By David Colman
Hypes: Looks Like Clark Kent Runs Like Superman
Gripes: Could Do With Plus One Wheels and Tires
The Sleeper of the Year award goes to Acura for this all-new ILX. Here is an unprepossessing 4-door sedan with devastating performance thanks to gymnastic handling and a rev-happy motor. Yet all this latent potential is cloaked by an average looking body shell that would lead you to suspect the ILX is just another boring family car. To the contrary, this latest Acura hot rod is the proud successor to the recently departed and much celebrated Integra Type R. If you will recall, the Type R was the ultimate driving connoisseur’s bargain, an agile and peaky ride that pushed every Pavlovian reaction button for the enthusiast. In turn, the Type R was successor to a long line of deceptively docile looking ancestors from other manufacturers, including Alfa’s Berlina 4-door, Datsun’s iconic 510, and Nissan’s Sentra SE-R.
Best of all, and in keeping with the best sleeper tradition, the price of the ILX is modest enough to make it affordable to the enthusiast without BMW bucks to spend. In “Premium” form, this Acura lists for just $29,200 complete with just about everything you’ll want or need from a daily driver, including 7 speaker sound system, 3 months of free XM Satellite Radio, leather trimmed sports seats, 17” x 7” alloy rims, Xenon HD headlights, and Michelin MXM4 Pilot tires (215/45R17). Best of all the standard equipement is the zingy powerplant under the hood, which displaces 2.4 liters, and produces 210hp at a screaming 8,000rpm.
This is one Acura you’ll definitely want to buy with the standard 6-speed manual transmission. The gear actuation is so precise that shifting from one gate to another feels like making scalpel incisions. The ratios are perfectly spaced to pick up engine rpm at the top end of the scale each time you up shift, so there’s no appreciable loss of thrust. Acura’s VTEC valve actuation is the best in the business. At low speeds, when pottering around town , the valvetrain opts for less overlap and duration to increase mileage and lesson noise. But when you flat foot the gas, the cam timing changes as the VTEC system locks into its performance profile. As the rpm pass 6,000, the engine converts itself into a ferocious beast that suddenly snarls loudly through the free-flow exhaust. Thanks to this aural guide, you hardly need to consult the tachometer about when to up shift. For the record, the tach reads to 8,000rpm, and extracting maximum output from the ILX is reminiscent of riding a Honda CBR superbike, or driving their lamented, recently departed S2000 sports car. Once you rock this motor into its powerband, you’ll never want to stop repeating the trick – for aural gratification is no other reason. And that’s what driving fun is all about, isn’t it?
All these Dr. Jekyll characteristics are perfectly masked by the ILX’ Mr. Hyde exterior treatment, which is so sedate as to render it indistinguishable from dozens of other family sedans on the road. You won’t find any blatant spoilers front or rear, nor any striping or decoration giveaways about the thumping nature of this beast. The ILX is the perfect antidote to decorated pretend racers like the Camaro SS, Mustang GT and Challenger R/T that scream performance but in fact are no quicker over any given piece of road than this Acura.
The ILX is based on Honda’s Civic Si platform, but it bests the Civic in so many ways that the comparison is odious. If you think of the ILX as an Si that’s grown up and graduated from charm school, you’ll get the idea.
2013 Acura ILX Premium
- Engine: 2.4 liter DOHC 16 valve inline 4 with I-VTEC
- Horsepower: 201hp
- Torque: 170 lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $30,095
- Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars