DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: There’s an anecdote in Steve Jobs’ biography where an acquaintance recounts seeing him parked in his car, screaming into a cell phone. Perfectionist to a fault, Jobs was incensed over the hue of the then-prototype iMac, shouting, "Not f*&king blue enough!"
Acura needs a Steve Jobs.
The Acura ILX was introduced for the 2013 model year, garnering mostly crickets from the U.S. buying public. For 2016, Honda has tried to spice things up a bit with styling revisions and a fresh powertrain. The improvements help, but my message to Acura?
You know what’s coming.
Not f#&ing blue enough.
There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about the new engine and transmission, but overall the ILX remains one of the dullest ways to spend $35,000 I can think of. It’s not just that it’s a gussied-up Civic … it’s that it’s not even that gussied up. Interior plastics are Accord-spec at best, seat support is mediocre and the feature set is what you’d find on a Civic EX-L for $10,000 less. The ILX is noisy inside, with wind and road both contributing to the din; tire rumble is particularly pronounced on any surface other than pristine asphalt; and the suspension delivers harsh crashes to the cabin from bumps, potholes and the like. Especially compared to cars on the new MQB platform from Volkswagen Group (the Golf and Audi A3, for example), the ILX chassis feels dated and unrefined.
Under the hood is a new Earth Dreams (possibly the goofiest greenwashing idiom in use today) 2.4-liter I4 coupled to Honda’s unique torque-converter/DCT eight-speed automatic. The transmission uses a lightweight torque converter to facilitate smooth launches, yet shifts with the authority of a dual-clutch once underway. Both the engine and transmission are outstanding, in typical Honda fashion; the inline-four has decent torque down low and loves to rev, while the DCT bangs off up and downshifts instantly whether in automatic mode or when using the paddles. There’s plenty of power to get the ILX moving, though it’s found at higher revs than with its turbocharged competitors.
With swoopier sheetmetal and a nicer interior, the powertrain might be a reason to recommend looking at an ILX, but as it sits the car is seriously outclassed on the lower end by competitors like the Jetta and Golf and the entry-luxe end by the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Even within the Honda family, the Civic EX-L is a far better value, and the Accord V6 is faster and more entertaining to drive.
EDITORIAL INTERN JOSEPH GROVE: My night with the ILX didn’t start with a bang, rather with an awkward fight with the keyless entry system. Little did I know that just putting your hand behind the door handle was enough to unlock it. Once I got the hang of that, it turned out to be a handy feature, and the system responded fast.
I warmed up to the ILX as I was sprinting around the detours through a construction-ridden Detroit. It handled all the stops and starts like a champ, and the 2.4-liter engine was more than up to the task of hauling the car around. But I found the eight-speed a bit of a distraction since there are multiple up and down shifts even in slow-speed city driving.
I agree with Andy about the suspension and road noise. Unfortunately, turning up the radio only helps one of those problems. Driving home on I-75, the car let me know about every expansion gap and small bump I ran over, and when I arrived at my exit, which resembles microwave bacon, I thought I might chip a tooth.
The exterior of the car is one of its brightest spots. The ILX stands out on the road and looks rather aggressive with the thin head- and taillights, as well as a highly reformed version of Acura’s signature beak grille.
The outside looks more premium than the inside, at least to me. The dual infotainment/HVAC screens are more of a confusion than a notable feature; the shift knob has an awkward release button that isn’t very ergonomic, and the steering wheel adjuster is practically hidden. However, the heated cloth seats are a nice touch; I didn’t use them at all, but I did appreciate that they were there.
I was impressed by how easy it was to merge the car onto the freeway, as well as by the light and nimble steering. The ILX would be a compelling choice if it weren’t for the suspension, road noise and a few questionable interior issues. I don't think the ILX will be getting my (admittedly imaginary) $35,000.
West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn: Since it’s based on a Honda Civic, the Acura ILX turns out to be a nice-sized vehicle for everyday living in the big city. It’s roomy enough inside but doesn’t take up too much space outside. You can squeeze into those dinky parking spaces engineered to get two more cars into some parking magnate’s massive parking structure, yet you can drive all the way to Ojai and back in relative comfort, as I did Thursday, or to Beverly Hills and back as I did yesterday. In all I put about 500 miles on my ILX loaner and was glad to have done it.
A few shortcomings: There’s not much headroom for adults in the back seat. I had to crank my neck sideways to fit back there and I’m not that freakishly tall, just over six feet. Kids and shorter passengers will be perfectly happy, though. I have not warmed up to the touchscreen-control style of HMI (human-machine interface) yet, though I suppose I better, since that kind of interface seems to be inevitable. I still want two radio dials and two HVAC dials. This car has the HVAC dials (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) but to change the radio you have to touch the screen on the IP (instrument panel) a whole bunch. Am I whining? A lot of command and control stuff can be done through a touchscreen but not everything. Granted this has some dials but I don’t like how they’re laid out. Sounds petty but it’d be irritating after a couple months of ownership, I gotta think. (I can hear the audio product planning guys screaming, “How else are you going to control all those features?”) The ILX Tech trim level comes with redundant controls on the steering wheel, though, which are mighty handy.
While it got some performance enhancements as part of its recent mid-cycle facelift, I was expecting a real handler on the highway. So when I took it up on a really nice twisting two-lane I was a little disappointed to find that it understeers pretty easily. A lot easier than my colleague who drove it earlier this year on its press launch. Of course, about 99 percent of cars understeer more than I’d like, both those with and without sporty pretentions. It’s unfortunate that the ILX A-Spec does it too, though, since body roll in this sedan is nicely controlled and the electric power rack and pinion steering is not too bad. That 8-speed dual-clutch transmission is about four speeds too many, however, if you ask me (again, not at all unique to Acura ILXs). In this car the transmission seems to spend roughly 50 percent of its time deciding which gear it wants to go in. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it moves up and down in the box a lot more than I’d prefer. I’m not saying all cars should revert to two-speed GM Powerglide trannies, but surely this gear-escalation has to stop somewhere, doesn’t it?
I do like the subtlety of the looks, even with the cool A-Spec aerodynamics. I like anonymity and this delivers, especially with its crystal black exterior paint and ebony interior.
What would I buy instead for the $35,810 sticker of the 2016 ILX Tech Plus A-Spec? You could get a base BMW 320i 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder for roughly the same price. Same with an Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Premium quattro sedan. You could even get a Cadillac ATS 2.5-liter four. An ATS just won our Autoweek Fantasy Camp comparo. Would I rather have any of the above? Maybe…
Acura got three out of five stars in the JD Power Initial Quality Survey last year, followed by five out of five the year before that and three before that. Not bad. The 3-Series got four out of five, three and two; the A3 got three after a couple years of getting two; and the ATS got two, three and two in its last three years. I don’t know what to do with that information. It’s not like the transmissions fall out of cars nowadays.
You do get a well-loaded car when you spend 36 grand on the ILX, but frankly I would do without the A-Spec’s wheels and tires, seats and trim and I would also drop the Tech Plus packages’ beeping safety nannies. An entry ILX will give you almost the same ride and drive experience for almost eight grand less. If for some reason I had to spend 36 large, say some rich uncle’s will insisted that I do so, I’d get the more performance-oriented base Bimmer. Otherwise I’d save the dough and get the entry level ILX. Or a Civic. Blasphemy.
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