Acura ILX Premium: Nice enough to make me think of switching careers so I can afford it.
Price: Just about $30,000 as tested, with a 2.4-liter four, six-speed transmission, and sunroof, but no navigation. Hmm ... doesn't have to be that great a job. (A basic automatic with a 2.0-liter four cylinder starts at $25,900; a hybrid at $28,900.)
Marketer's pitch: "Move up. Without settling down."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "reasonable starting price; above-average fuel economy from hybrid model; well-constructed interior," but dislikes its "smallish trunk; no automatic transmission or top-end features for sport-oriented 2.4L model."
Reality: If you enjoy a good, old-fashioned drive without all the latest gizmos, this may be the car for you.
An Acura tradition: I never thought much about the Japanese luxobrands. They arrived on the scene when Mr. Driver's Seat was Mr. Pedestrian-Cyclist Psychology-Journalism Student who assumed he'd never afford one. Furthermore, their names -- TL, GL, LX -- inspired confusion, not love.
But over the years, as I learned more about the brands, I found they weren't so interchangeable. Though they all focused on drive experience, luxury and quality, Toyota's Lexus seemed most geared toward pure comfort, Nissan's Infiniti to advanced technology and Honda's Acura to sportiness. And I really liked the looks of the mid-2000s Acura TL.
Sporty side: A 2012 TSX wagon I tested quickly sold me on Acura. Despite a low-tech, five-speed automatic transmission with just paddle shifters and the boring practicality of a station wagon, the vehicle landed on my short list of favorites for comfort, driving fun and utility.
But I wondered if perhaps I were in an exceptional mood the week I drove it, or if the "utility" portion of the vehicle appealed to my Dad side.
I approached the ILX not expecting a repeat performance, but with an attitude of "Oh? Think you're special? Huh. We'll see about that."
Outside: The pretty Acura grille stands out, but the styling is sedate and simple, even Accord-ian. The attractive burgundy color of the tester helped a bit.
Right from the start: Yet when I first climbed into the ILX it simply felt right. The supple, well-contoured leather seats and the short, silver six-speed manual shifter combined to perfect effect. The metal clutch pedal sat in the precise spot, not too high or too low.
On the road: The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 201 horses that power the car effortlessly. Getting onto interstates and driving a little stupid once you're there is pretty easy.
The six-speed shifter features nicely spaced gears and offers just the right amount of resistance to heighten the experience.
The exhaust rumbles when pressed, but otherwise only quietly reminds drivers that more fun can be had, if you just loosen that tie and kick back.
On the curves: The ILX will perform all the country-road tricks I wax poetic about in column after column.
Friends and stuff: The lovely, young Sturgis Kid 3.0's significant other, Longhair 1.0, reports rear legroom is generous. And at 6 feet, he's definitely a full-size occupant.
The armrest storage and cupholders are put together in a yin and yang fashion that I found clever and useful. A small compartment with a door in front of the shifter fits cell phone and key fob.
Unlike the nitpickers at Edmunds, I didn't find the trunk so bad for a small car, and a small pass-through allows longish boards, skis and other items to slip into the passenger compartment.
Play some tunes: When Sirius played Neil Young's grungy "Rockin' in the Free World," I seized the moment. Adjusting the bass, treble and subwoofer levels involved a button and a dial, so it was simple enough to perform on the fly.
But without a midrange adjustment the result was not that stellar. My old Mazda can rattle the windows, and the Acura's sound system probably wouldn't even rattle Grandma 1.0.
Down side: A real drawback -- and a complaint common among new vehicle owners -- was the tire pressure monitor. It kept alerting me to a phantom low tire. With the changes in temperature in Pennsylvania, this becomes a daily man-versus-machine struggle.
Fuel economy: Here the sporty ILX really shines, exhibiting 32 mpg in a highway-heavy, "Watch this, kids!"-heavy mix of driving. I can't imagine the hybrid offering enough economy worth sapping the joy from this car.
Where it's built: Greensburg, Ind.
How it's built: Though the ILX is new, Acuras tend to land in the top of reliability ratings, like they do in J.D. Power and Associates'. However, the ILX is the subject of a recall (along with the 2012 Honda CR-V) for door latches that may not close properly.
In the end: I hope I don't have to turn in my Cynical Journalist card, because I'm kind of getting gooey over this piece of machinery. Of course, I said in the beginning I needed to look for a better job to afford it anyway.
Next week: A family-car feud, as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry face off.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com.