This Is Not The Acura You're Looking For

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid - front three-quarter view, silver

Mid-level luxury brands have always had to do a bit of leg work to distance themselves from their more common cousins. Thanks to generation after generation of pervasive badge engineering (much of it from the Big Three), buyers can't be blamed for looking at brands like Buick, Lincoln, Infiniti, Lexus and yes, Acura as tarted up versions of Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Honda products. For much of its lifetime in the automotive landscape, however, Acura has excelled at putting distance between its offerings and that of its parent company thanks to cars with superior driving dynamics, quieter cabins and clean, attractive aesthetics.

Yes, outliers and dull spots can be found in the company's recent track record, but by and large, Acura products remain situated well above the Honda rabble. When the brand announced it was getting serious about the luxury small car game with the ILX, those of us with a set of the company's keys in our past couldn't help but envision an honest successor to the long-dead Integra. Turns out, that wasn't what Acura had in mind.

As you've likely heard by now, the ILX is the least premium vehicle to wear the Acura badge in some years, but where the standard car falls flat, the ILX Hybrid may have room to excel. Hybrid buyers are typically willing to sacrifice some measure of handling, cabin refinement and performance for fuel economy, and that seemingly lends this model a real shot at giving hybrid hardware from Lexus a run for its money.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid side view2013 Acura ILX Hybrid front view2013 Acura ILX Hybrid rear view

Acura kept hybrid badging to a minimum with a simple pair of emblems on each fender paired with another on the trunk lid.

From the outside, the ILX Hybrid hides its Civic roots well enough. That's thanks to an attractive take on Acura's corporate fascia. With the shield grille somewhat tamed and an upkick along the lower valance, the vehicle's nose is fairly attractive. Swept-back projector headlamp arrays pull the eye toward the sedan's side, where a character line wanders from just behind the front wheel well to just north of the taillamps. Acura also kept hybrid badging to a minimum with a simple pair of emblems on each fender paired with another on the trunk lid. Visually, they're the only indication this is anything other than a standard ILX.

Well, those and the tiny 16-inch alloy wheels on our tester. We haven't seen rollers this petite on a luxury car since velour was a regular contestant on option sheets. The sizable sidewalls on the 205/55 R16 all-season tires certainly don't do anything to make the car look premium, though we don't have any harsh criticism for the split five-spoke wheel design.

From the rear, it's clear Acura designers have finally begun to move back to basics, choosing clean lines and attractive taillamps over an abundance of angles. The look won't stand out in a crowd as particularly attractive or memorable, but it won't send the contents of your stomach scrambling for air, either. Given creations like the ZDX, we're grateful for small mercies.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid grille2013 Acura ILX Hybrid headlight2013 Acura ILX Hybrid wheel2013 Acura ILX Hybrid taillight

The cabin is choked with materials that are unbecoming of a vehicle with a price tag over $35k.

But it's indoors where the ILX Hybrid begins to show its common blood lines. The cabin is choked with materials that are unbecoming of a vehicle with a price tag over $35,000. While the steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever receive nice leather and the dash is attractive enough, everything onboard simply feels half a step below the rest of the Acura line – it doesn't feel cheap so much as thoroughly Honda. The leather seats are comfortable enough, but seem to be wrapped in the same hide found in a top-trim Accord. That's fine for a budget midsizer, but it's more problematic for a sedan with an Acura badge on the nose.

The good news is that there's plenty of space inside. The ILX Hybrid delivers ample head- and legroom for front-seat passengers, and the rear bench serves up 34.1 inches of rear legroom. That's over an inch more than the comparably priced 2013 Lexus CT 200h hatchback, though the Lexus comes out on top in rear headroom. Still, with 35.9 inches worth of space for lofty hair, the ILX Hybrid isn't exactly cramped. Where the model does suffer, though, is cargo capacity. Engineers have trimmed the trunk capacity from 12.4 cubic feet to 10 cubes to make room for the battery pack, and that number drops even further with the addition of the optional Technology Package. The extra gear cuts trunk space to 9.8 cubic feet. For comparison's sake, that's nearly five cubic feet less than a pint-sized Nissan Versa.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid interior2013 Acura ILX Hybrid front seats2013 Acura ILX Hybrid gauges2013 Acura ILX Hybrid shifter

Our best seat-of-the-pants guess puts the machine at a little over 10 seconds to 60 mph.

But the ILX Hybrid has larger concerns. While this is the first hybrid ever sold under the Acura banner, Honda has plenty of experience wedging electric motors and batteries into the company's products. The ILX Hybrid makes use of Honda's fifth-generation Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system, combining a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a small electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. The combination is good for 111 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque from 1,000 rpm. Unfortunately, this sedan tips the scales at nearly 3,000 pounds. That's a good amount of heft for so little power, and the ILX Hybrid can't help but feel slow on the road, especially when getting away from a complete stop. Our best seat-of-the-pants guess puts the machine at a little over 10 seconds to 60 miles per hour.

The good news is that the drivetrain is as smooth and quiet as we've come to expect from Honda, and the CVT is entirely tolerable. The transmission doesn't feel awkward or out of place here, simply putting the driveline where it makes the most power when the driver needs it. Unfortunately, the ILX Hybrid still suffers in the noise, vibration and harshness department. There's no missing the road noise that makes its way into the cabin at highway speeds, and we noticed plenty of racket from the rear suspension over uneven pavement. Whether this is the ILX showing its Civic roots or simply the Acura notion of an entry-level hybrid, the experience falls far short of our expectations of a car with a price tag of $35,295.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid engine

Combined driving routinely saw our fuel economy sit dead on 39 mpg, with occasional jumps into the 40-mpg realm.

That's not to say there aren't bright spots in the driving experience. The ILX Hybrid doesn't commit any crimes against driving in the steering, brakes or handling departments. The ride is appropriately soft while retaining a certain level of confidence. While the suspension doesn't exactly goad you into hammering from apex to apex, body roll and understeer are all kept at bay. And then there's the fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the 2013 ILX Hybrid will return 39 miles per gallon city, 38 highway and 38 mpg combined. Refreshingly, those numbers are right in line with what we observed during our week with the hybrid. Combined driving routinely saw our fuel economy sit dead on 39 mpg, with occasional jumps into the 40-mpg realm.

Even so, those numbers still fall behind the CT 200h at 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The base, non-hybrid ILX starts at $26,900, and at that price, we'd be willing to forgive some of the vehicle's quirks. But stepping up to the hybrid will cost you an additional $2,000, and, as was mentioned earlier, our Tech Package-equipped tester rung the bell at $35,295 with an $895 destination fee. That price tag will net you navigation, a 10-speaker surround sound system and leather trimmings, but the similarly sized, more efficient CT 200h can be had for less money, and it doesn't remind us of a Toyota like the ILX reminds us of a Honda.

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid rear 3/4 view

Some buyers will inevitably prefer the sedan styling of the ILX hybrid over its hatchback Lexus competition, and in that respect, Acura has quietly cornered the efficient entry-level luxury compact (sedan) segment. We just wish they'd done a better job of it. The 2013 ILX Hybrid lacks that feeling of something special that buyers expect to find when they move up to a brand like Acura. This model doesn't differentiate itself in handling, performance or refinement in any substantial way from its less-expensive family members on the Honda lot, and that's a shame.