The old Acura ILX embodied many of our criticisms of the Acura brand: It wasn’t different enough from its Honda equivalent, and it struggled to compete with entry-level luxury offerings from bona fide luxury brands like Audi and Mercedes-Benz. A 2016 refresh for the ILX brought a new dual-clutch transmission and plenty of other revisions, and we were mostly impressed with these changes when we first drove the new car in California. For a different perspective on the changes made to this compact sedan, we spent a few weeks with the car in Michigan. See three editors’ thoughts on the 2016 Acura ILX below.
Jake Holmes, daily news editor
The new 2016 Acura ILX is significantly improved over the original car, and it finally nails the purpose of the fledgling compact entry-luxury sedan segment. The 2016 Acura ILX isn’t an outstanding car to drive, but it is so much more affordable than the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class that it makes a compelling argument for a buyer who’s ready to step up from a mainstream brand. For the price of a well-equipped midsize sedan, the ILX gives buyers far more technology, style, and performance than you’ll find in any other car of this size.
The cabin represents a noticeable step up in terms of quality and refinement compared to a Honda Civic or Accord, especially in terms of quietness. Sadly, its two-screen infotainment system has dated graphics and is very difficult to use. On the other hand, I’m impressed that such an affordable car offers features like lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, which work very well in the ILX.
Sadly, the Acura ILX still isn’t particularly satisfying to drive. I found the handling wholly disappointing. The electric power steering remains devoid of feedback, and the suspension wallows and floats in transitions. It’s an improvement over a Honda Civic, but not enough of one. I also couldn’t fall in love with the 2.4-liter engine and dual-clutch automatic transmission. With its horsepower peak at a lofty 6,800 rpm and maximum torque of just 180 lb-ft, the ILX isn’t especially quick in real-world driving. Accelerating and passing at highway speeds isn’t very brisk because, even when the transmission kicks down, the engine runs way below its peak output. The transmission, while smooth in city driving, tends to hunt on the highway and lurches uncomfortably when you accelerate again after coasting.
Overall, the 2016 Acura ILX is a really impressive update to the compact sedan. The original ILX was a great idea with subpar execution. This refreshed model is still a great idea, but now with great execution to match.
Todd Lassa, Detroit bureau chief
The latest mid-cycle update has done a good job of distancing the ILX from its Honda Civic roots. While there’s still plenty of hard black plastic on the inside, there’s also an abundance of sumptuously padded pleather and leather. The seats stand out with their subtle black-and-white patterned fake suede inserts.
The NVH is far better than any Civic variant I’ve sampled, with a smooth-idling inline four. The eight-speed dual-clutch helps smooth out the 2.4-liter engine and, not surprisingly, it’s programmed to quickly upshift through the first four or five gears while under moderate throttle.
There’s also a nice balance between handling (limited by the front-drive setup more than anything else) and ride quality. The suspension is cushy enough to absorb bumps well, but on a freeway cloverleaf the ILX felt fairly neutral, without any excessive understeer. In the cut and thrust of the daily commute, where you have to take whatever sharp corners you can, the Acura felt like a worthy competitor to the Audi A3, at least.
In my extended morning drive, I paddled the transmission manually and never felt it was trying to take back shifting duties. It held gear close to redline a couple of times, though I didn’t get a chance to over-rev and find out whether it tries shifting itself. The 2.4-liter inline-four is willing and able, though clearly it’s not designed to make you think of the high-revving RSXs of yore.
The 2016 Acura ILX feels better-balanced and more mature than the first ILXs I drove a couple of years ago. It looks and feels ready to take on the Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA, at a Buick Verano price. I didn’t even miss the lack of a manual option, as I think the ILX will sell to fully employed recent college grads who have no interest in commodity brands like Honda before spending $30,000-plus (or more likely, $300 a month on a 36-month lease) for a premium compact sedan. They will not lament the loss of the manual.
Eric Weiner, Daily News Editor
As long as you haven’t spent much time in a well-equipped Civic or Accord lately, you’ll probably find the 2016 Acura ILX to be a pretty nice entry-level luxury car. I think Mercedes-Benz and Audi have done a much better job with the CLA and A3, respectively, of dressing their more affordable compacts with convincingly premium interiors. While the ILX’s nicely padded leather, faux-Alcantara seat trim, and handsome stitching are improvements over the outgoing model, the changes are piecemeal and lack harmony with the rest of the interior, which is largely cheap plastic.
Where I’ll give the ILX the nod is its exterior design and available technology features. As Jake noted, the fact that you can have so many active safety features on such an affordable car is a big deal. That these features are bundled together in the reasonably priced Tech Plus package is even better, seeing as the German brands nickel and dime you on options. I also think the A-spec exterior bits look sharp, particularly the rocker sill extensions, rear decklid spoiler, and the 18-inch wheels. In many ways the ILX A-spec adopts the lively but more mature characteristics that I wish I could get on a Honda Civic Si, which these days has fallen far down the boy-racer rabbit hole.
To drive, the ILX is still a total bore. Ride quality and NVH are definitely a cut above that of the Civic, but there’s nothing in the steering, handling, braking, or acceleration that match up with the car’s sporty interior and exterior. We know from the Civic Si, A3, GTI, and many others that front-wheel drive doesn’t have to be this dull. That being said, the ILX maybe isn’t supposed to be all that sporty, and as a regular commuter it’s comfortable and reasonably quiet. But my biggest issue is the marriage of the eagerly shifting eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and the 2.4-liter inline-four. This engine makes its power very high up in the rev range, but the transmission is so eager to upshift (and hesitant to downshift) that you never really enter the meat of the engine.
Acura was probably right to abandon the manual in this car. The people that will enjoy an ILX most are those who want something with a premium badge and extensive technology at a bargain price. I wouldn’t put the A3 and CLA in that category because of how expensive they can get. I’m just not sure the ILX’s niche is a very big one.
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