Skip to main content

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
Andrew Hard
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Andrew first started writing in middle school and hasn't put the pen down since. Whether it's technology, music, sports, or…
Hyundai Ioniq 6 first drive review: welcome to the future
Front three quarter view of the 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 6.

While some automakers are just beginning to get into electric cars, Hyundai's EVs have already taken several evolutionary steps. From the Ioniq Electric to the Kona Electric to the Ioniq 5, the South Korean brand's EVs have steadily become more sophisticated in tech and design. And Hyundai isn't stopping.

The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 6 is a follow-up to the Ioniq 5, wrapping the earlier model's hardware in very different styling. With the Ioniq 5 and most other EVs from mainstream brands are marketed as crossover SUVs, this sedan doesn't have much direct competition. Hyundai set out to compete with the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2, which is reflected in its comparable pricing — between $42,715 for the base version and $57,425 for the most expensive model. But constantly fluctuating Tesla prices and build configurations mean that may not be the case for long.

Read more
2023 Kia Niro EV first drive review: Practical doesn’t have to bore you to tears
Front three quarter view of the 2023 Kia Niro EV.

If you want to see just how quickly the electric car landscape has changed over the past few years, take a look at the redesigned 2023 Kia Niro EV.
When the first-generation Niro EV launched for the 2019 model year (following hybrid and plug-in hybrid Niro variants), it was a pretty big deal. The Niro was Kia’s first EV not based on a conventional gasoline model, and the first intended for high sales volumes.
The second-generation 2023 Niro EV boasts more tech, more space, and more extroverted styling than its predecessor, but it’s still very much in the shadow of the Kia EV6. Once Kia’s main EV attraction, the Niro is being refocused as a more affordable option to take on the likes of the Chevrolet Bolt EV/Bolt EUV, Volkswagen ID.4, and Nissan Leaf.
Kia plans to offer the Niro EV in trim levels named Wind and Wave, but hasn’t released pricing for either. Note that the previous-generation 2022 Niro EV started at $41,245; the new model could see a price increase because of its updates. And because it’s assembled in South Korea, the 2023 Niro EV won’t qualify for the revamped federal EV tax credit, Kia has confirmed.

Design and interior
Like the previous generation, the Niro is part of a three-pronged lineup that also includes the Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV (plug-in hybrid models). All three maintain the tall-wagon shape of the first-generation Niro, but with much bolder styling.
Where the previous Niro was a wishy-washy mix of car and SUV styling elements, the 2023 Niro is the result of the same fearless design department that produced the EV6 and the 2023 Kia Sportage. The traditional automotive “face” was rearranged with a visor-like element, protruding grille, and hexagonal lighting elements. Contrasting trim panels break up the profile view, and conceal “Air Blade” elements around the taillights that, Kia claims, reduce aerodynamic drag.
Kia used sustainable materials to further decrease the Niro EV’s environmental impact.

Read more
2022 Volkswagen ID. Buzz first drive review: The iconic hippie hauler goes electric
Volkwagen's ID. Buzz drives down the road.

Volkswagen's growing family of ID-badged electric cars has a new mascot: the ID. Buzz. Inspired by the vintage air-cooled Bus models and previewed by a close-to-production concept unveiled in 2017, the heritage-laced van offers an electric powertrain, an eye-catching design, plus an interior that's high-tech and almost lounge-like. I tested a Buzz prototype in England in February 2022 and walked away impressed, and time driving a regular-production model in and around Copenhagen, Denmark, confirmed these impressions. This was worth the wait.
Design and interior
While you can tell that the Buzz is on the same branch of the Volkswagen family tree as the split- and bay-window Buses prized by hippies decades ago, designers decided not to go full-retro as they did with the New Beetle released in 1997. The headlights aren't round, for example, and they're much higher than the original van's. It's the same story out back: The lights are horizontal, located right below the big hatch's window, and connected by a light bar. This is intentional -- Volkswagen aimed to echo the original model without cloning it.

In terms of proportions, the Buzz is pretty spot on. The front end isn't entirely flat and the front doors are positioned behind the front wheels rather than over them, but the design is as close to the old van's as modern regulations allow. The Buzz variant that I drove in Denmark measures 185.5 inches long, 78.1 inches wide, and 76.8 inches tall, so it's about as long as a Tiguan but around 10 inches taller and five inches wider. This is what Volkswagen refers to as the short-wheelbase model, and it's not coming to the United States. We'll get a long-wheelbase model that hasn't been unveiled yet; it should look just like the European-spec model but with more space between the front and rear axles.

Read more