Base Price: $29,200

Price as Tested: $30,095

This week, we're driving Acura's all new 2013 ILX Premium, a compact sedan with focus on consumers who desire a vehicle high on amenities and priced attractively for entry into the luxury market.

ILX's exterior design features more "hey, look at me" than the usual Acura compacts (Integra), and is built on the Honda Civic platform in Greensburg, Indiana. However, in no way does ILX resemble its lower-priced cousin, as this new design better helps Acura compete against the other Japanese luxury brands, namely Lexus and Infiniti.

Specifically, Acura has languished a bit over the years to stay in contention for sales while Lexus and Infiniti, along with Cadillac, BMW, Audi, Lincoln, kept improving. Notable is that Acura was the very first to introduce navigation and also successfully market front drive instead of rear drive. But through the years, Acura has allowed others to join the fray and in some instances, pass them by.

Today, however, Acura is out to re-take its place on the pedestal, with exclusive new designs from a flagship RLX, our tester ILX and even a return of the NSX sports car in 2014 (as a 2015 model). NSX is the beloved two-seater from the 1990s featuring a mid-engine V6 for power. The new NSX will also be powered by a V6, but with hybrid abilities, all wheel drive, 30-mpg capabilities and lots of horsepower, too.

Our ILX tester, meanwhile, came with a six-speed manual transmission mated to a peppy 201-horse 2.4 liter four-cylinder that allows for more driving fun. Although an automatic is available, if you decide to go the clutchless route the engine changes to a less powerful 150-horse 2.0 liter design. The tradeoff is fuel mileage, as the more powerful six-speed ILX delivers 22 city and 31 highway, while the automatic generates 24 city and 35 highway EPA numbers. Your Acura dealer will explain all mechanical benefits and also any incentives currently available.

Entry level ILX's start at $25,900 for an automatic, which is a most inviting price for the younger demographic. Notable is a $28,900 hybrid, based on Honda/Acura electric technology while accentuating Acura luxuries and enhanced build treatments versus the Civic. To emphasize again, Acura's major design changes assure ILX owners they won't be driving in a "Civic with Acura badges."

Explicitly, ILX's hood is longer, rear deck shorter and suspension/mechanicals tweaked. Inside, you'll find greatly enhanced appointments, more similar to the Acura TL we recently tested instead of a Civic.

On the road, the six-speed model helps deliver a more sporty driving experience, which is also aided by a sport tuned McPherson strut front setup in combination with a multi-link rear. Steering is OK, although I'd prefer a "stiffer" feel more in liking to the German-built counterparts. On the safety side, six airbags, electronic brakeforce four-wheel ABS discs, traction control and much more await consumers.

Selecting Premium trim on any ILX adds perforated leather-trimmed interior, driver's eight-way power seat with adjustable lumbar, heated front seats, multi-view safety rear camera, power moonroof, seven-speaker 360-watt audio system with subwoofer, XM Radio, 17-inch tires on alloy wheels, HID headlights, fog lamps and more. When you choose the six-speed with Premium, you'll add gray contrast stitching on leather surfaces, impressive red instrument lighting and stainless steel foot pedals. Our Acura ILX had no options, so an additional $895 pushed the final price to $30,095.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 105.1 inches, 2,978 lb. curb weight, 12.3 cu. ft. of cargo space, 13.2 gallon fuel tank and 6.2 inches of ground clearance.

Acura is on its way back to the top, and the new ILX is a prime example of innovative, pricing, safety and return on investment.

Likes: Sporty motif, six speed manual, safety features, interior room, price.

Dislikes: Could use a few more ponies for the automatic, turbo options would be nice.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist)