First Drive: 2016 Acura ILX

Acura's ILX offers upscale feel at an 'I still have student loans to pay' price

While it may not significantly outshine its competition, the ‘almost luxury’ Acura ILX shimmers nonetheless.

‘Mid-cycle refresh’ isn’t the most electrifying label you’ll find in the automotive industry today. Like any good author will tell you, though, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

That sentiment rang true throughout our test of the 2016 Acura ILX. One on hand, it is a mid-cycle refresh, but it’s one that brings a new 2.4-liter engine, eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), bevy of ‘AcuraWatch’ safety tech, and spruced up styling.

On the other, it’s an Acura, which critics are ever so quick to label as boring, uninspired, and flat these days. And you know what? Often times they aren’t wrong, but the Japanese brand is desperately trying to turn things around.

Meet the automaker’s latest shot at redemption.

Acura DNA

As I carved through the switchbacks of California’s Lake County Highway, I found myself having a splendid time in the executive four-door. Honda Motor Company usually does a bang-up job on with its suspension and chassis tuning, and with the ILX’s tight, quiet ride and linear steering, it’s been improved again here. But where this version differs from its predecessor is in its rev-happy engine.

The new 2.4-liter i-VTEC makes 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, which makes the car feel like an NSX compared to 2015’s 150-hp base model. Ok, maybe not quite like an NSX, but it does wear a version of the supercar’s ‘Jewel Eye’ headlights.

2016 Acura ILX

Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

The four-cylinder is connected to a new 8-speed DCT for 2016, which equips a torque converter to smoothen out shifts and launches from a stop. In ‘Sport’ mode, the gears come quickly through the paddles and the ILX valiantly holds onto revs through the corners.

It’s all a part of what the manufacturer calls “a major injection of Acura DNA,” a sporty disposition that allows the car to accelerate faster, corner flatter, and with its 1.0-inch larger discs, brake harder than before. It’s also great on gas, returning 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.

That said, I wish it were offered with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. Out of the Lexis IS 250, Audi A3, BMW 220i, and Mercedes-Benz CLA250, it’s the only vehicle of the lot to be offered in front-wheel drive only. It’s not a flaw per se; in fact, it handles quite well for FWD, but the compact’s FF (front engine, front-wheel drive) layout could leave it in the dust of its rivals.

Yes, AWD would drive the price up a bit. But starting at $27,900 (not including $920 destination), the ILX is already thousands cheaper than the cars listed above. It could just make the car feel, I don’t know, superer?

AcuraWatch

While the 2015 model boasted excellent crash ratings, one of its biggest blemishes was its uncharacteristic lack of electronic safety features.

The ILX targets young luxury buyers who want an upscale feel at an “I still have student loans to pay” price.

For 2016, the ILX is furnished with AcuraWatch, an assortment of driver aids that pushes the car toward the top of its class in terms of accident prevention.

The $1,300 package includes Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and Road Departure Mitigation, which uses steering and braking inputs to keep the ILX from crossing solid lane lines. There are also rear cross traffic monitors and blind spot monitors as a part of the Premium ($2,000) and Technology Plus ($5,000) packages, while the rear camera comes standard.

Unfortunately, the LKAS system lacks polish. When a left turn lane formed on our drive, the vehicle would often follow the center double yellow it as it veered to make room. Similarly, the ACC felt indecisive at times. There’s definitely room for growth here across the industry.

Interior refinement

The ILX is the “gateway” to Acura’s lineup. As such, it targets young luxury buyers who want an upscale feel at an “I still have student loans to pay” price.

New for 2016 is the $3,990 ‘A-SPEC’ package, which gives the sedan a little more aesthetic punch. It includes a new trunk spoiler, front fog lights, and 18-inch, 10-spoke alloys. The theme continues inside with perforated ‘Lux Suede’ seat trim, black headliner, red gauge illumination, gray contrast stitching, and aluminum pedals.

I know two-screen setups aren’t for everyone, but Premium trims and above offer a layout that works quite well. The 8.0-inch top unit is mainly a display for nav, while the 7.0-inch touchscreen below controls the intuitive infotainment. The system also refreshes very quickly, which will make wrestling with scenic routes and road closures much easier.

Some of the plastics feel like they were pulled from the Civic (with which the ILX shares its platform), but overall the cabin is very comfy and quiet. With the use of insulated glass and standard Active Noise Control, being in the new car is like driving in a hushed library compared to 2015. Don’t try that at home.

Conclusion

The main failing of modern Acuras has been their lack of a distinct identity. Audis embrace innovation and control, while BMWs are dynamic yet stubborn. Mercedes are known for elegant styling and prestige, and Volvos epitomize safety. As for Acura? Acuras are, well … reliable?

Though the 2016 ILX is not perfect, it’s nice to see that the grievances of previous years are being addressed. It’s fun, refined, and well priced. It’s good-looking, but not gaudy. And unlike the 2015 car, it has an impressive array of driver aid and safety tech. It’s without a doubt a step in the right direction.

If not, hey, that new NSX is pretty cool.

Highs

  • Excellent chassis tuning
  • Sporty 8-speed dual clutch
  • AcuraWatch provides abundance of safety tech
  • 36 mpg highway
  • Good value for money

Lows

  • Adaptive cruise and lane keeping systems need work
  • Tough sell over the competition
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