission.
And besides, there’s really no other rival for the ILX 2.4 right now. The Buick Verano has the premium (sort of) but not the sport. The same goes for the greenie-focused Lexus CT200h. Being a sedan and offering a more mature look, it even has an edge on the Audi A3. Still, about the only reason to buy the ILX 2.4 is that you feel the TSX is just too large of a car – which is highly unlikely.
Back to the Civic comparo, the ILX is more than just a rebadged Honda. It’s roughly two inches wider than that car. Looking entirely unique it gets Acura’s signature beak (though a moderately sized one). The lack of any visible exhaust pipe on this performance model is, however, odd. Still, it’s every bit an Acura outside and the interior is just as special.
A TRUE ACURA INSIDE
While cloth comes standard on base models, the 2.4-liter gets leather seats with synthetic leather side bolsters as well as a leather-coated steering wheel. Standard features across the ILX range include dual-zone climate control, iPod and USB hookups, Bluetooth, a sunroof, a 5-inch color LCD screen at the top of the dash and keyless access with a push button ignition. But perhaps more important than what you get is how you get it, with a genuine Acura feel to this entry-level product, there is nothing inside the cabin that will make you think you’re in a rebadged Civic.
And there shouldn’t be, for the $7,000 premium the car commands beyond what a Civic Si sedan is going for.
Of note, Acura won’t be offering the Tech Package on the 2.4-liter. When asked, Acura product planners said they wanted to keep the vehicle’s weight down although it seems more obvious that they don’t think the more performance-oriented buyer would go for a pricey Navi system. Perhaps they were also afraid of further ILX redundancy. Consequently, however, it’s yet another reason to pass by the ILX for a TSX.
So why buy the ILX 2.4L? There is one reason, but it doesn’t exist yet.
Acura will reportedly move the TSX further up-market and based on the brand’s new strategy (as we’ve seen with the 2013 RDX) is all-but certain to mix more water into the proverbial orange drink. By comparison to that car, the ILX will then look like a good sporting option. And cars like the current TSX will be relegated to the Honda museum – a place that, not coincidentally, also seems to be where Honda now keeps its soul.
Until your options are limited to the car dealership equivalent of Sophie’s Choice, the ILX 2.4-liter is a car that’s worse than redundant, it’s irrelevant.