By: Brandon Randall
The ever expanding family of compact entry-level luxury sedans is full of tantalizing options, like the beautiful Audi A3 or sharply contoured Mercedes CLA. When it first debuted in 2013, the Acura ILX was already late to the party. What’s more is that it also arrived a little underdressed and very underpowered. With a spineless 2.0L 4-cylinder engine churning out a disappointing 150 hp. This lackluster powertrain and very short list of safety and tech features made the Acura ILX little more than a fancied up Honda Civic.
Lucky for us, Honda didn’t take long to throw on a dinner jacket and get with the program. Necessary changes started with the most obvious, making the 2.4L i-VTEC engine, before only optional with the 6-speed standard transmission, now standard equipment in every model. Not only does this more powerful engine with Honda’s famous variable valve timing produce 50 more hp, its also paired to a more sophisticated 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. This combination helps to liven up the driving experience while keeping revs down at cruising speeds. I still found occasions where the ILX couldn’t make up its mind about which gear to select and required that I step in and manually intervene with the paddle shifters. Especially when powering up sharp inclines or trying to overtake other cars on the road.
Hard as the ILX may try to be elegant and refined, it can’t completely shake the subtle influence of the late Acura Integra in its DNA. With disc brakes, 4-wheel independent suspension and that brassy VTEC soundtrack at cam crossover, the ILX has an unmistakeable playfulness. The brake pedal is firm and easy to modulate with plenty of bite. Some predictable front-wheel drive understeer is present, but the ILX manages plenty of grip and level cornering with an eagerness that hasn’t been completely engineered out in the pursuit of soft luxury. Sadly, the steering wheel doesn’t provide much feedback and was on the lighter side.
The Acura ILX has always been a good looking car with sharp angles and clean lines. New for 2016 we see a freshened up front and rear treatment with ‘jewel eye’ LED headlights and taillights, a standard sunroof and sporty 17” alloy wheels. An A-spec package can be included in the higher end trim levels to get 18” wheels, fog-lights, side sills, a rear spoiler and suede seat inserts with contrast stitching. It’s still no Type R, but if the ILX can’t completely play the part, at least it can look it.
Having taken steps to rectify the original cars problems in the performance department, Acura turned its attention to expanding the limited amount of safety features. In this area, they were also very successful. The 2016 Acura ILX has six different equipment trim levels. The top two are Premium and lastly Tech Plus at just under $34,000. I was blessed to have the best, and let me say, there’s a lot of value to be had. Tech Plus comes with Navigation, a 10-speaker premium sound system, voice recognition and the AcuraLink Communication System for real time traffic and other helpful information that even the most savvy commuter will appreciate.
The list of safety features is even longer. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, collision mitigating braking, forward collision warning, road departure and lane keeping assist, I could go on. On the road, the ILX has eyes and sensors everywhere, watching your back and front, always keeping you in line, literally.
The interior is still home to a variety of subpar plastic and trim materials. The dual-screen infotainment set up is confusing and cumbersome to operate, still trailing behind better systems from Audi and BMW. Upholstery is leather trimmed and front seats are heated and 8-way adjustable. The rear seats are only moderately accommodating to adult passengers and the narrow opening for the trunk made its standard capacity of 12.3 cubic feet difficult to access. Cabin noise was a little on the loud side at highway speeds as well.
I don’t want to come across as overly negative towards the 2016 Acura ILX. In truth, compared to the previous generation, It’s been vastly improved across the board. Some might argue that there still isn’t enough space separating Honda’a mass-market models and its luxury offerings from Acura. Certainly not enough for the ILX to go toe-to-toe with its competition from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. But these competitors, when fully loaded, will have a price point $10,000 higher or more than the ILX. On the other side of the coin, you can get into a beautifully equipped and much more spacious Accord or Camry for the same price as the ILX, and those come with a V6!
It’s for this reason that the Acura ILX finds itself uniquely square in the middle of its market. The many positive changes for 2016 have certainly strengthened the case its making for itself. With a great design and price tag, good driving dynamics, a healthy list of upscale features and Honda’s famous reliability, it’s becoming a strong case indeed.
Price as tested: $33,820.00