Home > Test Drives > First Drive: 2013 Acura ILX and RDX

First Drive: 2013 Acura ILX and RDX

April 23rd, 2012

Reinvigorating Acura From the Bottom Up

     It’s no secret the last few years haven’t been the highlights of Acura’s 25 year history. Some of the trouble was self-inflicted—we’re looking at you 2009 TL—and some of it was economic meltdown and Mother Nature’s wrath, but Acura is planning to meet aggressive sales targets during the next few years by reinvigorating their lineup from the bottom up. The plan starts with winning in two of the highest anticipated growth segments during the next five years with the all-new ILX entering the Near Premium sedan segment and the redesigned RDX contesting the Entry Premium crossover segment. We were recently invited to sample the new entry points to the Acura brand and we’re now far more confident that Acura’s projected 45% sales increase this year is within reach.

     The second-generation RDX surpasses the original in every way but nowhere is that more evident than in the powertrain. The gas-guzzling turbo four and yestertech 5-speed automatic have been replaced with Acura’s smooth 3.5-liter V6 and 6-speed auto. The new engine brings a welcome 33 more horsepower and all-wheel drive fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway—an impressive 5 mpg improvement on the highway cycle versus the outgoing model. Much of the newfound efficiency can be attributed to Acura’s seamless Variable Cylinder Management system which can shut down two or even three cylinders when cruising for maximum economy. Based on our initial drive there is no way to tell what mode the system is in and that’s the point.
     Like the best Acura engines, the V6 likes to rev and rewards the driver with a great mechanical soundtrack when pushed. With 273 hp to call on the RDX is a sprightly crossover with a supportive chassis tuned to a great mix of supple ride and composed handling. During our short drive we were also impressed with the direct steering and responsive brake pedal. The whole package has had the typical SUV layer of isolation removed, which results in a crossover that’s far more car-like than most and a true delight to drive.
     Acura wisely refreshed the styling in a comprehensive makeover that results in a cleaner, more upscale look than before. Gone is the busy front end replaced with a larger corporate grille and sporty honeycomb air intakes down low set with fog lights. The profile remains clean and contemporary with muscular fender flares, standard 18” wheels and tasteful chrome trim outlining the greenhouse. The rear is certainly uncluttered but a bit dull and we do miss the previous model’s dual chrome exhaust tips. Actually, Acura seems to have done its best to hide any sign of an exhaust. In addition to the cosmetic updates the actual physical footprint has been modified resulting in a lower height, wider track and longer wheelbase; designers can rarely go wrong with those kinds of alterations and they certainly didn’t here.
     The larger footprint means a bump in almost every interior dimension including generous legroom for the second row plus a very noticeable 6.5-inch wider rear hatch opening. The second row now folds easily with a pull of a simple lever. It doesn’t create a completely flat load floor but the actual seats are more comfortable than most and we’ll gladly take the tradeoff. The center stack remains well organized but the navigation system is controlled by a rotating selector switch instead of a more intuitive touch-screen setup. We also felt the thin screen that combines displays for climate and stereo settings plus the clock was a bit cluttered. Those negatives aside, high quality materials abound and a beautiful small diameter three-spoke steering wheel offers numerous fingertip controls. The center console offers up two great cupholders, a simple PRND gear selector and some covered storage space under the center armrest. We found all seats to be plenty comfortable and appreciated the standard rear view camera and stellar 410-watt ELS surround sound audio system on our top-line Technology package tester. Even without the Tech package the RDX is luxuriously equipped with heated memory seats, keyless access, moonroof and 360-watt premium audio. The only decision you need to make is if you want the Technology pack extras or all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive option adds $1,400 to the aggressive starting price of $34,320 but the Tech goodies command another $4,000.
     Acura considers their primary competition the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 which are both strong competitors but can cost substantially more when comparably equipped. After one afternoon we’re not ready to say whether Acura’s redesigned RDX can beat the established Germans in this hotly contested segment, but we’re now confident it’d put up a good fight. Sounds like we’ve got a comparison test to plan.

Photos courtesy of Acura

     The true gateway to the Acura brand will be the all-new ILX sedan. This small sedan has been designed to attract Gen-Y buyers who are ready to step up to a premium brand from the ranks of the mainstream. The company will offer three powertrain options including Acura’s first hybrid offering in an attempt to cover all bases but expects only 5% of ILX buyers to choose the 2.4-liter 6-speed manual model that, not surprisingly, proved our favorite.
     The 2.4-liter has already endeared itself to enthusiasts via the larger TSX and here it makes the same 201 hp at 7,000 rpm and healthy 170 lb-ft of torque. Exclusively available with a superb 6-speed manual, the ILX proved a lively sedan during our drive and should offer respectable performance metrics thanks to a more than 400 pound weight savings versus the TSX. We were surprised how vocal they let the 2.4 get in the cabin but Acura rightly figures that enthusiasts seeking out the performance model will approve.
     The volume model will be the 2.0-liter engine that comes only with a 5-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles. It’s by no means a powerhouse with only 150 hp to offer but the benefit is 35 mpg on the highway. The 5-speed automatic has also been improved with smoother and quicker paddle shifts compared to the TSX but we still didn’t find them particularly responsive and simply elected to keep it in automatic Sport mode when pushing the car. The steering tuning in both gas models is direct and moderately weighted but it’s the brake pedal feel that Acura has nailed in both the ILX and RDX.
     We only got to ride shotgun in Acura’s first hybrid but we were impressed with how quiet the system is. Of course a 1.5-liter 91 hp engine shouldn’t make a lot of racket in the first place. Engineers match the engine with a 20 hp electric motor that draws power from a lithium-ion battery pack stored behind the rear seat. With 111 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque at its mightiest and a CVT directing power, the Hybrid is not the responsive sporty sedan that the 2.4 is. However, Acura expects 39 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway to attract four times more buyers than the manual-only 2.4 so it should play a big part in the ILX’s success.
     We really like the athletic, taut look of the ILX and the 17” wheels available on the gas models look great. Our favorite design aspect is the kick up over the rear door handle in the crease that runs back and forms the shoulder line over the rear wheels. It’s very well done and the kind of design sophistication we haven’t seen from Acura in far too long. However, just like on the RDX, any sign of an exhaust is disappointingly hidden away.
     All IXL models feature impressive materials throughout the cabin. We preferred the two-tone cream over black interior of the 2.0 model compared to the all black cabin of the sportier 2.4 but we did like the exclusive stainless-steel pedals and red illumination of the gauges. The seatbacks are nicely bolstered but the bottom cushion was a bit flat for our tastes. Luckily there is a large glovebox to help offset the otherwise tight interior storage areas. Trunk volume on the 2.0 and 2.4 measure 12.3 cubic feet but choosing the Hybrid cuts that to 9.8 and sacrifices the ability to fold down the rear seats for extra pass-through room. Rear seats offered enough room for my six foot frame but there would be even more headroom if Acura didn’t bundle a moonroof as standard equipment. We can’t be the only people who don’t care for moonroofs.
     The company has set aggressive prices for its new ILX in an attempt to continue Acura’s strong value image among luxury brands. The 2.0 starts at $25,900 and maxes at $31,400 with the top-line Technology package. The enthusiast-friendly 2.4 manual is available only as a mid-level Premium package at $29,200 and the Hybrid either as the standard trim at $28,900 or with the Technology package at $34,400. The car charged with bolstering Acura’s image among the 75-million-strong Generation Y goes on sale May 22 and will aim to attract 40,000 customers a year to the newly reinvigorated Acura family.

Photos courtesy of Acura

Categories: Test Drives Tags: , , , , ,
Comments are closed.