Acura ILX 2.4 — Fun with a six-speed manual

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

There were a number of good things to write about with the Acura ILX entry level luxury sedan after it arrived on the scene as a 2013 model, but performance and driving excitement were lacking — at least in the hybrid edition we were evaluating. Our conclusion at the time, the ILX didn't make our recommended list.

A couple of years have gone by and the hybrid has been mercifully dropped from the lineup and the standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 150 horsepower remains the mainstream engine, a yawner especially against the European and Japanese competition.

What we missed the first time around was the 2.4-liter performance-oriented model. We didn’t miss it this time and know the 2015 version with the 2.4 puts a whole new spin on the ILX. The ILX 2.4 is no super car by any stretch of the imagination, but it offers a pleasing blend of handling and high revving 4-cylinder performance from 201 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque that brings grins each time behind the wheel.

Unfortunately for many in this age of automated driving — in which driving a manual transmission is no longer in the driver's education curriculum — the news is not good. The ILX 2.4 comes only with a six-speed manual. While that's been a criticism, we like it that way. The 2.4 would not be the same tossable bundle of sedan enthusiasm with an automatic. Overall this ILX is a solid entry level luxury sedan.

The published performance numbers don't really paint the true picture of entertaining driving that can be derived from the ILX. From a leading automotive magazine: 0-to-60 in 6.9 seconds and a quarter mile in 15.4 seconds at 91 mph. Please don't ho-hum us here because you have to be behind the wheel to be rewarded, twisting the compact sedan through the curves, upshifting and downshifting, and raising the rpm up toward red line.

Adding to the enjoyment is a sporting exhaust note and the precision action of the transmission, which is one of the easiest and most enjoyable to use in any car. Fuel economy is good as well, EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 31 highway and 25 overall.

Although loosely based on the Honda Civic, you would never know it from its exterior design. In designing the ILX, engineers lengthened the car's nose and set the windshield farther back. Its best angles show off a rising character line that flows from front to rear up over the rear wheel into the haunches. The design's weak point is the Acura family big-blade grille. But like it or abhor it, if you buy an Acura you will buy the current grille treatment. It does seem to wear better on the ILX than other models.

The car's strong suit is the interior, which lives up to the luxury billing. It is quiet, although we wished for a bit less road noise at highway speeds. We were pleased with the room available for rear-seat passengers. Beyond that, we found both the front and rear seats comfortable and the interior materials first class.

Acura has wisely chosen to provide very readable analog gauges. The center stack, which includes climate and audio controls, comes from the larger last-generation TL and although there are a myriad of buttons, we found the workings intuitive.

Standard equipment in the ILX includes such items as dual-zone climate control, a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity. And the Acura is loaded with the latest infotainment features.

Strangely the ILX 2.4 comes only in Premium trim sans an Acura technology package which means it can't be outfitted with navigation. Also, such safety features as blindspot monitoring are absent. The 2.4 does get a useable backup camera.

Good stuff does come on the 2.4 at its price point of $30,245 including a sunroof, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, full power accessories, keyless ignition and entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, a fold-down rear seatback, active noise cancellation, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 5-inch information display screen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod audio interface and Pandora radio smartphone app integration, xenon headlights, foglights, satellite radio and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

We were not fond of the hybrid, and we are still lukewarm on the standard 2.0 edition with 150 horses and a five-speed automatic. But the 2015 ILX 2.4 opened our eyes to what this sedan can be. And for its 30 grand price of admission it's a winner in 2.4 trim.

Base price: $27,945; as driven, $30,245
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 170 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Curb weight: 2,878 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallon (premium)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 22 city
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Audi A3, Mercedes CLA-Class, Buick Verano

The Good
• Outstanding handling
• Nicely styled interior
• Generous amount of standard features

The Bad
• No automatic transmission option

The Ugly
• Blind-spot monitoring unavailable