2016 Acura ILX A-Spec
First off, I love the changes made to Acura’s imposing metal shield grille, its thinner, sculpted, opened and more athletic design, but really, the sensational “Jewel Eye” LED headlights are the car’s most eye-arresting focal points. Five, square LEDs in chrome bezels, underscored by a long thin line of slimmer LEDs make a dazzling statement, and the twinned LED turn signals are truly magnificent when flashing at night. Following the sportier theme, a sculpted bumper with an air inlet at center and brake cooling ducts to each side incorporate large circular fog lamps within the latter when upgraded to A-Spec trim, enhancing the newfound aggressive stance this car now delivers.
My top-line tester also received a fabulous set of machine-finished 18-inch alloy rims with black-painted pockets on 225/40R18 Continental ContiProContact high-performance all-season rubber. Usually, any model’s sportiest trim incorporates some type of turn signal integrated within its side mirror housings, a definite safety advantage and a style enhancer when included, but for some reason Acura has left these totally off the ILX menu, while the brilliantly designed door handles get marred by black rubber buttons for the proximity-sensing passive entry system. On the positive, the A-Spec receives rocker extensions for a sportier look. They’re tacked on with an aftermarket appearance, but that’s probably ok, as they’ll no doubt still appeal to Acura’s aging sport compact crowd.
From the rear, a new set of more complicated red and clear/white taillights attract, while the A-Spec also gets a classy deck lid spoiler with a thin, elegant strip of chrome across the top edge and the lower valance done out in a sporty diffuser-style design that mimics the front air dam. This ILX misses out on a panoramic sunroof, however, which is a common feature in this premium class, at least in top-tier trims, instead incorporating a conventional powered sunroof.
That glass roof sheds light on an interior that’s much the same as the outgoing ILX, except for a thoroughly updated center stack with Acura’s new two-tiered dual-display infotainment system when upgraded to second-rung Premium or higher trims. It features a large, main monitor recessed and shrouded up top and designated to support functions like navigation, phone controls, vehicle info, and more, plus a bright and clear touchscreen just below that’s dedicated to the audio and HVAC systems, the former display controlled by a nicely laid out interface of buttons surrounding a massive rotating knob with a pushbutton center, all situated within easy reach under the lower display. This said, I prefer such infotainment controls on the lower console where they can be accessed even more easily and I’ve heard others complain about such systems. Lower console in mind, I also like heated seats with more adjustability, these two-way warmers not flexible enough for my multiple moods, whereas the ILX gives no option for heated rear seats at all. That’s a serious oversight considering the latter items are available in mainstream volume branded economy cars.
Also strange but true, this top-line Acura compact doesn’t include the superb LaneWatch blind-spot projection camera system housed on the passenger-side mirror that’s offered with the Civic and many other Honda and Acura models, the Civic being the donor platform architecture for the ILX. This system is extremely helpful for lane changes, and not including it here is an epic fail by Acura. This said, the new ILX now offers an optional blind spot system that monitors both sides of the car and uses lane-keeping assist to stop you from changing lanes when a vehicle might already be occupying the adjacent lane or is fast approaching.
This is added to an impressive suite of AcuraWatch Plus active safety features that also includes road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, collision mitigation with auto-brake, and adaptive radar cruise control, the latter more for convenience than safety, but one of my favorite features during a long road trip. With respect to the other AcuraWatch features, take a close look at the top of the windscreen and you’ll see a camera hidden above the rearview mirror, which works with the radar system to detect potential threats ahead of the car, alerting the driver of possible collision and taking preemptive measures, such as automatically applying the brakes. The camera also monitors lane markings and if sensing the ILX veering out of its lane relays a message to the steering system to tug it back on course. Yes, we’re well on our way to driverless cars. While most will agree that these new features are an improvement, I have to ask Acura why they didn’t allow LaneWatch to continue as part of this package when adding the extra safety of these more common active safety systems. At least then they’d have the market benefit of a proprietary technology to set the ILX completely apart from competitors, rather than these good albeit homogeneous features.
While there are many behind-the-scenes similarities between the lowly (but excellent) Civic and this premium ILX, you’ll be hard pressed to notice many carryover items without scanning each and every square inch of the car. Acura has gone above and beyond to refine the ILX driver and passenger experience. For instance, the entire dash top is made from a high-quality pleasantly pliable synthetic, as are the door uppers front to back. Sure, the lower portions of the cabin including the glove box lid and lower door panels are still made from a harder textured plastic but this isn’t unusual in the compact luxury class, even from some of the German manufacturers. Acura also adds some nice aluminum trim across the instrument panel, although it doesn’t extend to the doors. Instead there’s an attractive and comfortable padded leather-like material for the door inserts and armrests, replete with contrasting white stitching.
This matches the white stitching on the leather-clad seats, their inserts done out in perforated Lux-Suede for added comfort and better mid-corner grip, this feature, along with red instrument panel illumination, a black roofliner and metal foot pedals that are specific to the A-Spec upgrade. I particularly like this soft and warm suede-like approach during the colder months when leather can be an unwelcome aftershock when sitting down, at least until the seat heaters start to sizzle, while in the hot months of summer this material won’t scorch the legs of short- and skirt-wearing occupants. The seats are superbly comfortable and thoroughly supportive especially laterally where they hold the backside in place well when pushing the car hard through the corners.
While that last point would be an ideal segue into the new ILX A-Spec’s driving dynamics, I first need to comment on a nicely laid out two-large-dial primary gauge cluster with simple yet stylish black faces, bright white numerals and large increment indicators, plus bright red fine increments, with red on gray needles spinning within. At center, between the two dials, is a sizable TFT multi-information display accessed via myriad buttons on the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel.
While the center stack is an impressive upgrade from the previous ILX, this latest 2016 model was still missing de rigueur fabric-wrapped roof pillars, cloth on the A-pillars being an absolute must-have in the compact premium class and all three pillars properly covered an expected bonus, while additional Civic carryover items still include the plastic grab handles attached to the ceiling, the trunk and gas cap pull releases on the driver’s side floor, many of the mechanical items inside such as the tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjuster, plus more.
Again, on the bright side, this excellently upgraded ILX is nicely packed full of standard and optional features. Base cars, which start at $27,000 plus $940 for freight and pre-delivery prep, get auto on/off LED headlamps plus the previously noted passive access with pushbutton ignition, remote start, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and shift knob, heatable front seats, the high-resolution TFT multi-information display commented on a moment ago, as well as 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/45R17 high-performance all-seasons, dual-zone auto HVAC, a five-inch infotainment system featuring a multi-angle backup camera, Bluetooth with text messaging, Siri Eyes-Free, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/USB/AUX audio, ambient lighting, a powered moonroof, an eight-way powered driver’s seat, fabric upholstery, a security system, and tire pressure monitoring, plus all the usual safety equipment.
For $29,200 plus freight all the aforementioned AcuraWatch active safety features get added to the appropriately named ILX with AcuraWatch Plus model, while those who want extra convenience features without the AcuraWatch safety system need to upgrade to the Premium package that adds upgraded main infotainment with email and text messaging, the aforementioned twin-screen infotainment system with the On Demand Multi-Use Display (the second touchscreen below the main one) along with upgraded audio with satellite and HD radio, aha compatibility, a subwoofer, plus an eight-position powered driver’s sport seat with two-way memory, a four-way powered sport passenger seat, perforated leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a garage door opener, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
I should mention here that so-equipped the 2016 ILX earned a Top Safety Pick + from the IIHS, whereas all new ILX trims achieve a 5-Star crash test rating from the NHTSA.
The A-Spec model is next in the ILX pecking order, featuring all Premium features and starting at $31,890. Along with everything already mentioned it includes a set of circular fog lamps, items that I’d normally expect to see further down the desirability ladder of a premium model.
On that note, while my tester’s overhead console was an attractive combination of lights, switches and buttons, the two most colorful of the latter variety controlling AcuraLink and a telephony assist button for emergencies. There’s no sunglasses holder, a feature I personally appreciate. On the positive side, that colorful array of buttons denotes top-line Technology Plus trim, which for $32,900 without the A-Spec upgrade or $34,890 including the as-tested sporty package includes everything from the Premium package and adds back all AcuraWatch features, as well as GPS-linked auto climate control, upgraded AcuraLink smartphone connectivity with phone-book exchange for Bluetooth HandsFreeLink and real-time traffic with rerouting capability, dynamic guidelines for the multi-view camera, navigation with 3D view and voice recognition plus Song By Voice, 10-speaker Acura/ELS Studio audio with Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound, and a note function music-reminder for the satellite radio.
An ILX highlight is the red metallic start/stop button, which connects through to one of the better engines in the compact class. This might be the biggest change for the 2016 update, with all three engines in the outgoing ILX replaced by (hybrid aside for those wishing there was still a green fuel-efficiency alternative), an “Earth Dreams” 16-valve, DOHC, 2.4-liter four-cylinder with i-VTEC and direct-injection that’s capable of 201 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque for satisfying acceleration when digging deep into the drive-by-wire throttle, and a soul-stirring exhaust note to go along with it. Front-wheel drive is the only layout, which might be a detractor for those cross-shopping from other premium brands, although a complete lack of torque-steer reduces one of the classic negatives produced by high-powered front-wheel drivetrains, and the ILX’s standard and sole transmission should give all competitors some pause.
The eight-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox that, like other similar transmissions on the market, delivers speedy shifts and efficient operation, but Acura’s design differs from the rest thanks to a built-in torque converter that delivers smoother gear changes than rival dual-clutch transmissions, while its standard paddle shifters certainly make it more fun to drive. The bad news is that Honda’s beyond-brilliant six-speed manual, sourced from the Civic Si and previously available with the ILX Dynamic, is no longer available (it’s now appropriate for a collective sigh). Let’s just hope Honda doesn’t abandon this gearbox altogether, as such a mistake would be a disaster for sport compact performance fans. Still, this eight-speed autobox is superb, with immediate response to input and fantastically quick shifts, plus the smoothness as advertised which is most appreciated while tooling around town or cruising the highway at a relaxed pace.
Relaxed is nice, but like me you’ll probably be tempted to push the ILX when the road starts to open up. That’s where the ILX should be praised, at least in A-Spec trim as tested. Set it to S mode if you want to get the most out of the mechanicals, and while there’s no need to do any shifting yourself as the smart transmission will be only too happy to serve up a spirited drive all on its own, it’s hard to leave those paddles alone. As stated, shifts are incredibly quick, positive, and certainly sporting, while the ILX A-Spec’s 18s add a little more lateral grip to improve on the car’s already upgraded underpinnings, which include new heavier duty front sub-frames, revised tuning for the motion-adaptive electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering resulting in better feel and response, upgraded bushings for the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, carryover amplitude reactive dampers, plus larger anti-roll bars front and rear. It feels wonderful in the corners, understeering slightly but overall quite balanced for a front-driven car, the rear wheels following those up front in dutiful progression, albeit not much good for tail-wagging fun unless you get really silly with speed, the steering wheel, parking brake lever if so-skilled, and an off-camber corner if available.
Driven at a more conservative pace it lives up to its luxury car pretense, Acura having filled more hollow areas and coated more hidden surfaces with sound insulation while adding active noise cancellation as well, therefore lowering NVH levels for a more premium experience overall.
At this speed it seems appropriate to discuss the ILX’s claimed EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 combined, which is excellent considering the car’s performance potential. Pricier premium unleaded is recommended to get the most out of the engine, although it’s not required.
While on this practical bent I should also mention how comfortable the rear seats are, while the usual flip-down center armrest with dual cupholders makes them even more appealing when two are in back. Just behind, the trunk is fairly large for the class, measuring 12.3 cubic feet, but given that even the common Civic comes with split-folding rear seatbacks to increase cargo capacity I was surprised that the ILX’s entire seatback folded forward instead of the usual 60/40 division, or as with some models, 40/20/40. This makes the ILX an all or nothing lifestyle choice, forcing you to leave friends or kids at home when going skiing or needing to load some other long item in back. Of course you could opt for a roof rack, but that’s more of a wagon- or SUV-style accessory that those in the sport sedan class don’t usually want to fidget with. Even a simple rear-seat pass-through would be a big improvement over this very limiting, and for some, deal-breaking omission, so Acura may want to rethink this problem.
Onto something more uplifting, the new ILX achieved a second-place ranking in the JD Power and Associates 2015 Initial Quality Study, but it’s actually more like a first place finish as the two-door BMW 2 Series coupe and convertible combo that won doesn’t actually compete directly. That said, the entire Acura brand ranked way below average at 26th out of 33 brands, while the ILX received no individual commendation in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study while Acura experienced much better results with a score of 12 out of 31 brands overall.
The compact premium segment was once pitifully small and less important in the overall scheme of things and some entrants have already departed like Volvo’s C30. Others have hung around but only in hybrid form such as Lexus’ CT200h, and newcomers like Audi’s A3 sedan, Mercedes’ CLA, and even Buick’s Verano are making it harder to stand out. I’m going to make a wild guess that BMW will soon show up with a four-door C-segment compact of its own and others will arrive to take part as well, while most of the mainstream volume brands are also nudging up against the luxury class in this ever more popular segment. This means that, while the ILX is an extremely enjoyable performance car that does a great job of layering on the luxury goods and high-tech features, Acura needs to measure up by adding on premium-level features that were notably missing. Let’s hope they rise to the occasion, as the ILX in its current form is a superb little luxury compact that while totally deserving of your attention needs a little more paid from Acura itself.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press. Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press. Copyright: American Auto Press