2016 Acura ILX Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
A strong and affordable contender in the entry-luxury/sport sedan segment
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Acura Buyers Guide
Luxury automakers need to attract new customers, and that is usually the mission of their smallest and least-expensive offerings. Cars in the entry-luxury category need to balance exclusivity with affordability since it's not the high end of the market where exclusivity and resultant high price are important parts of the game. Plenty of sociology and marketing thesis material there… This means that if the manufacturer has a more middle-class brand, a vehicle from that line will likely be used as the basis for the upscale brand's entry-level machine. Higher status becomes more affordable.
Acura is Honda's luxury line, and yes, its entry-level ILX sedan is based on the Honda Civic sedan. Meaning the ILX uses the Civic's chassis structure, suspension design, and drivetrain, all with some modification, wrapped in exclusive bodywork and with a more upscale interior. The ILX has been quite successful since its model-year 2013 debut, with Acura claiming that it sells to a higher percentage of luxury car buyers under 35 years of age than anything else in the class.
The ILX gets the first major revisions since its debut for model year 2016, available now. Most apparent are multi-element LED headlamps, now an Acura signature feature. Look again, and notice that the grille and front fascia have been updated, and there are changes at the back as well. The interior is freshened, and nearly all current electronic infotainment and safety technology is either standard or available.
That's outside. Underneath is where the major changes are, starting in the engine compartment. The engine's still a four-cylinder, but it's not the old 2.0-liter, 150-hp one. Displacing the same 2.4 liters as the old manual-transmission ILX, it's not that. It's the same one used in the larger TLX, with direct fuel injection for improved performance and efficiency -- to the tune of 201 horsepower and 180 lb-ft. That's the same horsepower and ten more lb-ft of torque -- but the torque peak is now at 3600 rpm instead of 4400. Which makes it much more useful, especially since the 2.0-liter car's aging five-speed automatic has given way to an eight-speed dual-clutch automanual. Which, in the typically innovative Acura and Honda way, uses a torque converter for one of the clutches for smoother operation from starting, especially when cold. The result is better use of the engine's power and lower engine speeds in highway cruising, for improved fuel economy and a quieter interior. The suspension has been recalibrated and larger brake discs are fitted.
As is Acura's way, trim levels are package options. The basic ILX may be upgraded with either the Premium Package or the Tech Plus Package. Either of those may be outfitted with the A-Spec Package of exterior and interior cosmetic enhancements, and the AcuraWatch suite of electronic safety and assistance technologies can be added even to the base ILX.
My test car was, of course, a fully-equipped Tech Plus with A-Spec, every bit a contemporary entry-luxury sedan with more than a hint of sportiness. Compared with its immediate predecessor, tested last Fall, the new ILX is a notable improvement in power and refinement with no loss of fuel economy. Unlike the 2.4 in the previous manual-transmission model, this one doesn't need to be run up to redline for any serious power. A 2015 Civic Si sits in my driveway at the moment, awaiting review soon. Compare that and the ILX? Different cars for different people, Honda/Acura is not competing with itself here at all. And the new improvements to the ILX, it can compete even better with the world's entry-luxury sedans.
APPEARANCE: It's familiar… but just a bit different. Five LED bulbs per side in the headlights, with LED accent lights, are immediately noticeable, day or night. The grille crossbar is slightly thinner, and the race-car looking lower front fascia revised with larger nostrils and a more pronounced center faux splitter. Someone at Acura always wanted a Ferrari F360… The rest of the body is largely unchanged. Unusually for the small car in a company's lineup, the ILX looks long and narrow, and quite graceful, without the more common pudginess due to a relatively larger (compared to larger siblings) passenger cabin. Also interesting is that the new TLX has the same side character line that rises over the rear wheel as the ILX. The 2016 ILX's taillights have been restyled, and the lower rear bumper fascia reprises the styling of its front counterpart. The A-Spec kit adds a small spoiler lip, side sill extensions, foglamps, and "plus-one" 18-inch alloy wheels with lower-profile all-season sports tires.
COMFORT: There is less apparent difference between last year and this inside. Other than the addition of a second monitor screen in the center stack (except base), nothing seems to have changed. Wrong - Active Noise Control decreases interior noise in all models, as does more soundproofing material and thicker front side window glass. And there are various minor differences in trim and materials. The A-Spec package replaces the leather of Premium or Tech Plus seating areas with Lux Suede® faux suede for a sportier appearance. All of the amenities expected in a luxury car are found in the Tech Plus model -- comfort, convenience, and connectivity are covered. Audio choices are all current varieties, either internal to the audio system or via your paired phone. The navigation and information systems are simple to use, via a rotary knob on the stack.
Instrumentation is complete and easily visible. Front seats are power-adjustable, with good comfort and support. The rear seat is a bit narrow, no surprise, but a center armrest with cupholders adds convenience. The entire rear seatback folds for cargo versatility.
SAFETY: You can't tell from the outside, but Acura has strengthened and stiffened much of the ILX's unibody structure. Over half of the structure is lightweight high-strength steel. Computer modeling and analysis contributes to the next-generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering™(ACE™) unibody structure. Acura expects top ratings from both government and insurance industry tests. Beyond required safety equipment, all ILXes come with a multi-view rearview camera and an expanded-view driver's-side mirror with a convex section. Collision Mitigating Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, and Blind Spot Information systems are part of the AcuraWatch and Tech Plus packages.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The ILX's improved unibody structure improves ride and handling characteristics and so active safety as well as passive safety. As before, suspension is by MacPherson struts in front, with a multi-link system in the rear. Amplitude-reactive dampers are new, and reduce damping force over small road bumps and holes for greater ride comfort while still controlling body motion in more assertive driving. Careful attention to spring and damper rates and bushing compliance, plus suspension geometry, ensures the expected luxury comfort and sporty handling characteristics. The electric-assist power steering works with the Vehicle Stability Assist® system to reduce under- or over-steer and prompt the driver to steer correctly if one end of the car is getting loose. Brakes are four-wheel antilock disc as expected, and all discs are larger now.
PERFORMANCE: Compared to the old 2.0-liter engine, the 2016 ILX's 2.4 has another 51 horsepower and 40 lb-ft of torque. Even with a bit more weight in the car, that's a noticeable increase. Even better, it comes with no extra thirst for unleaded premium. Some of the credit for that goes to use of direct fuel injection, allowing an increase in compression ratio for greater efficiency, and more goes to the new eight-speed transmission. As in many other Acura engines, the i-VTEC valve control system adds continuously-variable cam phasing to the VTEC valve lift, timing, and duration control on the intake camshaft. Add a dual-stage intake manifold and a host of friction-reducing design and coating features, then top it off with direct fuel injection into combustion chambers optimized for that direct injection and the result is 201 hp at 6800 rpm and 180 lb-ft at a low 3600 rpm -- with no extra thirst. The VTEC cam-lobe switch occurs at 4900 rpm, and is smooth enough to elicit nostalgia for first-generation VTEC kick while admiring the civility of the newer version.
The closely-spaced eight speeds of the transmission also help both acceleration and economy. Dual-clutch transmissions are increasingly common, but this one has an important difference from others. One of the "clutches" is a torque converter, as used in a regular automatic transmission. This increases torque multiplication for acceleration from a standstill, and makes for smoother operation when cold or at low speeds in traffic. Many other DCTs I've experienced have been jerky when cold, and hesitant when acceleration was desired from a stop. None of those problems here, and with a 27-mpg average for my week, with minimal highway travel (and highway miles at higher speeds than in the EPA simulation), no complaints.
CONCLUSIONS: The heavily-revised 2016 ILX give Acura a presence in the entry-luxury/sport sedan segment.
2016 Acura ILX Tech Plus & A-Spec
Base Price $ 34,890
Price As Tested $ 35,810
Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and i-VTEC variable valve lift and cam phasing
Engine Size 2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower 201 @ 6800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 180 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automated DCT
Wheelbase / Length 105.1 in. / 181.9 in.
Curb Weight 3137 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 15.6
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires P225/40 R18 92V m+s Conti Pro Contact
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, BA, EBD, VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 36 / 27
0 to 60 mph 6.2 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Delivery Charge $920