2016 Acura ILX First Drive [w/video]
An Underdog No More
Power201 HP / 180 LB-FT
0-60 Time7.1 Seconds (est.)
Curb Weight3,133 LBS
MPG25 City / 36 HWY
As Tested Price$32,900
Since youthful buyers tend to cultivate lifelong patterns of loyalty (and thus, spending), Acura has invested effort in shoving its entry-level ILX into more upmarket territory. "The ILX was originally conceived during the recession," one Acura executive admitted during the launch of the facelifted 2016 model, conceding that the original compact sedan's priorities were biased towards economy, not plushness.
Because Acura originally didn't see the $30,000-ish competitors from Audi and Mercedes coming, they didn't think twice about equipping the base, prior-gen ILX with rather uninspired styling and a meager 150-horsepower engine, the combination of which made it more of a glorified Honda Civic than a contender for European power players.
What's an aspiring Japanese automaker to do in 2015's golden age of affordable luxury? If you're Acura, you scramble to release a mid-cycle upgrade to elevate the ILX's status.
Upmarket Moves: Fresher Skin And A Friskier Soul
With its ho-hum sheet metal, the outgoing ILX simply couldn't stand up to its more crisply styled competitors. The 2016 model comes to the rescue by adding Acura's signature "Jewel Eye" row of LED headlights, which joins a reworked grille and fascia to form a more aggressive front end that's been moved lower and wider. A redesigned rear deck incorporates new LED taillamps, while the ILX's proportions now boast a more hunkered-down stance. The look is sexier (especially thanks to those glimmering headlights), though the stodgy, Buick-like character line and rear haunches remain.
Inside, a new multimedia and navigation system brings a level of modernity to the cabin, with an eight-inch upper display and seven-inch lower touchscreen gracing Premium and Tech Plus models. A multi-view rear camera is standard on all ILXs, and the Premium gets a seven-speaker sound system while the Tech Plus receives a 10-speaker ELS premium audio setup. Acura's new Navi link feature enables iPhones to display navigation functionality on the car's screen using a $99 cable kit and a $60 app, offering an affordable way to know where you're going. The kit was not available on the models we drove.
Gone is the meager base 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, replaced with a 2.4-liter mill that produces 201 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque. The new engine produces a third more stallions than its predecessor thanks to the displacement bump, reduced weight and friction, an increased compression ratio, and various internal tweaks. The mill is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox that replaces the outgoing five-speed auto, enabling a significant 2.5-second improvement in 0-60 time, from 9.6 seconds with the 2.0-liter engine to 7.1 seconds with the new 2.4. Impressively, the revised powertrain also manages a one mile-per-gallon bump across the board despite its power climb, for 25/36 mpg city/highway and 29 mpg combined.
Complementing the powertrain improvements are chassis tweaks including a 12-percent increase in torsional rigidity, a reinforced subframe for better steering feel, revised bushings and stabilizer bars, and a recalibrated steering assembly. The cabin has been quieted through thicker front door glass, a wheel resonator that reduces mid-frequency hums, and revised engine side mounts. Rounding out the silence-seeking features is a carryover of Acura's active noise cancellation technology, which uses the speaker system to counteract road noise whether or not the stereo is turned on.
The standard ILX starts at $27,900 and includes a power moonroof, an eight-way power driver's seat, and Bluetooth; opt for the $29,900 Premium model and you'll get leather seats, blind spot detection, a power passenger seat; the $32,900 Tech Plus adds navigation, a 10-speaker ELS sound system and the AcuraWatch Plus suite which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, among other features.
Behind the Wheel: What A Difference An Upgrade Makes
Slip into the 2016 Acura ILX – particularly a Premium example with the suede-lined A-Spec package – and you're surrounded by an easy-to-live-with interior with few minor shortcomings, namely a swath of metal-like (but obviously plastic) trim across the dash panel. Other than that detail and dated, blue-themed graphics on the dual screens (along with a somewhat clunky multimedia interface), the ILX pulls off a convincing fight against its foes from Europe.
Punch it from a standstill, and the improvements become clearer. There's a hint of torque steer when pulling away with the wheel cranked, but it's not so offensive as to distract from the task at hand. The eight-speed dual-clutch uses a torque converter off the line, helping deliver quicker acceleration thanks to its torque multiplication effect. The gearbox shifts fairly conservatively in "D" mode but livens up in "S;" manually overriding with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters reveals nice, snappy cog swaps and rev-matched downshifts, though the transmission reverts back to automatic mode promptly unless the shifter is clicked into manual mode.
The handling improvements are also notable, with intuitive weight transfer and significant grip at both axles. Despite aggressive driving on undulating backroads through California's Sonoma County, the ILX's tires didn't squeal or allow for any disconcerting sensations while navigating elevation changes and decreasing radius turns. The lane-keeping assist system works as promised, delivering less of a "pinball" effect on roads with slight bends than competitors. We did encounter a false "Brake" prompt when negotiating one particularly tight turn, suggesting the collision mitigation system could use some fine tuning. Although the top-of-the-line, 10-speaker ELS sound system didn't sound as stellar as it could have when streaming Bluetooth audio through our phone, the cabin offered a quiet and pleasant space to spend half a day, even if the multimedia interface wasn't quite as cutting edge as some of Acura's competitors.
The 2016 Acura ILX's improvements in drivability and equipment deliver much-needed triage to this entry-level model, bringing the underdog sedan into relevancy in the face of compelling value propositions like the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA.
In contrast to the late and not-so-great '15 ILX's wheezy four-banger and vague suspension, these upgrades makes the new version feel significantly more sophisticated and capable, lending it a palpable feeling of movement towards the upmarket sports sedan realm while maintaining a price advantage over its competitors. Acura says the ILX already leads sales in the 16-to-35-year-old demographic; if the updated model is any indication, the Japanese carmaker should expect a new crop of brand enthusiasts to join the family.
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