Motoramic

The 2013 Acura ILX vs. the 2013 Volkwagen CC, luxury lightweights: Motoramic Drives

Aki Sugawara
Motoramic

With an uneasy economic recovery and automotive sales seemingly recovering, Acura's MBA-types identified a new demographic to target: the young, post-grad Generation Y with disposable income. In other words, those with a job and aren't buried under a mountain of student loans. It's a niche Acura calls "near premium," which will be served by the new 2013 Acura ILX.

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.

The problem with the "near premium" Acura ILX is it's also near compelling; not a single facet stands out. It's not quite sporty, because the suspension's slightly under-damped, the clutch feel is too soft, and the lack of a limited slip differential (standard in the Civic Si) means you feel a hint of inside-wheel spin when aggressively pushing the corners. For luxury, the ubiquitous fake metal trim inside doesn't fool anyone, and the low-slung but sleepy exterior makes a Toyota Camry look winsome.

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.

Those form-over-function choices of the CC are livable, but the biggest downside to the CC is the sloppy six-speed manual. It loathes quick shifts, and the pedal reluctantly springs back like JuJubes stuck to your teeth. Not to mention, the clutch engagement is mushy. Fortunately, the DSG automatic (an additional $1,100) is one of the best in the industry, and is transmission to get—even if you normally like rowing through gears.

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
MILEAGE 22/31 21/32
BASE PRICE $29,200 $30,250
CONS Forgetably mid-pack performance Sloppy manual, limited trunk space
PROS Tossable and nimble driving Unbeatable refinement for the money
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