By on May 1, 2018

You would think that after 34 years of having the same guitar teacher, I would be better than I am. Yet that’s not really an accurate statement. From the ages of 12 to 14, I went weekly to The String Shoppe on the Ohio State campus for weekly instruction that frustrated more than it educated. My teacher, also named John, was a former New York studio musician specializing in big band and jazz music. I wanted to play Judas Priest riffs. The results were lackluster, to say the least, so I quit in favor of racing my BMX bike.

Two decades later, I sought John out again for some help in playing the old jazz standards to which I had finally come around. In the years since, he has suffered through a series of health scares and personal reversals, while my travel and parenting schedule has accelerated to something just sort of Warp Speed Nine, so nowadays when we meet it’s on short notice and it’s usually just to noodle around on a James Taylor song or something like “East Of The Sun” for an hour or so. It has been a long time since any money has changed hands.

When I stopped by John’s home studio on Saturday — rather predictably, the two songs we fussed with were “Anywhere like Heaven” and “Over The Rainbow” — he expressed interest in the Lotus Evora 400 I’ve been driving as a “long-termer,” while I noted that he’d chopped in his 2015 Accord LX for a 2018 Acura ILX. The conversation that followed has stuck with me all weekend.

The first part of it had to do with his purchase process, which horrified the car salesman in me. I could see maybe two grand’s worth of “gross” in it.

He’d parted with that 2015 Accord LX, which had something like 16k miles, for nothing above his payoff. A car like that is catnip for used-Honda buyers. I doubt it stayed on the dealer’s lot for 36 hours before earning some salesman with an alert “tickler file” a solid commission. While he’d gotten several thousand bucks off his new Acura, I have a sneaking suspicion there was more to be obtained there as well. The default purchase price for any new Acura is: invoice, minus holdback, minus incentives both factory-to-dealer and consumer-to-dealer. The exception, of course, is the MDX, but this wasn’t an MDX. It was a pearl white ILX “Special Edition” with the 2.4-liter and an eight-speed DCT, basically the base TLX powertrain jammed into a smaller space.

There’s something decidedly odd about the way Honda has decided to freeze its Acura offerings on their old platforms, even as the Civic and Accord march on with all the de rigeur appointments of small-displacement turbo engines, bluff noses, and fastback tails. If you ever doubted that Acura has become Honda’s version of Buick — which is to say, old cars for old people — that alone should dissuade you. Unlike with Buick, however, there’s a little method to Honda’s madness here. If you buy an Acura TLX or ILX, you’re getting a platform with up to 10 years’ worth of engineering history in one form or another. The bugs have been worked out. As with the Lexus ES350, these are vehicles that are ideally suited for long-term ownership.

They semi-kinda know what they are doing. My guitar teacher is in his late sixties now. He thought the new Accord was unpleasant-looking and he didn’t see the need for a turbocharger. So the ILX was a perfect fit. It’s about the size of the first-generation TSX/Euro Accord, which was fine with him. He doesn’t like the way the transmission works, which is virtually universal with DCTs and explains very well why the Germans are abandoning the idea even as Toyota pats itself on the back for having never adopted it on a meaningful scale.

So far, so good. Yet as we were zipping around his neighborhood in the Evora, he said, “You know, I wish I could have gotten a standard shift in the Acura.”

“I think you could have,” I responded, but after a quick check of the media materials I realized that Acura ditched the six-speed a few years ago. The ILX used to come with two powertrain options: the 2.4L/six-speed combo from the old Civic Si, sans limited slip diff, and the two-liter/five-speed slushbox matchup that was also standard in the Civic EX of the time. Both of those options are gone, replaced by the One! Great! Choice! of 2.4/DCT. If you were smart enough to buy the 2.4/manual combo in, say, 2013, congratulations!

I’m seeing some sales of those cars at 50 percent of MSRP or more despite having anywhere from 75k to 105k miles on them. That’s $3,000 in depreciation per year to drive 18,000 miles a year. To put that in perspective: Sports Car Market figured out a while ago that it cost at least fifteen dollars a mile in maintenance expenses to drive a 550 Maranello.

Or maybe that’s not the most appropriate possible comparison. Feel free to make you own, using anything from the turn-of-the-century purchase of a Porsche 993 (the market has actually been paying me to drive mine) to, say, being one of the people who was in a hurry to buy a new Alfa Giulia when they came out. Your mileage may vary.

It’s tempting to crucify Acura for putting the stick-shift ILX out to pasture, since all of the development costs were already paid and retaining the vehicle in the lineup wouldn’t have required much more than a few keystrokes. In truth, however, it’s the dealers who are probably to blame. Acura has about 230 dealerships. In order for six-speed ILX production to make sense, it would have to account for at least five percent of production. Which means a thousand cars, which means four cars for every dealer.

An intelligent, thoughtful, customer-connected dealership would have no trouble moving four stick-shift ILXes a year. You have 10 times that many former owners coming in with six-speed TLs, TSXes, and even the occasional long-hauler with an RSX. All of those people are good sales prospects for your manual ILX volume. Unfortunately, the average Acura dealership is nothing but a punishment tour for a megadealer group or an O.G. Honda superstore. It’s where you banish people who can’t “hold gross” on at least 240 CR-Vs and Pilots a year. It’s a place where they rely on people coming in and basically demanding to be allowed to trade in their current MDX on a new one.

Dealerships like that have no use for six-speed Acura sedans. So they petition their dealer reps to cut those cars out of the mix, the same way many Ford dealers have probably told their reps that they would be just fine with a crossover-only lineup. And since the dealers are the true customers of the manufacturers, that spells the end of interesting Acuras.

In the end, those dealers are costing Honda money. I would have cheerfully paid another $10,000 for a stick-shift Acura TLX instead of my stick-shift Accord V6 coupe. I’m not the only person out there who would have spent that extra money. There are two other people in my 88-home subdivision who bought Accord V6 coupes after seeing mine. Both of them would have spent more for an Acura. So that’s $30k of markup gone. But you can’t make an argument like that to dealers who don’t look past the end of the month.

The more I think about it, the more I think that issues like this constitute pretty much the only unassailable argument for a factory-store model. If Honda owned its dealers, it could provide them with a wider variety of specialist product, the way they do to Japanese-market dealers. A lot of people think that factory stores would give customers a better deal. They’re dreaming, and if you need tangible proof of that it’s as close as your nearest Apple Store. But a factory-owned dealer network would offer more choice to its customers. Those customers might be willing to spend more as a result.

Which is what I asked my old friend and teacher on Saturday. “How much extra would you pay for a stick-shift in that Acura of yours?”

“Oh, well, I wouldn’t want to get ripped off,” he replied. “No more than a few grand.” I wonder how many people like him are out there, demanding discounts on cars they don’t really want because dealers are too lazy to handle the cars they do want. And I wonder how many people will hail the “success” of the all-crossovers-all-the-time model when it arrives, not bothering to notice the consequences for the bottom line, customer loyalty, and whatever remains of what we used to call “automotive enthusiasm.”

Something has come unstuck, that’s for sure, and it’s not just the littlest Acura.

[Image: Acura]

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50 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: How the ILX Came Unstuck...”

  • avatar

    You can’t sell this plastic crap so its off to the luxury marque for you!

    (I understand its a financial punishment but it seems quite perverse, akin to Kevin Smith’s view of Hollywood where you “fail upward”).

    • 0 avatar

      Buick did it with the Verano and sold 3x as many as ILX along with the Buick outselling Acura as a whole. I “traded” my Verano 2.0T on the plus side. Purchasing used at 4,500 miles or $8,000 less than new MSRP can pay dividends when you want to change vehicles in a couple of years.

      So you can break even on an American nameplate just as easy as a Japanese today. Actually most Hondas today are overpriced compared to discounted domestics by about $8,000. They even out at about the 5-year mark so if you are into investing in a depreciating asset you’ll know the Japanese residuals sink like a rock.

  • avatar

    I was hoping to try out the ILX manual in 2013 but none of the dealerships in the Bay area had it in stock for me to test drive. For fun, I tried out my friend’s FR-S and a few weeks later I got myself a 13′ BRZ.

    Fast forward to today, where my wife and I are expecting our first kid… I was looking around for stick Sedans. Didn’t give Acura a thought until my friend mentioned to me the prev generation TL. I snatched a ’10 up from an Infinity Dealership with decently low miles. It’s the last biggest engined sticked Honda I can find, and I’m happy with it.

    In my heart, I’ll always be a Honda fanboy ever since a hand-me-down ’97 Integra GSR in high school. But for now, nothing in Acura’s line-up entices me. I really, really hope that they bring the stick back sometime in the future… because the boy in me is dying by the day.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      The Manual Is Dead. Long Live The Manual! When I was in your current situation I was looking for a Miata. After years of trucks and other trucks I needed a manual. My then-pregnant wife was incensed. “Still shopping for your ‘Escape Pod’?” she’d mutter every time I was on a computer. I ended up buying a 2007 CTS-V. She was pleasantly surprised that it had four seats and looked like ‘a car’. It’s a blast to hoon in it alone and it’s also a capable family truckster. In all honesty, Win/Win. We’ll forget that there is $500 of recently-delivered parts in our front foyer – one of which is a replacement starter motor… That’s just the cost of a great old car. Pull the trigger soon or wait for 10-15 years.

  • avatar

    Well at least he’s happy with it. I’ve learned to stop worrying about other people’s car purchases and I’ve learned to stop giving advice to family/friends about car purchases that they then proceed to promptly ignore. (Or at least if they back me into a corner for advice I’ve learned to stop caring whether they take it or not.)

    Acura is basically like other luxury/near luxury brands. Not necessarily a good deal new but a steal at CPO or a few years used.

    • 0 avatar

      “Drive lots of cars and buy what you like best” is the best and only advice I give to almost anyone who asks. They usually aren’t looking for actual options, just validation that the pretty VW they could afford a lease on is the best thing ever.

    • 0 avatar

      @PrincipalDan – agreed. I’ve been asked for my opinion and all it does is pizz people off. They want someone to say that they made a good choice.

    • 0 avatar

      With the modern car market as it is, other people ignore my advice and buy some horrible crossover that I’ve given up even trying to muster enthusiasm about.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A whole lot of “save the manuals” undertone in that piece. Most luxury car owners live in the ‘burbs and don’t wan the stick shift hassle. The only guy in my office who drives a stick drives a Corolla with TRD springs. Or he claims they’re TRD springs, or at least were put on at the dealership. The M3, mustang GT, and Corvette drivers drive automatics. Traffic on I-295 and I-395 does come to a dead stop. Hence, few manuals.

    • 0 avatar

      It still makes me chuckle that there’s a sport suspension/lowering kit dealership installed available for the current Malibu.

      You should ask him if TRD still sells the supercharger for the old Corolla/Matrix 1.8 ltr. That would be a bit more beastly.

      • 0 avatar

        Is that the Redline Series that you’re talking about? I saw one of those Malibus on the back of a carrier. Pretty ridiculous, and that name didn’t do Saturn any good. For some reason, Chevy prefers to advertise these vehicles in silver with red accents, which looks even worse than the black Malibu that I saw.

        • 0 avatar

          Should be called the “Euro sport”

          • 0 avatar

            Haha, I thought the exact same thing! Euro Sport is the perfect name for mediocre, behind-the-times Chevy sedans.

          • 0 avatar

            TmA1, the Malibu on E2XX platform is fro m 2016 and I guess compared to 2018 Accord and Camry could be called old. But the Malbu 2.0T has been running rings around Accord V6 for years now. With Accord going all turbo they are just catching up!

    • 0 avatar

      And some of us want and are willing to pay more for a stick.

      As I keep saying, BMW and Alfa Romeo have saved me just about $100K by not being willing to sell me what I want. I should probably send them a thank you note.

      As for Acura – to me they are Hondas with delusions of grandeur, and I don’t like Hondas to start with. Hard pass.

  • avatar

    I had a 2008 TL Type S, 6MT….I loved it, it was a fantastic car (despite FWD). Even the 4th gen TLs were great driving cars (despite the questionable styling) that could be had with a manual. I agree with Jack that a manual TLX would be tempting but Acura is more interested in phoning in blandmobiles….I hope that they snap out of it soon.

  • avatar

    I my experience, “Acura” means one of two things.

    “Hey, learn to drive your MDX, soccer mom!”


    “You’re bad at driving and trying too hard”, usually with a BHPH old model.

    (There’s nothing wrong with them in themselves.

    There’s also nothing right.)

    • 0 avatar

      > “Hey, learn to drive your MDX, soccer mom!”

      Sad to say, I’ve observed more than my share of such drivers on the roadways these days.

      I assert that a “multitasking” soccer mom driving a 5000 lb. vehicle is a greater roadway hazard than a tractor-trailer. Tractor-trailers are driven by professional drivers (for the most part – save for a few exceptions).

  • avatar

    Here in the UK, we are approaching 50/50 for sales of auto vs manual (stick) now. Manuals are still cheaper though, so I’m aghast your friend would have paid MORE for one! I expect in the next 10 years or so manuals will all but disappear, particularly with the rise of electric.
    Now. Should I teach my teenage kids to drive an auto? That means they will never be allowed to drive a manual, but by the time they can afford insurance, maybe that’s not a problem….

    • 0 avatar

      Here in the UK fuel economy has always been fairly important because of the price of fuel.

      Traditional old school autoboxes lost a bit of fuel economy, so weren’t that popular. Most people learnt to drive a manual.

      Automatics used to be seen on large luxury cars, or in small numbers on city runabouts (remember the Austin Metro had a special rear badge on their Automatic cars)

      I actually got my first automatic about 8 years ago, a 1999 Accord coupe – built in the US rather than based off the European Accord. Found it so much easier to drive, at the time it involved a commute into one of the busiest cities on these islands. Followed with a Celica manual and I realised I’d gotten used to the autobox. A GM Saab 9-3 followed, then my current car an Octavia with the maligned DSG box.

      This type of modern autobox is more of an automated manual than an old school slushbox, so does not have the detriment of poor fuel economy. (And while it doesn’t attract the 2013 “low emissions diesel” £0 tax that the manual has, £20 a year is better than £300+ for the Saab. Though a brand new model on the new tax regime loses this advantage)

      Autoboxes are also well suited to electric / hybrid drivetrains, and increasing “self drive” autonomous tech, so it makes sense that they’re becoming increasingly popular on this side of the Atlantic.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    “Unfortunately, the average Acura dealership is nothing but a punishment tour for a megadealer group or an O.G. Honda superstore.”

    My local Acura dealer still has NEW 2015 (!!!) TLXs sitting unsold.

  • avatar

    I think the dealer allocation conundrum could be solved in a way that works for everybody. Lot chowder pretty much always goes for less than MSRP so that’s out. For essentially custom orders, like a stickshift ANYTHING, the factory should provide dealers with test cars (out of the fleet) and either compensate the dealer for dealing with it all on the back end, or bake the cost of the hassle into the trasnaction (i.e. a “custom order” fee). Like Derek Kriendler said, enthusiasts pay a tax for our preferences… seems silly for manufacturers/dealers not to cash in.

  • avatar

    I’m okay with my old 2014 TSX Sportwagon and it’s paddle shifting automatic. Then again I”m retired and drive slower than I use to. Still when it comes time for fun, I’ll sit my old bones into the Elan, hope it starts and go for a drive in the mountains. The only way I’d change is when I get too old to get in the Elan, then maybe a ILX with a manual and a hatch might be the way. But that probably isn’t going to happen in my life time.

  • avatar

    You know, most of these posts have at least a few people who own the car who are willing to talk about it. I think it’s telling that there’s no one speaking up. I was looking at the TLX a while back, and the salesperson asked if I would be interested in the ILX. I answered by asking how hard it was to sell them now that the new Civic was out. And yet, while I was there, an older couple came in to look at the ILX (As Jack suggested).

    And Jack- did you drive it? I think that engine and transmission could be interesting in a car that size, but the rest of the package was so lackluster that I did not drive it. I’d love to hear your opinion.

  • avatar

    Tell your friend to start saving pennies for the brake job he will be doing at 25K miles. It’s a Honda, after all.

    • 0 avatar

      Ugh, my ’04 V6 Accord and ’06 maul TSX both had awful braking systems. The Accord had all 4 rotors and pads replaced at 1,400 miles.

      • 0 avatar

        Weird. I sold my 2013 V6 Accord (Thailand built) with around 25k miles and the original brakes and tires were no more than half worn. I hadn’t done anything other than normal services and I drove it hard, mostly city driving.

  • avatar

    I think the original ILX automatic had a 2.0/5A shared with the contemporary CR-V. The Civic of the day had the shorter-stroke 1.8/5A, so the extra cost of the ILX did net you a slight power bump.

  • avatar

    It saddens me that Acura doesn’t see fit to have a manual transmission on offer anymore. My ’06 TSX just died on me and I found no recent used Acuras with sticks available. I ended up trading it for a ’16 Elantra GT, which is an inferior car in many ways, but fits my new needs well… a 7 month old son!

  • avatar

    For whatever reason, he “doesn’t see the need for a turbo”. More complicated, more expensive to fix, etc.

    Fair enough.

    But he kept his last car for 16K miles.

    I think pretty much any turbo can handle that.

    He chose a car with a DCT when he wanted a manual because he didn’t want a turbo.

    What is a weaker link maintenance-wise, a turbo or a DCT.

    Out of the frying pan and into the fire perhaps? Who knows?

    IMO, this guy would’ve been better off with a new Civic manual, an Elantra Sport manual, or even a GLI.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a few of these as service loaners, and it’s one of the most unimpressive vehicles I’ve ever driven. It’s plasticky, the suspension does a poor job of isolating bumps, and the interior design is very aged.

    But to Jack’s point, I had a 2011 TL SH AWD 6MT and it was an absolute beast. Definitely one of the most under appreciated enthusiast cars due to the styling – I paid 40% of MSRP on one with only 45k miles in 2013. If Acura did a follow up, I’d be a buyer. But the TLX is almost as bland as the ILX. They lost all the Honda++ special feeling that Acuras used to have.

    2018 Accord Sport 2.0T 6MT is what I currently own, and it is far better than what an ILX 6MT would be. Your buddy should have driven one of them. I got mine at $4000 under MSRP, and I’m not alone.

  • avatar

    Acura…ever since “The Beak.”

  • avatar

    It’s hard to believe that Acura went from the 6MT 2004 TSX I owned, which was more than the sum of its parts and just seemed like The Right Way to build a sporty, comfortable compact sedan, to being so far behind the 8-ball. I’m going to guess all of the best talent was allocated to the MDX and RDX. And that’s probably sensible, but it’s still sad.

    Today I saw this very pretty 2005 TSX on Craigslist and looked at it for several minutes longer than I needed to.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      That generation TSX is a fantastic looking sedan. They rode the balance of refinement, taste, sport, and semi-premium perfectly when styling it.

      The car is only right with a manual. I drove an automatic 2006 recently and that transmission kills the car.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree on the manual. I had an automatic TSX service loaner when my manual TSX was in for its first annual service. Gears were too tall and too far apart, and the power level was “just enough,” so bad gearing really cut the fun.

        I have no use at the moment for a compact sedan but I keep eyeing both that one and another good one for sale in Portland anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      The best talent at Acura went to the NSX.

  • avatar

    Acura has been lost for awhile. Given Honda’s current direction (ugly exteriors, random button interiors) there isn’t much to get my interest on their lot either. Even Infiniti has ditched all its manuals. I’m clearly getting old as its becoming apparent that my desire to have stick shift vehicles is behind the times. Shame since there was a time when I entertained getting a TSX… with the 6 speed.

  • avatar

    Why does Acura even exist ? The Honda name is enough to carry the NSX in Europe. Worse, if you accept that Acura would be a top end Honda, that fails too. The new Accord is a nicer car all around than the Acuras.

    Acura needs a real performance reason to live. There just isn’t much there for the enthusiast. Plenty for the suburbanite, but that’s not a unique selling point. Acura should be Super Honda…instead it’s low end BMW in a leisure suit.

    The writer with the TL manual, enjoy it, you got the last one…..

  • avatar

    A few years ago I sought out, and bought, a ’13 ILX 6MT from the used market. My wife and I wanted a fun car, but I wanted something in adult clothes. And we wanted a manual transmission. This story goes way back to the ’83 Civic S she had.

    But almost immediately, she realized she couldn’t clutch anymore, not with her bum ankle. So the car was effectively mine. I drive about 20K miles/year.

    Fast forward to last December, and I want a fun car we can both drive. I stumbled into the VW dealer, because GTI. If you’re going to do this, do it with history and style, right? Anyway, the DSG nailed the deal shut for me. That is one snot-slick solution to “I can’t or don’t want to shift it myself anymore”. And, it’s great for DD duty.

    I don’t know where you get the idea that the Germans are giving up on DSG. I see no indication of that. Past a certain point it won’t handle the torque, but that’s Audi S or RS country. Golf R still has it.

    I test drove that ILX with DCT. It was a close contender, because I’ve driven Japanese for 35 years and I loved my ILX. But DSG and GTI history got me in the end. And I’m loving it.

    VW DSG or bust. Screw the row-your-own. And screw the torque converter.

  • avatar

    From reading the above posts, it seems to me that the majority of TTAC stick shift responders bought used. Perhaps this is why Acura isn’t so keen on producing new ones.

    • 0 avatar

      All the used cars were new at one point.

      Last time I was shopping, went to the Honda dealer and they had no manual Civics besides the base model and no manual Accords either.

      So I didn’t buy one. Because they didn’t have any. They didn’t sell a manual not because I didn’t want one, because they didn’t have them. How often does this happen?

      Ended up with a Elantra Sport manual because a dealer here had 5 of them.

      I’ve had 14 cars BTW, 13 of them manual with 5 being brand new manuals.

  • avatar

    “invoice, minus holdback, minus incentives both factory-to-dealer and consumer-to-dealer”

    Jack, how does this formula apply to, say, a new GTI? Or a train, which I could also afford.

  • avatar

    I went into an Acura dealer to look at a lightly used ILX a little over a year ago. The prices were so low and it was before the current Civic SI came out that I figured I’d at least look at it.

    It wasn’t very good in any meaningful way and the a-spec package was nothing more than cosmetic. The seats were comfortable and the blue paint was decent. That’s it.

    The salesman asked what I thought the car was missing. I told him a stick would at least make the car interesting. He just replied “yeah, but nobody would buy it”

  • avatar

    Acura needs a niche, since now it’s probably the most forgettable brand and lineup on the market. Bringing back manuals could be it, especially since that has history for them and Honda already has MTs in these platforms. Heck, make a manual RDX, that’d bring a few people through the door as a kind of halo crossover

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