Last year, when Acura introduced the TLX sedan, it effectively replaced two sedans—the TL and TSX—with one. As the brand enhances a lineup consisting of sedans and sport-utilities, before the arrival of the NSX supercar, the entry-level ILX has received a makeover.
We recently spent two days driving the refreshed 2016 ILX sedan on the challenging roads of northern California. Read on for our full opinion from our first drive.
What is it?
This is a mid-life enhancement to the ILX, rather than an entirely new model. The ILX is a sedan, and will not offer a five-door variant, neither an SUV nor a crossover, as part of a strategy to solidify a lineup of sedans. Its SUV complement in the entry-level luxury segment, the RDX, is due to be refreshed soon.
The most obvious changes are to exterior styling, which is now sharper and more in line with the angular themes of Acura's TLX sedan and MDX. The interior receives a freshening, including Acura's two-tier navigation/HVAC/audio system that defies many pillars of ergonomics but is easy to learn.
For the 2016 model, the ILX notably abandons a two-engine strategy, as well as a slow-selling hybrid model, for a single powertrain. Like a chef who stands behind the balance of ingredients that comprise a signature dish, ILX chief engineer Koichi Fujimori—whose daily driver is an '09 RL—explained that the ILX's characteristics mesh to create "the best setting to match the character of the car." That's why the steering lacks adjustable weight settings, the suspension cannot be made stiffer or softer with the push of a button, and there is no variable exhaust note.
How does it drive?
We're in favor of the strategy when all the pieces work harmoniously, and in the case of the ILX, they do. The direct-injected, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine sounds refined from idle to redline, lacking the clattery sound present even on some luxury cars. It revs with abandon, and offers plenty of torque at low RPM, which was useful on the serpentine, hilly roads in northern Napa Valley.
The ILX's champion is its 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox with a torque converter, which marries lightning-quick gearshifts and refined shifting and sends power to the front wheels. Fujimori explained that this setup is the best of both worlds, and most drivers would confuse it for a traditional automatic in daily use. We noticed only a hint of clunkiness in gearshifts at very low speeds, and reveled in its efficiency in most other occasions. Torque steer is almost entirely absent, except under hard launches. Don't expect an all-wheel-drive variant, however, as Fujimori explained that the ILX "is not set up" to accommodate such a system.
The chassis appreciates being pushed, neither too firm nor too soft in its setup, and the result is a quiet ride at speed, with attention paid to noise, vibration, and harshness. The ILX exceeds our expectations as a driver's car, making hours of back roads fly by—and that isn't light praise.
What's its specialty?
The ILX makes a strong play for active and passive safety in a class that often emphasizes performance and sportiness over all other traits. For $1300 more than the base price, the ILX offers collision mitigation braking, active cruise control, and lane-keep assist, which keep the ILX in its own lane and far from potential accidents. Far from half-baked, the semi-autonomous systems work as well in the ILX as they do in the more expensive TLX, although a careful eye is still required; when lane markers disappear, so does the assistance.
And if that wasn't enough, in top trim with all the bells and whistles selected, the ILX rings in at under $35,000—more than 15 grand less than most fully loaded competitors.
What's it like inside?
Luxurious without being over the top about it. Expect high-quality materials and plenty of space, supplemented by comfortable front seats and crisp graphics. The user experience of the infotainment system stands to be substantially more intuitive, although the interface is well designed.
How's the competition?
Ambitious. The most obvious competitors at the $30,000 price point are the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3, which are targeting young, moneyed buyers to bring them into the respective brands. Entries from Lexus (IS), Cadillac (ATS), Infiniti (Q50), and Lincoln (MKZ) are all more expensive, while non-luxury sedans like the Toyota Camry and Mazda6 are quickly creeping into the 30-grand range.
Some competitors offer features that the ILX does not, like premium interior treatments and in-car wifi, but they come with higher price tags.
A rewarding entry into luxury for those who like to drive.
Tossable chassis, sharp styling inside and out, refined powertrain, smart pricing strategy.
Lacks an all-wheel-drive option, and the interior could benefit from a soupçon more luxury.
The ideal setup
As much as we like the ILX A-Spec model, the ILX Tech Plus ($32,900) offers nearly as much content with a little less exterior flash—and the excellent, 10-speaker ELS audio system. The standard model ($27,900) is an excellent value in the entry-level luxury segment, priced where Mercedes-Benz and Audi dare not compete.
By the numbers: 2016 Acura ILX
MSRP: $27,900 (excludes destination charge)
Power / drive wheels: 2.4-liter, 201-hp four-cylinder engine / front-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 25 city / 36 highway mpg
In showrooms: Now