Acura ILX — Bigger engine, more gears

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Acura ILX enters its fourth model year as the luxury brand's entry-level sedan, the car meant to introduce young up-and-coming college grads to the Acura brand, win them over, and keep them coming back for more upscale Acura products as their economic lot in life improves.

Unfortunately, Acura had missed the mark — until now. The just-introduced 2016 model goes a long way in correcting the shortfalls of the previous editions, finally making the ILX a true competitor in the lower end of the luxury spectrum. The biggest change — and it's a big one — is the performance-oriented 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine has been made standard equipment across the model lineup mated to a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

For the first three model years the standard engine was Honda's 2.0-liter making 150 horsepower mated to a five-speed automatic. Acura did offer the lusty 2.4-liter, but only mated to a 6-speed manual. We tested a 2015 ILX with that combination and we loved it. But really, how many people shopping the segment buy manual transmissions? We opined, why doesn't Acura wise up and offer the 2.4 with an automatic?

Unbeknownst to us, Acura already had that in the works. And it went even one better by mating the 201-horsepower engine to the dual-clutch shifter offering solid performance combined with excellent gas mileage measured at 25 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 combined. For those few people who want to shift for themselves, they will have to find a 2015 because the manual transmission has been dropped from the lineup.

We found the performance smooth and consistent through the gears, and it seemed to us the electric steering felt somewhat weightier and more precise. Published 0-to-60 time is 6.8 seconds, a two-second improvement, and just over 15 seconds in a quarter mile. Those are solid — but not the best — numbers for the segment.

On the outside, the 2016 ILX has been endowed with some styling tweaks with the front and rear fascia sharpened. LED headlights and taillights give the compact sedan the modern appearance found on so many upscale vehicles these days. The interior, too, has been refreshed with more upscale materials and additional sound insulation, although we still found what we consider excessive road noise.

The Premium and Tech Plus models have been outfitted with a new, larger touchscreen on the center stack. It splits audio and navigation functions into two screens. We like being able to operate the radio and read the Sirius XM information without disturbing the navigation screen.

Acura has endowed the 2016 with its complete array of standard and optional safety features — and it can be purchased with a real blind spot monitor on the driver's side. Acura has done away with the LaneWatch blind-spot system that only displays the passenger side of the car in the center screen when the right turn signal is engaged. In the past, the company had overlooked the all-important driver's side, so the new blind spot monitors on both the driver and passenger sides in the ILX are a big deal.

Other optional safety includes a frontal collision warning system, automatic braking for frontal mitigation, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist as well as road-departure mitigation.

Although the ILX is based on the Honda Civic platform, there is decent room available for rear-seat passengers and we found both the front and rear seats comfortable. And the trunk offers 12.3 cubic feet of storage space, about average for the segment. The rear seat folds down allowing for additional storage.

The ILX comes in packages — base, Acura Watch Plus, Premium, and Technology Plus. Standard equipment is plentiful including keyless ignition and entry, leatherette upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, 5-inch information display screen, multi-view rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and six-speaker sound system with a CD player, USB/iPod audio interface and Siri-Eyes Free smartphone app integration.

The Acura Watch Plus package adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic-braking for frontal collision mitigation, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation. An "A-Spec" package can be added to Premium or Technology Plus to get 18-inch wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, and simulated-suede seat inserts with contrasting stitching.

Pricing is extremely competitive for the segment, starting at $28,820 including destination charge. That price brings a lot of standard features as noted above as well as the 201-horsepower engine and eight-speed transmission. Pricing runs through the trim levels up to the Technology Plus with A-Spec for $35,810. That's how our test car was equipped, which we found very satisfying.

Base price: $28,820; as driven, $35,810
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 180 foot-pounds @ 3,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automated manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 181.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,137 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 36 highway, 25 city, 29 combined
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Audi A3, BMW 320i, Mercedes-Benz CLA250

The Good
• First-rate engine/transmission combination
• Long list of standard features
• Attractive pricing

The Bad
• No all-wheel drive option

The Ugly
• A lot of hard plastics on interior