THE PROS & CONS
What’s Best: Acura has dropped the anemic 2.0-litre engine in favour of the peppy 2.4-litre unit for all models
What’s Worst: Ride is somewhat stiff, but will likely be more forgiving in lower trim with 17-inch wheels and higher sidewall tires
What’s Interesting: Eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic offers rapid-fire shifting
2016 Acura ILX at a glance
BODY STYLE: Compact entry luxury sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.4-litre DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder (201 hp, 180 lb/ft of torque)
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters
FUEL ECONOMY: 9.3/6.6/8.1 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 348 litres
PRICE: Base $29,490; Premium $31,990; Technology $33,490; A-Spec $34,890
‘Gateway’ vehicles are big business, and most luxury marques offer them to lure new buyers – particularly young‘uns – into the family.
How young remains to be seen, as I’ve noticed few without a little grey in the temples driving new Bimmers, Mercs, Audis, Lexus and the like. But marketing folk are an enthusiastic bunch and prone to wishful thinking.
Getting buyers of any age to take the plunge relies on nailing the sweet spot in terms of price.
A little less size, power, leather, wood, and intangibles like “craftsmanship” can help get you there, raising the question as to whether or not an entry model lives up to the brand’s pedigree.
Such a criticism has been leveled against Acura’s ILX, unveiled in 2012 to replace the much more Civic-ey CSX.
RELATED: 2015 Acura TLX review
I don’t see this as a knock against Acura – after all, Honda’s top selling sedan is a pretty darned good base for any vehicle. And keep in mind that it’s really the $26,850 Civic Si that’s comparable – not the base unit – as this sportier variant is similarly powered and only $2,640 less than the base ILX.
But you do get something more than just an upscale nameplate for the added dough.
It starts with exterior styling that is more sophisticated with a sleeker silhouette, longer bonnet and subtle decklid spoiler. The look is less ‘boy racer’ and more grown up.
Inside too, there’s far less hard plastic than in the Civic. I wouldn’t go so far to suggest the ILX passenger cabin is luxury class, but it’s a step up from Honda’s.
The recently introduced 2016 model (starting at $29,490) brings with it a mid-cycle refresh, and some enhancements to the ILX both inside and out.
Power and handling have improved, and the styling has been nicely tweaked.
Acura’s polarizing aluminum ‘beak’ grille has finally been toned down, and it’s flanked by a narrow band of square-cut LEDs to replace last year’s more conventional projector headlamps.
The lower fascia is now more aggressive, and the rear end has been restyled top and bottom, with revised LED taillights.
My tester, in A-Spec trim ($34,890), gets an even more athletic treatment with side sill garnishes, trunk spoiler and 18-inch machined alloys to replace the standard seventeens.
Inside too, the cabin has been upgraded with even more soft touch, Euro-style stitching on the steering wheel and shifter knob, and grippy, perforated ‘Lux Suede’ seat inserts in my tester that not only looked good, but felt great on the tush – especially in this warmer weather. It beats getting seared on black leather that’s been sun-baked all afternoon.
A-Spec models, which build on the Premium ($31,990) and Technology ($33,490) packages, get a long content list that includes navigation, dual displays (eight and seven inch), heated front seats with eight-way power and memory for the driver, rain-sensing wipers, 10-speaker premium audio and driver aids like blind spot monitor with cross traffic alert.
The last item adds to an already full suite of safety nannies that come standard in the base car: lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking and more.
Both Honda and Acura are adept at carving out passenger space – even in rear where you can really stretch out your legs. My only gripe is that the seatback drops as a single unit, not 60/40, so if you need to schlep skis or lumber, forget carrying rear passengers.
Steering is a tad heavy, but this motion-adaptive system is direct and provides ample feedback. It is well matched to the suspension (MacStruts in front, multi-link in rear), which feels tight and connected to the pavement.
Indeed, ride is on the stiffer side, and with large wheels and low-profile tires, you’ll notice every pothole. Probably less so with the higher-wall 17-inch rubber, but it’s a sacrifice that rewards with flatter cornering and better handling.
I’ve read complaints that Acura’s sound deadening efforts fall short, and they do have a point. If you’re looking for a soft riding, luxo vault this isn’t it.
If, however, you enjoy the sounds of gears and pistons, accompanied by a snarl of exhaust, the ILX delivers.
RELATED: 2015 Acura ILX Review
And it’s not all bark without bite, as Acura has dropped the insipid 150-hp 2.0 litre four-cylinder. All models now get the feisty DOHC i-VTEC 2.4-litre engine that powers the Civic Si and last year’s ILX Dynamic.
It produces 201 hp and 180 lb/ft of torque. This is up 10 lb/ft from last year, and comes in sooner at 3,600 rpm.
One item missing from 2015 is the availability of a six-speed manual gearbox, still the only way you can order a Civic Si. This could be viewed as a shortcoming, but try Acura’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (with paddle shifters) before you judge.
It’s quiet and smooth – barely noticeable in normal driving. Slide the lever into “S” and this unit’s rapid-fire shifts – both up and down the range – along with rev-matching downshifts, will not disappoint.
Still, if it’s strictly a pocket rocket you seek, save the money and buy a Civic Si. But if you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated, and dare I say it, more mature, the ILX is worth a closer look.
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