Athree-week road trip afforded me the opportunity to really experience the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid, Honda's premium label's newest and most fuel-efficient entry-level vehicle.
Some people take work with them on their vacation. For a car nut, writing about a 6,000-kilometre test drive is the ultimate combination of work and play.
I picked the Acura ILX Hybrid over others because of the promise of outstanding fuel economy from its gasoline-electric hybrid engine: 4.8 litres/100 kilometres on the highway. There are few compact four-door, five-passenger vehicles (excluding electric vehicles) with better fuel economy on the road, although the Toyota Prius (4.0) and the Volkswagen Golf TDI diesel (4.6) come to mind. Shoppers may also consider the Lexus CT200h, which matches the ILX on the highway.
In 6,000 kilometres in real-world highway driving, my tester returned an average of 5.5 L/100 km (51 mpg). The route included a climb to about 2,100 metres to the rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon and traversing the various mountain passes along I-5. City driving accounted for less than 10 per cent of the total distance.
With a 50-litre gas tank, the car can theoretically travel more than 1,000 kilo-metres between fill-ups. Not wanting to push my luck, I only went 700 kilometres before refilling.
I used approximately 330 litres of fuel (87 U.S. gallons). At an average of $4 per U.S. gallon, my total fuel cost was $348.
But the excellent mileage has to be tempered with one major downside - a lack of power. Unlike other ILX models, the Hybrid is fitted with a small 1.5-litre four-cylinder that produces a mere 111 horsepower and 127 lb.-ft. of torque. The ILX can be equipped with either a conventional 2.0-litre (150 hp) or 2.4-litre (201 hp) gas engine if power and not economy is a priority.
On fast-paced U.S. freeways, this modest power is barely enough to merge and prevent one from being run over. The ILX Hybrid may go into the record books as the slowest premium car on the market. Driving with the ECON button on is not recommended for the aggressive cut and thrust of traffic south of the border.
Power delivery is not helped by the CVT transmission. While Ã¼ber-efficient, the continuously variable transmission cannot react quickly enough when power is called upon.
The transmission "gears" can be manually controlled with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. When they're used, the transmission will only "gear down" for a few moments before automatically shifting up again. Acura would be wiser and save a few dollars by eliminating the paddles entirely.
The Hybrid has engine stop-start for city driving. Unfortunately, it can't creep just on electric power in stop-and-go traffic - as soon as the foot comes off the brake, the engine starts up again. This perhaps explains why the Prius has better city numbers.
The ILX has electric power steering, which makes manoeuvrability a breeze in the city. Unfortunately, the software engineers didn't dial it back enough for highway speeds - I found it too sensitive. Fortunately, the car is quite stable and did not require much correction to keep on track.
On such a long trip, creature comforts are key and the ILX does not disappoint. The interior is a step up from a comparable Honda Civic, with better materials, such as leather adorning the cockpit. The driver's eight-way power seat was comfortable for long stretches at the wheel. Still, what I really missed was the ability to adjust the lumbar support.
The hybrid battery sits behind the back seat and affects storage capacity. The Hybrid's 283-litre trunk holds 67 litres less than the regular ILX. The seat backs don't fold and there is no pass-through for long items.
A pet peeve is the lack of an interior grab handle for the trunk lid. This means dirty fingers all winter because you have to use the exterior of the trunk to close the lid.
As if to compensate, the ILX features a multi-angle back-up camera with wide-angle and top-down views along with the regular one.
On the exterior, the styling of the ILX is a vast improvement over its predecessor, the CSX. While the ILX is still a Honda Civic under its skin, the new model isn't just a badge-engineered clone anymore. The new and unique suit of clothes helps differentiate it from its humble roots, but more importantly, aligns it more closely with its bigger brethren.
While fuel economy will drive consumers to consider the hybrid over the regular gasoline-powered models, they may hesitate at the $34,990 price tag associated with the car - especially when the base 2.0-litre ILX starts at $27,790. The premium is less when one considers the hybrid model comes loaded with the same features (except for the hybrid powerplant) as an ILX with the Technology Package, which retails for $32,290.
Those who balk at paying a premium for the benefits of hybrid technology might change their minds once they add up their fuel savings. After 6,000 kilometres, the ILX Hybrid was certainly kind to my wallet.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Premium compact four-door sedan, front engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder with integrated electric motor, 111 hp at 5,500 r.p.m., 127 lb.-ft. of torque at between 1,000 and 3,500 r.p.m.
Transmission: CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission)
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,550; width, 1,794; height, 1,412; wheelbase, 2,670
Curb weight (kg): 1,356
Price (base/as tested): $34,990/$37,035 (includes $1,945 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 205/55 R16 on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 5.0 city/4.8 highway
Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km major components
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