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2014 Acura ILX Tech 2.0: Fuel-efficient luxury compact

by: HONDA NORTH AMERICA - The 2014 Acura ILX bears a strong resemblance to the larger RLX, even under the skin.It isn't often that automative writers get to do back-to-back comparisons of related or similar vehicles. The test schedules are usually much more random, with a truck followed by a convertible followed by a minivan. But by chance, I was able to test the largest and smallest new cars from Acura in rapid succession. One week I had the all new 2013 RLX, the company's midsize flagship. The next I had the 2014 Acura ILX luxury compact, their smallest car.

And yes, the RLX really is a bigger version of the ILX and vise versa.

Part of this is the styling, of course. All Acura models, including the company's crossovers, feature angular lines, sculpted flanks, and a sharp front end topped with a small, shiny grill. The resemblance is very apparent between the ILX and the RLX, although the RLX looks more muscular since it is larger.

The styling themes continue inside, with similar dash and console layouts. The RLX offers two display screens, one for navigation and the other for some entertainment and climate control functions. The ILX only offers a navigation screen. But the overall look is similar, with both reducing the number of buttons that drivers have to figure out, sometimes at inopportune moments.

The quality of the interior materials and fit of the panels are also similar, which is to say, excellent. Both of our test cars had leather interiors that featured comfortable front buck sport seats. Of course, the RLX had a lot more interior room, especially in the back seat area, where the amount of leg room was impressive. The ILX, not so much, but it is a compact, after all.

But it was on the road where the lineage really stood out. Both were smooth and quiet, offering solid rides and respectable — if not outrageous — performance. The RLX was held back slightly by its only current engine choice, Acura's solid 3.5-liter V6 in 301 horsepower trim. Most competitors offer more powerful options. Acura will reportedly bring out a 370-horsepower hybrid version of the RLX later this year with all-wheel-drive that should close the gap considerably, however.

Our test ILX had the base 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine. It produces just 150 horsepower, which is less than some competitors. And it only comes with a five-speed automatic transmission, which is also less sophisticated than some competing models. But performance was nevertheless acceptable, in part because the ILX is so small and the transmission shifts well. A Sport mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters increase the fun, but for more performance, an optional 201 horsepower 2.4-liter inline four mated to a six speed manual transmission is also available.

A hybrid is also available that boosts mileage considerably at the cost of substantially reduced horsepower.

Our test ILX did come with the Tech Package, however, which made commuting more interesting. It includes a larger 6-inch display screen (compared to standard 5-inch), an upgraded ELS audio system, and voice command functionality for the navigation and system. There was also a large sunroof, which was appreciated since the first days of summer were cloudy and cold, as usual. The options added around $3,000 to the approximately $27,000 base price, but the total was well below that of a fully-equipped 2.4-liter or hybrid version.

Drawbacks are similar to other compacts. In addition to the cramped back seat, the trunk is relatively small, of course. And the overall styling is somewhat conservative compared to, say, a Hyundai Elantra. But some people prefer to keep a low profile.

Since Acura is owned by Honda, it's easy to assume the ILX and RLX are just gussied up versions of the Civic and Accord sedans. Although both vehicles look somewhat alike and share some parts, company officials note the two Acura models are in fact bigger and more refined than their Honda counterparts. We agree, although the newest versions of the Civic and Accord are both much improved and worth checking out if cost is your biggest concern.

The luxury compact market is just beginning to really take off. Driven by rising fuel costs and the technology to now squeeze more power out of smaller engines, manufacturers are introducing new models all the time. In some respects, the ILX is both an entry level Acura and an entry level luxury compact. That's not a position in the marketplace to be in.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 ILX.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Compact luxury sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door car.

• Engines: 2.0-liter inline 4 cylinder (150 hp, 140 lb-ft - as tested); 2.4-liter inline 4 cylinder (201 hp, 170 lb-ft); 1.5-liter inline 4 cylinder and electric motor hybrid (111 hp, 127 lb-ft).

• Transmissions: Five-speed automatic with Sport mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters (as tested); six-speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 24/35/28 (2.0/auto - as tested); 22/31/25 (2.4/manual); 39/38/38 (hybrid).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $27,000 ($29,725 as tested).