Acura's newest sedan, the 2013 ILX, looks good, is fuel-conscious and has a controlled, comfortable ride.
But its base retail price, including destination charge, is only $26,795. This is $4,110 below the previous lowest-priced Acura, the 2012 TSX compact sedan that starts at $30,905.
Best of all, the ILX isn't a barebones Acura. The starting price includes noteworthy standard features such as moonroof, six-speaker audio system, 5-inch color information display on the dashboard, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, dual, automatic climate control, keyless entry and push-button start.
Also standard: A Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging feature that can read text messages to the driver and respond to each message with one of six pre-set replies, such as, "Talk to you later, I'm driving." A driver must have a compatible device, such as a Blackberry, to tie in to this feature.
Acura officials said the new ILX is designed to attract young buyers to the luxury brand, which is part of Honda.
In fact, most drivers wouldn't have a clue the ILX is based on the Honda Civic, a compact car that has been a staple of young people in the United States for years.
But the ILX is much more than a revamped Civic. While the ILX uses the Civic's front-wheel drive platform, there's not a single piece of metal on the outside that's from the Civic. In fact, the ILX is a bit longer and wider than a Civic sedan.
The interior is all Acura, with good use of textures and materials and thoughtful design of controls to craft a pleasing passenger compartment. The ILX suspension, which gives the five-seater a composed ride, is better than the Civic's, too. Extra sound insulation makes the ILX interior far quieter than a Civic, as well.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is for a base, five-passenger ILX with 150-horsepower, four cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
There's no manual transmission for the base engine. But a 201-horsepower four cylinder mated to a six-speed manual transmission is available on a ILX Premium model for a starting retail price of $30,095.
There is no automatic transmission for this higher-powered version of ILX. But this model comes with standard heated, leather-trimmed seats, larger, 17-inch wheels and tires and high-intensity discharge headlights.
A third ILX model is a gasoline-electric hybrid — Acura's first — that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $29,795.
The ILX Hybrid, with hybrid technology similar to the Civic's, has a federal government fuel economy rating of 39 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway.
This compares with 24/35-mpg rating for the ILX with 150-horsepower four cylinder and 22/31-mpg rating for the ILX with 201-horsepower engine.
For the record, the test ILX non-hybrid model with 201-horse engine and manual six speed averaged 28 mpg in city/highway travel, without the driver trying to conserve fuel. This 28 mpg is 12 percent higher than the government's city/highway rating of 25 mpg for this model, and translated into a range of nearly 370 miles on a single tank of fuel.
Note: Acura recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline for the ILX.
Acura officials compare the ILX to other entry-level luxury compacts, such as the 2012 Audi A3, which has a starting retail price of $28,145 with 200-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and manual transmission.
But many mainstream cars — even mid-size sedans with a fair amount of amenities — fit into the ILX price range.
For example, a mid-size, 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid has a starting retail price of $29,570, which is only $225 less than the ILX Hybrid's base price. The base Fusion Hybrid, however, doesn't include a moonroof, while the ILX Hybrid does.
The test ILX Premium model had a lightness to the electric steering that was noticed but not troubling.
The most surprising experience in the ILX: How confidently the car handled in curves and turns. It tracked solidly and felt stable on the road, even in emergency situations.
The 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder in the tester is the same one that's in Acura's slightly larger TSX sedan. Power came on quickly and the car moved through traffic with pep. Torque peaks at 170 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.
The six-speed manual in the tester moved smoothly and precisely from gear to gear in satisfying fashion and was so pleasurable, the driver didn't feel a need to use the standard paddle shifters.
There was little wind noise, but some road noise came through to passengers.
Rear-seat legroom of 34 inches was fine for me — someone 5 feet 4 — and there's hardly a hump in the middle of the rear floor. But three adults back there would sit touching each other.
Everyone in the ILX rests on comfortable cushions that have some give as well as support. Everyone has a head restraint, too.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, front, side-seat and curtain air bags, traction control and electronic stability control.
Fun touches: A driver can select the color for the background of the information display on the dashboard, and Pandora radio interface is standard.
Interestingly, the ILX test car had a memorable "clean" smell inside. It was pleasant but not the usual chemical-laden "new car smell."
The styling of the ILX also turned heads.
The ILX has been the subject of a safety recall. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said a cable connecting a door handle to a door latch might become loose and affect the ability of the door latch to operate properly.