Here’s a thought: Why would you buy a $28,000 Acura ILX, rather than an $18,000 Honda Civic?
They’re basically the same car.
That’s what ran through my head yesterday as it bumped the ceiling of the Acura ILX I was driving through Bushwick in Brooklyn. It’s what I thought about last week whenever my knee rammed into the steering column while driving around Manhattan. It’s what I thought about this morning as I fumbled through the computer system trying to find a decent radio system to drown out traffic noise.
Cars should be evaluated by how well they fulfill their reason for existence. To be honest, I’m not sure if this one does. (I say this as someone who owned and loved a white 1997 Acura Legend coupe in college—especially the brick-sized mobile phone, with curlicue cord attached, in the center console.)
Honda created Acura as a so-called luxury option for people loyal to the Honda family who could afford to spend more than $20,000 on a sedan. Acura competes against Toyota’s Lexus marque.
But at this point, the Civic is just better. It’s more honest about what it’s supposed to be: a humble, effective, efficient, and affordable daily driver developed for mass consumption.
The ILX is incrementally quicker to 60 miles per hour than the Civic, and its styling on such small things as door handles and wheel rims looks slightly more refined. But what you’re really getting when you buy the Acura ILX is a $30,000 luxury car that isn’t really a luxury.
And that’s no way to spend your money.
What You Get
Consider this: The Acura ILX sedan has a 201-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with front wheel drive. It has an eight-speed transmission and seating for five. Its interior trim and accoutrements are minimal in number and flimsy to the touch. Environmental Protection Administration ratings list it with a combined 29 miles per gallon. The car does not come with a manual-drive option.
The Honda Civic sedan has a 143-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. It has a five-speed transmission and seating for five. Its interior trim and accouterments are minimal in number and flimsy to the touch. EPA ratings list it with a combined 31mpg on its manual-drive variant.
The biggest difference between the two is that one has an inflated sense of self, and one does not.
This does not bode well for Honda. You see, over the past few years Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have started offering sedans inching down toward the $30,000 range. They’re making such things as the A3, 2-Series, and CLA Class, each of which is dramatically better in performance, comfort, technology, safety, and reliability than this ILX. Plus, each comes with the crucial (for luxury buyers) cachet of German automotive luxury.
As production on those German models continues to blossom, Honda’s special nameplate faces the danger of falling irretrievably out of contention.
So I could end this right here by telling you go buy a Civic and leave it at that.
But this is a car review, and details are important.
Here are a few good things about the 2015 ILX: It comes with modern headlamps, sharply angled taillights, and door handles pointed artistically at the ends. Its ($1,700) alloy wheels form delicate silver blades that fall attractively flat against their plating. The ($1,550) Aero Kit adds a spoiler. Each produces a pleasant, if cosmetic, effect.
How It Drives
The ILX also drives better than its previous iteration, despite the fact that it outweighs it by more than 100 pounds. Still, its personality on the road remains anemic, as if the car is dragging itself forward across the cement, rather than propelling itself from a core powered with the energy of an eager heart and strong haunches. It is sufficient but lackluster, with the demeanor of call-center automaton.
When dealing with such a timid character, the natural inclination is to shore up with upgrades. You know, add on the sport seats, track suspension, and racing exhaust packages that make vehicles such as Subarus rally-car stars.
But I wish there were more to choose from here. Even if you wanted to spend all your money on upgrades, Acura makes it tough. You can splurge on cargo mats or LED fog lights or some extra side molding along the body. But you can’t choose a hybrid version of this car, or one with remote start, advanced night vision, or a real performance package.
The (optional) sport pedals seem patently out of place in such a mild-mannered machine. But it’s the leather-trimmed seats that really embody its spirit—and therefore, its failure: They lack meaningful design and are stingily accented with the sub-par trappings of ubiquitous mass luxury. That's nothing special at all.