Before its launch, the word on the street was that the 2013 Acura ILX sedan might be replacing the company's slightly bigger, well-regarded, but modestly selling TSX. Well the street was a dead end. The 2013 ILX, appearing showrooms on May 22nd, will instead expand Acura's lineup down-market to do battle against an oncoming field of full-on entry-level/compacts from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and others.

If the BMW 1 Series coupe was a 4-door sedan with a little more interior room, that's about the size of the new ILX. There's great room in the front seats, though rear legroom is marginal and headroom is compromised by the strong rear downsweep of the roofline. The interior is legitimate near-luxury, especially for a car that starts at $26,795. For that price, you get plenty of features you'd generally expect these days – keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, a power tilt/slide moonroof – plus a hip host of "infotainment" benefits including Bluetooth capability, an iPhone compatible USB port, text messaging, and a Pandora radio interface.

The three distinct versions of the 2013 Acura ILX – 2.0L, 2.4L and 1.5L Hybrid – are most easily distinguished by their driving personalities. The first rung of the ILX ladder, the 2.0L, is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. That engine's 150 horsepower is put to surprisingly good use via a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic in a class where a 6-speed is already the norm. The 2.0L treats its human cargo very gently with a beautifully relaxed ride and an interior that's well isolated from outside noises.

If you're looking for more drama in your near-lux driving life, the ILX for you is the 2.4L. This car's 2.4-liter inline-4 appreciates a good revving -- the 201 peak horsepower is delivered at 7,000 rpm, with wheel-turning torque peaking at 4,400 rpm. Keeping the revs up pays off with plenty of passing power, aided by the 2.4L's sole transmission, a 6-speed manual gearbox. As the purposeful performer of the group, the ILX 2.4L rides – a little rougher and a little noisier -- on lower-profile 17-inch tires.

The toughest of the three ILX models to recommend is the 1.5 Hybrid. Not that an EPA rating of 39 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway is anything to sniff at, it's just that the acceleration, especially uphill work, is a challenge. The gas/electric hybrid Acura ILX’s continuously variable transmission tends to drone a bit, which disturbs the car's otherwise superb ride and quiet, but it's certainly not the worst offender in the world of hybrid CVTs.

Starting under $27,000, the 2013 Acura ILX 2.0L is a sturdy bridge into the luxury world. If you insist on a manual transmission and bolder power in your baby Acura, you'll pony up $30,095 or so for the ILX 2.4L. And finally, if hybrid fuel economy captures your fancy-car fancy, the ILX 1.5L Hybrid starts at $29,795.

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