Acura’s premium compact sedan misses the luxury mark
Ever since Acura started trying to turn the Honda Civic into a luxury sedan back in 2013, the idea had potential. The Civic had solid bones, as a roomy and pleasant-to-drive little car; all Acura needed to add was more upscale styling, a fancier interior, more features and a more powerful engine.
But the resulting vehicle, the ILX, has consistently suffered from botched execution. The 2013 model was stylish and had sporty handling, but most models were underpowered. Then a 2016 update added more power but diminished the fun-to-drive quality of the car’s handling, while adding awkward styling details and failing to upgrade the interior quality to meet today’s standards.
If only Acura had offered its powerful 2.4-liter engine with an automatic transmission back in 2013; at the time, it was restricted to the rare six-speed manual version while other buyers settled for sluggish performance. And once the 2.4-liter became standard in 2016, Acura could have preserved the frisky, zippy nature of the ILX’s steering and handling – but instead numbed them in an effort to smooth out the ride quality.
There are two reasons to buy a smaller car over a larger one. There’s the price tag, which is in fact an ILX strong point – it’s decently equipped even at its base price of $28,940, the lowest price of entry for any luxury-branded car in the U.S.
But the other reason to pick a smaller car is for the agile handling that’s hard to replicate in a bigger, heavier vehicle. And with that advantage gone, the ILX becomes hard to recommend. It’s a budget-priced premium car that doesn’t adequately disguise its cost-conscious nature, with economy-grade levels of ride, handling and noise suppression.
To Acura’s credit, there’s no visual cue that the ILX is an old Honda Civic in disguise – the disguise is visually effective inside and out. That said, the interior was never a standout, and it’s fallen even farther behind over the years as mainstream-branded compact cars like the Mazda3 have become more luxurious. And the latest Civic, redesigned for 2016, also blows away the ILX in nearly every metric.
The excellence of the current Civic does at least lend optimism for the future. If Acura redesigns the ILX, its starting point will be better than ever. But for now, the ILX is left floundering in a pretty small niche. If you want a small but premium-feeling car, you can get a superior Mazda3 or Civic for less money, or you need to pay a little more for an Audi A3 or Mercedes-Benz CLA. If you’re looking for an affordable luxury experience, spending a few thousand more for Acura’s midsize TLX sedan is a wise call – it’s superior in nearly every way, given that the ILX no longer capitalizes on its compact size to offer sportier handling.
In the end, the main reason to buy an ILX is if you want the least expensive vehicle offered by a premium brand. But aside from the badge, this Acura feels more like an overpriced economy car than an affordable luxury one.
Errands can be joyful in the Mazda MX-5 Miata
January isn’t necessarily the ideal time to think about two-seat rear-wheel-drive convertibles. Then again, if you’ve ever driven a Mazda MX-5 Miata, it can be hard to put that experience out of your mind.
So many of today’s cars, even performance-oriented models, feel ordinary at best while puttering around suburban streets. Powerful engines and high handling limits don’t mean much on the streets most of us drive every day.
But Mazda’s approach to most of its cars is that you should feel something special almost immediately when you start driving – and nowhere is this more clear than in the Miata. Its 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine sounds unimpressive on paper, but it responds delightfully when you accelerate.
In the light little Mazda, you get just enough pep to excite – especially if you pick the excellent six-speed manual transmission – but not so much that a little tap of the accelerator quickly buries the speed limit behind you. It’s a rare car that lets you have fun on Rockville Pike, but even zipping between one red light and the next can be a moment of joy. Pick a back road and the delightful steering and handling complete the MX-5 Miata experience.
Prices start at an affordable $25,750, and the redesigned 2016 model’s improved fuel economy – to an EPA rating of 30 mpg in mixed driving – further keeps this Mazda a performance bargain. And with inventory sitting stagnant, winter can be a great time to snap up a discounted convertible. Just know what you’re getting yourself into before buying a low little car with just two seats.