Ground Floor: Sporty new ILX provides Acura with entry-level sedan showcasing gas, hybrid versions

This 2013 Acura ILX hybrid from McDaniels Acura of Charleston is parked in front of the clubhouse at Poplar Grove earlier in the week. The model is brand new (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com/7/11/2012).

By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

For car shoppers, moving up to the luxury category can be a big move.

Maybe they are celebrating a promotion, the fruits of a long career or benefits from a dual income family.

Whatever the case, they can expect to pay at least a little more than they would for a more economical brand.

Still, even the most tony of luxury carmakers offer ranges of features and prices from model to model.

Acura, the higher-end division of Honda Motor Co., is a comparatively modest luxury carmaker. But prices on its most decked out models can run up to $48,000, according to Edmunds.com auto information service. Checking out the full lineup, models are as affordable as the low $30,000s.

That raises the question: can luxury carmakers set prices that are even more in line with a larger swath of the auto-buying public?

Acura seems to think so. The company recently unveiled the ILX sedan, which with a hybrid engine starts around $28,000 and with gas powertrain is just above $25,000.

While value priced, the carmaker didn’t shy away from upscale features such as available tailored leather seats, one touch power moonroof, backup camera and navigation-communication system.

The 2013 ILX is a brand-new model, said Keith Drayton, sales associate with McDaniels Acura of Charleston. The dealership received its first vehicles in the past month.

According to Drayton, the ILX is “kind of replacing the old Acura Integra.” First built as a Honda, the versatile sport coupe, hatchback and sedan was in the Acura lineup from 1994 to 2006, called the RSX for its last four years.

There’s no mistaking the new ILX’s role. “It’s an entry level car,” Drayton said. But the level that the model is entering in is on the luxury scale.

The edition fits in looks wise with its Acura passenger car brethren, marked by a slightly angular front, U-shaped grille with the carmaker’s distinctive, forked logo and a sloping rear roofline to give the sedan a sporty appearance.

Acura introduced three engine choices. They are a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boasting 150 horsepower; 2.4-liter four-cylinder “6MT” engine churning out 201 hp; and a hybrid that matches a 1.5-liter four cylinder producing 111 hp with a “powerful electric motor,” the company said in its brochure.

Fuel mileage ranges from 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway in the standard model, 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway in the 6MT and 39 mpg city, 38 mpg highway in the hybrid.

The 2013 ILX can cost from the mid-$20,000s to the $30,000s with options, Drayton said. He expects buyers to be upscale, such as “the young executive and the older retired (professional) who wants to travel.”

In a moderate drive this week of a well-equipped hybrid priced at $35,295, the new four-door model showcased a range of popular features and performed admirably.

A smart key unlocks the driver’s side door when the holder carries the key nearby and lifts the latch. Start and stop is push button.

While the ride wasn’t super long, the hybrid did seem to be economical with the fuel gauge hardly budging. An indicator arrow to the left of the dashboard information system monitors driving habits, moving to the blue “assist” range when your foot’s on the gas and sliding to the green “charging” function while cruising.

The information system, meanwhile, could be dialed up to show actual miles per gallon, time elapsed on the ride and other data.

Under varied weather conditions, the Acura held the road with supple steering and sharp braking. Acceleration of the seven-speed continuously variable transmission lagged a tad, but the sedan gradually rose to interstate speeds and comfortably held the pace.

Four-wheel independent suspension made for an eminently comfortable ride. Legroom was plenty spacious.

The center console housed dual climate control knobs, audio buttons and an optional navigation system that was fairly easy to use. The center screen flips to the rear camera when in reverse. Volume and channel changing buttons are found on the steering wheel.

The ILX can seat five and has a decent-sized trunk that can open electronically with the push of a button upfront.

As a new model, the 2013 edition has a few areas that could be improved upon. An eco-friendly feature is an auto stop where the engine shuts off at traffic lights and otherwise when the car is not moving. Every time, the car reactivated at the touch of the gas pedal. But the tentative sound when the engine re-starts is a little unnerving.

The sloped body style decreased visibility somewhat, particularly looking left and right. Making up for it were curved tips of the side view mirrors that helped viewing in the blind spots.

Also, the ILX may be a victim of its own success. For instance, the sedan sports dual climate control, and the air conditioning system was excellent. But being a luxury model, you come to expect digital temperature readings, which weren’t there.

Maybe what the new model has going for it most is its comparative value. Minor inconveniences can be overlooked when the sedan boasts a combined 38 mpg, operates dependably and is available at a downright un-luxury price of $25,000-$28,000.

For more, visit your local Acura dealership.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.