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2014 Acura ILX

Can Acura, as a luxury brand, extend downward into greater affordability and value? The 2014 Acura ILX is a test of exactly that. Aimed at up-and-coming professionals and hip retirees, it’s a fuel-efficient, somewhat sporty small car that offers a little more comfort—and the superior service of an Acura dealership—for those who can afford to spend a little more.

Balancing between crisp and fluid, edgy and smooth, the ILX’s exterior is a more youthful take on a compact luxury car than you’ll find elsewhere in the segment. The fenders swell gently from the sides, there are character lines to accent its shape, and the greenhouse arches gracefully ove the passenger compartment. On the whole it’s a handsome, if not lust-inducing, sedan. Inside, it’s a pleasant place to travel, looking like a typical Acura: edgy curves, contoured surfaces, and easy-to-read gauges.

Entry-level Acura shoppers can choose between three models. The most fuel-efficient version is the ILX Hybrid. It teams a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an integrated hybrid drive system and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All told, the batteries and engine and motor offer 111 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. EPA gas mileage ranges from 39 mpg city to 38 mpg highway.

The ILX 2.0L comes with a conventional 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 150 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. It’s coupled to a 5-speed automatic that can be shifted via paddle controls. The EPA rates this sluggish accelerator at 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway.

The 2.4L is the sporty model in a nominally sporty lineup. It adopts the Civic Si’s 201-hp, 170-lb-ft 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and teams it with a 6-speed manual transmission. This one’s for diehard manual fans only, as there’s no automatic on the options list. Acceleration improves, but the 2.4L suspension is essentially the same as the other ILX sedans–it’s not as sharp as we’d like in spirited driving. No ILX is clumsy, though. All versions have crisp and responsive handling that falls shy only when compared to sublime cars like Acura’s half-size-larger TSX sport sedan.

Inside, the cabin is comfortable and spacious–surprisingly so in the rear seats, with enough room even for taller adults to fit comfortably. Ergonomically, things are laid out very well, with all controls easy to identify and use without taking one’s eyes from the road. Fit and finish is also very good, with solid-feeling construction and quality materials (plastic, rubber, and leather) in all touch-points. Cabin noise is low, though not quite mausoleum-quiet like you’ll find in some luxury cars a bit farther up the ladder, including Acura’s own.

There’s also a fairly roomy trunk, ample in-cabin storage in cubbies and door pockets, with well-placed cup holders. Cargo volume is a solid 12.4 cubic feet (10.0 cubic feet for the Hybrid, which places the battery pack behind the rear seats). The ILX is already a surprisingly quiet-riding car; yet for 2014 Acura has made Active Noise Cancellation standard on all models in this lineup. It can actively ‘mop up’ smaller but bothersome noises from the powertrain or road, using the sound system’s speakers, a cabin microphone, and a sophisticated processing algorithm.

The 2014 Acura ILX is barely a luxury car if you go by its sticker price. And for that reason we don’t hold it against the brand that they’re not offering some of the higher-end items you’ll find in slightly more expensive sedans, such as radar-adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and heads-up displays.

For 2014, leather upholstery and active noise cancellation are among the new features added to all models of the ILX. An eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a Multi-Angle Rearview Camera system have also all been added as standard. The catch is that this year it’s also raised the base price of the ILX by $1,000, to $27,795, including destination.

Two primary packages are available to upgrade from the base specification, the Technology Package and the Premium Package. Add the Technology Package and you get premium audio with USB and Pandora integration, a navigation system with voice recognition, a rear-view camera system, and real-time traffic and weather info. With the Premium Package you get leather seating surfaces; eight-way power adjustable driver seat; two-way heated front seats; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; a multi-view rear camera; a premium sound system with Bluetooth, USB, and Pandora functionality.

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