2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus:

Still fun, but something's missing.

Price: $33,930 as tested. A base model can be had for $27,990.

Marketer's pitch: "Sophisticated and quick for life in the fast lane."

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver says: "Although the ILX is basically a Honda Civic, it is a really nice Civic, featuring an interior with upgraded materials. . . . The ILX offers value for the money vs. the competition."

Reality: Can you have fun without a gearshift?

First impression: Upon first glance, the ILX seemed somehow cheaper than the previous model, and not nearly as fun to drive. It really took me a couple of days to learn otherwise.

On the curves: Maybe I just had to find the right roads. Sturgis Kid 4.0, the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat, and I took the ILX back to my old stomping grounds of Berks and Schuylkill Counties, where the mountains grow tall and the curves are sharper. After I found my footing, I put the ILX to the test. And it landed right up there with the Mini Cooper and some far more expensive sports cars for driving delights, even despite front-wheel drive. Winding roads, hairpin turns, bounding country lanes - each one became more fun than the last.

Up to speed: Accelerating out of corners became a sport. "Only" 201 horses come out of the 2.4-liter four cylinder, but they're plenty for the little ILX.

But speaking of "Sport," be absolutely sure that you've chosen Sport mode before trying any death-defying acceleration maneuvers. I inadvertently left the car in Drive mode for a couple of standing stops and became a little frightened as I watched cars bearing down on me - the power is still there, but the throttle needs much more encouragement than in Sport mode. The ILX is definitely part Accord, part NSX.

Shifty: Perhaps most disappointing, the test model didn't come with the six-speed manual I'd had last time around with the 2013 model. The shiftable automatic was just fine, but there's nothing like a clutch for real fun. And then I learned the ILX no longer comes with the six-speed at all, dropped after the 2015 model year. This is a far cry from the original 2013 model, which came with no automatic transmission at all. The eight-speed automatic offers paddle shifters but no shift on the console - disappointing because the ILX gear selector felt so nice in my hand.

Inside: The interior, with three colors - including a band of plasticky chrome - definitely does not exude the usual Acura luxury. In fact, I felt as if it were a downgrade from the Accord Touring V-6 (a direct cousin) I'd had recently.

Driver's Seat: The leather-covered cockpit was comfortable and supportive, but I felt a little fatigued after the daylong drive up north.

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers won't be bowled over by accommodations either. Legroom and headroom are both fairly snug, although feet can still wiggle a bit. The seat itself offers comfort, although a middle passenger would find the console intrusive. Six-foot-one Sturgis Kid 4.0 (This kid will not. Stop. Growing.) found comfort an issue from back there, but anyone that tall really should just buy his own damn car already. The trunk has good space for storage, and the console offers CD space and bit of a phone cubby above the gearshift.

Play some tunes: Two screens are included in the Tech Plus trim level. Like in most Hondas and Acuras, switching from AM to XM and CD is nice - the display in the gauge pod changes when the mode button is pressed, so drivers can just scroll through. But even with the two screens, difficult maneuvers - say, finding a song by title - must be handled by switching out of navigation mode. Sound from the unit was very good.

Night shift: The jewel-eye headlights Acura touts on its website are actually difficult to see by. The low beams sit a little low, and adding in the bright map light makes maneuvering really tricky.

Fuel economy: I averaged more than 30 mpg on my first trip. It dropped quite a bit in some road-rally-style driving around Hawk Mountain and other scenic mountain areas.

Where it's built: Marysville, Ohio.

How it's built: Consumer Reports gives the ILX a predicted reliability of above average, which matches the 2016 model's rating. But I noted that its customer satisfaction rating is poor.

In the end: Perhaps owners know better than I do, but I found the ILX remains a lot of fun to drive. It depends if you can live without that shift lever.