But straddling the line between mainstream and luxury isn't new; Volkswagen filled that role with 2013 Volkswagen CC, subtly refreshed for 2013. On paper, the ILX and CC's specs are similar — the six-speed manual trims for both start at around $30,000 and have a 200-horsepower (well, 201 for the ILX), four-cylinder engine. Head to head, which would win?
The Acura ILX fights an uphill battle for acceptance. Built on the same proletariat underpinnings as the Honda Civic, the ILX — like GM's infamous Cadillac Cimarron — is haunted by the stigma of badge engineering. Thankfully, the ILX drives noticeably more refined than the Civic Si, even with the same 2.4-liter engine. The mildly upscale cabin competently isolates road and wind noise compared to the thrashy Civic, and the suspension does a decent job of scrubbing out mild road imperfections, thanks to its amplitude reactive dampers. That added pinache comes with little compromise to athleticism, and surprisingly it's just as nimble in the corners as the Civic Si, even with about extra 100 lbs.
But the Volkswagen CC is in a different league. Although the Wolfsburg five-seater feels heavier with a slightly duller turn-in, the superb suspension damping makes the drudgery of a morning commute feel like a tranquil mid-afternoon cruise—fitting for a car with affluent intentions. The CC's turbo 2.0 liter spiritedly scoots above 3,000 rpm, but the sudden change in torque at that turbo-lag crossover can be jarring. Around town, the ILX's naturally aspirated 2.4-liter is more pleasant; it's linear but with sufficient low-end torque, albeit lacking in torquey excitement.
By contrast, the Volkswagen CC exudes class, even in its lowest, "leatherette" (German-speak for vinyl) trim. Slickly adorned in brushed metal accents, the cabin easily trumps not only the ILX, but even its bigger siblings like the TSX and TL. Acura has touted its standard multimedia features as a distinctive strength, but technophiles will prefer the high-resolution touch screen over the Civic-derived i-MID in the ILX. And the CC's under-the-radar styling is innocuously appealing, ideal for those that want uptown suburban swank without brand-waving pretention.
The Volkswagen CC's coupe-like silhouette does come with compromises, however. The trunk is a tight fit for larger suitcases, and taller passengers will want to ride shotgun due to the stunted rear headroom.
That brings us to the biggest drawback of the ILX: the trim selection. If you want 200 horsepower there's only the six-speed manual. I'd buy the snickety manual anyway even if there were an automatic, but if they're targeting young techy buyers glued to their iPhone 5s, wouldn't they want the latest and greatest with a dual-clutch automatic? Given that over 90% of people choose automatic, the manually-only trim shuts out a sizeable chunk of prospective buyers.
And if you want an automatic ILX, the 2.0-liter engine makes a poky 150 horsepower, yet still starts at $25,200. Not since the Infiniti G20 has a purported sporty luxury car come with such lackluster specs. Value-minded buyers would be better off buying a lightly used 2011 Civic Si sedan—before Honda went numb and cheap with the ninth generation Civic.
Whereas CC owners can beam with pride of their elevated driving experience, the ILX is at best a gateway car, something that holds a young upstart over until the first big job promotion.
|2013 Acura ILX||2013 Volkswagen CC|
|CLASS||Compact luxury sports sedan||Midsize luxury sedan|
|ENGINE||2.4-liter four cylinder||2.0-liter turbo|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|POWER||201 hp||200 hp|
|TORQUE||170 ft.-lbs.||207 ft.-lbs.|
|WEIGHT||2978 lbs||3358 lbs|
|0-60 MPH||6.7 seconds||6.9 seconds|
|EMISSIONS||6.0 tons CO2/year||6.0 tons CO2/year|
|CONS||Forgetably mid-pack performance||Sloppy manual, limited trunk space|
|PROS||Tossable and nimble driving||Unbeatable refinement for the money|
- Volkswagen CC