Comparison: 2013 Acura ILX vs. Buick Verano
Indeed, it's the Buick that is truly the first "premium" compact to offer a big car ride. Thanks to its obviously stiff and well-engineered platform, the very first impression behind the wheel of the Verano is that it conducts itself like a much larger car, its advantage in comportment over the Acura substantial. Where the ILX is like a typical small-car, jarring ride over any surface less than glass smooth, the Verano literally floats along as if it weighs half a ton more. While most small cars transmit every bump and crease directly to the passenger compartment, even over some seriously rough gravel roads, the Verano remained as calm and unperturbed as a traditional luxury sedan. So, although the Acura has a slight advantage in suspension technology — a rear multi-link system versus the Buick's Z-link torsion beam — the Buick more than makes up for it with the solidity of its framework.
Nor is its advantage the result of Buick's traditional ultra-soft suspension. Yes, the Acura's suspension is firmer and it corners with less roll than the Buick but suspension performance alone is not enough to give the handling advantage to the ILX. What does, however, put a checkmark in the ILX's column is its superlative steering feel. Where the Verano uses a more modern electric power steering system to reduce load on the engine (and therefore fuel consumption), the ILX sticks with tried-and-true hydraulically-boosted steering and gains a measure of credibility for sticking with the retro tech system. Where the Verano steering feels Novocaine numb whenever you bend it into a corner, the Acura offers quasi-BMW like (or, at least it feels like it in comparison) feedback. This lack of steering feel is both the Verano's biggest drawback and the ILX's biggest asset so, if playing silly buggers on twisty roads is a prime consideration, the Acura has a distinct advantage when the going gets curvy.
In every aspect of driving in a straight line, however, the Verano wins hands down. Besides the aforementioned ride advantage, the Buick's engine offers a perfect trifecta of advantages: it is larger (2.4L versus 2.0L), boasts 30 more horsepower (180 hp versus 150) and has more torque (171 lb.-ft. compared with 150). Yet the Verano managed exactly the same fuel consumption as the ILX, both our testers achieving exactly identical fuel consumption when switching cars. The Verano manages this feat because a.) its larger engine features direct fuel injection, always a boon to fuel economy and b.) its autobox features six speeds while the Acura's sports but five reducing engine speed on the highway — 2,400 rpm at 120 kilometres an hour compared with 2,700 rpm at the same speed in the Acura. (It should be noted, however, that the Acura has the superior Transport Canada fuel economy rating — 8.6 L/100 km in the city versus 9.9 and 5.6 L/100 km on the highway compared with the Verano's 6.2.)
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the day is finding that the Buick's powertrain is more sophisticated than the Acura's. The Buick's four-banger, for instance, sings far more sweetly at high rpm and its automatic transmission shifts more smoothly. And with the engine spinning slower in top gear, it's amazing how relaxed the Verano feels cruising at highway speeds. Indeed, if you're looking for the Verano's defining advantage over the ILX, it is how amazingly quiet this Buick is regardless of speed.
Fans of Acura may well have a hard time with accepting the condemnation, the realization that mighty Honda has been outdone by, well, Buick a bitter pill to swallow. And indeed, driven in isolation, the ILX's 2.0-litre VTEC engine feels as competent as previous Honda products with decent performance, good NVH (that's engineering parlance for noise, vibration and harshness, by the way) and excellent fuel economy. And yet, it takes less than five minutes inside the Verano to realize the Civic-based ILX is now the technological laggard. It needs at least another gear in its autobox and mighty Honda, the world's largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines, should be able to squeeze more than 150 ponies out of 2.0 litres. Faster, smoother and more relaxed at highway speeds, the Buick's 2.4L now sets the standard for the segment.