2015 Acura ILX 2.4

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

A couple of years have gone by and the hybrid has been mercifully dropped from the lineup. The standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 150 horsepower remains the mainstream engine for the ILX, and again, it's a yawner especially against the European and Japanese competition. Honda, we think, needs to address this in future product because overall the ILX is a solid entry level luxury sedan.

What we missed the first time around was the 2.4-liter performance-oriented model. We were one of the first to get the 2015 version and we discovered to our delight that the 2.4 puts a whole new spin on the ILX. We consider it a luxury version of the Honda Civic Si and although the Honda folks might not like that comparison, we think it's a compliment because we have always been enthralled with the Civic Si.

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 that brings grins each time behind the wheel. Unfortunately for many in this age of automated driving — in which driving a straight stick is no longer in the driver's ed curriculum — the news is not good. The ILX 2.4 comes only with a six-speed manual transmission.

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.

The published performance numbers don't really paint the true picture of driving entertainment 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 tossing the compact sedan through the curves, upshifting and downshifting, and raising the rpm up toward red line. The car will reward the driver.

Adding to the enjoyment is a sporting exhaust note and the precision-machined action of the six-speed manual 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 Civic, you would never know it from its exterior design. 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.

In designing the sedan, engineers lengthened the car's nose and set the windshield farther back to neutralize the cab-forward feel of the current Civic. The ILX is two inches longer and 1.6 inches wider than the Civic, but the wheelbase remains the same. Although the specifications show that the ILX actually has two inches less rear-seat legroom than the Civic — despite the size parity — we were pleased with the room available for rear-seat passengers.

In our estimation, 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. Beyond that, we found the seats comfortable and the interior materials first class.

Acura has wisely done away with the controversial Civic digital speedometer (we like it, but agree it would have created too much "Civic" in the Acura) in favor of 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.

Such things that aren't standard or aren't even available in the Civic are standard equipment in the ILX such as dual-zone climate control, a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity. And the Acura is loaded with the latest infotainment features, something that will appeal to younger buyers.

The ILX 2.4 comes only in Premium trim, which means it can't be outfitted with navigation. Nav comes with the technology package, which is not available of the 2.4. Strange and disappointing. Also, such safety features as blindspot monitoring are also absent. The 2.4 does get a useable backup camera, however.

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 luke-warm on the standard 2.0 edition. But the ILX opened our eyes to what the sedan can be if outfitted correctly. And for the 30 grand price of admission it's a winner in 2.4 trim.

— Jim Meachen