2018 Acura ILX Technology Plus
The entry-level luxury car segment is different than most others in the industry. Unlike the larger compact D- and mid-size E-segments that see the Acura TLX and RLX sport-luxury sedans respectively fight it out against similarly sized four-door models (plus the odd wagon), such as BMW’s 3 and 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz’ C- and E-Class, and Audi’s A4 and A6, the Japanese brand’s ILX compact sedan goes up against a four-door coupe from Mercedes, two-door coupe and convertible models from BMW, a (now defunct) five-door hybrid hatch from Lexus, and yes another four-door sedan plus a two-door convertible and five-door plug-in hybrid wagon from Audi. It’s an eclectic mix for sure. The entry-level luxury car segment is different than most others in the industry. Unlike the larger compact D- and mid-size E-segments that see the Acura TLX and RLX sport-luxury sedans respectively fight it out against similarly sized four-door models (plus the odd wagon), such as BMW’s 3 and 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz’ C- and E-Class, and Audi’s A4 and A6, the Japanese brand’s ILX compact sedan goes up against a four-door coupe from Mercedes, two-door coupe and convertible models from BMW, a (now defunct) five-door hybrid hatch from Lexus, and yes another four-door sedan plus a two-door convertible and five-door plug-in hybrid wagon from Audi. It’s an eclectic mix for sure.
I can’t see many luxury buyers cross shopping the ILX against a BMW 2 Series or any of the five-door family haulers in the class, but the Audi A3 Sedan is the ILX’ closest rival, followed by Mercedes’ CLA. And yes, I can’t be the only one still shaking my head that BMW never entered the North American fray with a four-door sedan version of its 1 Series, but I suppose now that compact SUVs have taken over most brands’ entry-level duties its previous sin of omission may now be seen as clever foresight.
Yes, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding SUVs as of late, with BMW having sold almost three times the number of X1 crossovers as 2 Series models last year, Mercedes solidly outperforming the CLA with its GLA, and Audi edging out the A3 with its Q3, which leaves Acura in the juxtaposition of selling 100 percent more ILX sedans than its… CDX? Of course, we’re still waiting for Acura to show up with a subcompact SUV of its own, so for now the ILX carries the entire entry-level show.
Other than being a bit past its stale date, the ILX carries that mantle well. Styling, while still attractive, gives away the car’s age, at least when put beside the aforementioned TLX and RLX sedans that have already been updated with the brand’s new trademark “Diamond Pentagon” grille and complementary body augmentation. Instead, the ILX continues to wear the brand’s outgoing aluminum-tone “Dynamic Power Plenum” grille, a more attractive adaptation of the earlier “shield” grille that’s more commonly and less respectfully known as the “beak”.
Either way, the ILX wears its front fascia proudly, its centermost portion protruding pointedly, flanking headlamps made up of five “Jewel-Eye” LEDs apiece, and lower apron suitably sporty thanks to a narrow center air slit and assertive set of corner vents. An upswept shoulder line, shapely waste line, and yet more sculpting along the rocker panels adds depth to its side profile, while an angular set of slim LED taillights has always been an elegant addition to its backside, these topping off a rear bumper cap that nearly mirrors the car’s frontal design when it comes to corner vents. It’s a smart looking ride, rounded out by silver-painted multi-spoke 17-inch alloys on my Technology Plus trimmed tester.
True, 17s seem a bit small for an optioned out premium sport sedan, but their size will be appreciated when it comes time to replace their 215/45R17 Michelins. Smaller diameter rubber can lead to substantial savings, and value continues to be an important element of the ILX’ success.
At just $28,100 for a base 2018 ILX, it undercuts the A3 by almost 14 percent or $3,850, and the CLA by more than 16 percent or $4,600, while its impressive load of features makes it an even bigger bargain. Standard with the ILX yet optional on the two Germans in question are full LED headlamps, proximity-sensing keyless access, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, SMS text message reading capability, Siri Eyes Free, and more.
It shares many features with its closest rivals too, including auto on/off headlights, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, ambient interior lighting, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles, a leather-wrapped shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera with guidelines, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity with streaming audio, tire pressure monitoring, hill start assist, all the usual active and passive safety features, etcetera. Also notable, both the ILX and A3 include standard heated front seats and glass sunroofs.
Of course, I’m not going to disrespect the Audi or Merc by neglecting to mention features they include in standard trim that are either extra or not available at all with the Acura, such items being rain sensing wipers, rear seat center pass-thrus, and auto start/stop that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling to reduce emissions and save fuel, only the first feature being optional with the ILX, while the CLA also gets standard memory for its powered driver’s seat, and both of the A3’s front seats are powered while it also includes standard leather upholstery. Additionally, the ILX can’t be had with an electromechanical parking brake, standard on both German models, but (call me a luddite) I must admit to preferring the classic leather-clad handbrake more anyway.
On that note, the ILX doesn’t offer all-wheel drive either. To be clear, the three cars in this comparison feature standard front-wheel drive, but both German models offer the low- and high-speed traction benefits of four-wheel power, at a significant cost mind you, Mercedes’ 4Matic upping the CLA’s price point by $2,000 and Audi’s Quattro adding $3,000 to the A3’s bottom line. Once again we’re back to the ILX value proposition, these all-wheel drive alternatives retailing for $34,700 and $34,950 respectively, while we haven’t even passed the $30k threshold with the ILX yet.
In fact, even after adding on its comprehensive suite of AcuraWatch Plus advanced driver assistance systems the ILX’ price is only $29,400, the upgrade including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation, while also including blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert only requires a slight bump up to $30,100.
That move upmarket allows for Premium trim, which also adds perforated Milano leather upholstery, a powered front passenger’s seat, two-way driver-side memory, a larger 8.0-inch backlit color VGA upper infotainment display controlled by a rotating knob and various buttons on the center stack, plus a second 7.0-inch multi-use color touchscreen display below that, email reading functionality, a higher grade seven-speaker and subwoofer-enhanced audio system with satellite and HD radio, plus Aha, and a HomeLink garage door remote.
My third-rung $33,100 Technology Plus trimmed test car, priced only slightly higher than the base A3 and CLA, added rain-sensing wipers, enhanced AcuraLink smartphone connectivity, real-time traffic, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, voice recognition, and an excellent 10-speaker ELS surround sound audio system with Dolby Pro Logic.
Lastly, if you want to spice up the ILX styling, the $35,100 A-Spec (or $32,100 without the Technology package upgrades) is new for 2018 and gets everything noted above as well as an aerodynamic body kit featuring side skirts and a rear spoiler, plus fog lamps, sportier machine-finished 18-inch alloys with black painted pockets, metal sport pedals, Lux-Suede upholstery, and a black headliner.
All of this value would be moot if the ILX wasn’t a well-built car with the kind of performance expected in the premium sector, and to that end it really does measure up to its European competition. At its heart is a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes wonderful mechanical noises, including some brilliantly raspy highlights when revs near the 6,900 rpm limiter and a suitably sensational exhaust note when pushed hard too. Output is 201 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, making it an engine that likes to be pushed higher into the revs than the lazier 2.0-liter turbos on offer from Mercedes and Audi, the former good for 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and the latter making 186 and 221 respectively.
The ILX partially makes up for slightly less go-power by adding an additional forward gear, its eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox wonderfully responsive yet extremely smooth too, while I can’t argue against the two seven-speed Teutonic boxes either.
As for fuel economy, it’s a dead heat with the ILX achieving a claimed EPA rating of 25 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 29 combined, the A3 near identical at 26 city, 35 highway and 29 combined, and the CLA still more or less the same at 24 city, 37 highway and 29 combined.
At the limit handling is a toss-up too, although after extensive testing of all three I probably prefer either German due to their slightly firmer suspension tuning and more exacting responsiveness at the limit. Still, all three deliver great handling dynamics, with the ILX really impressing when pushed aggressively. Likewise, all can be driven comfortably all day long, whether in the confines of the city, enjoying the wide openness of the highway, or winding along a tight, twisting seashore drive. Your choice will come down to personal preference in the end, but no one competitor is necessarily better than the other in this respect.
On that note this class isn’t only about performance, as most luxury buyers would probably want quiet refinement more often than not. I have to say all of these entry-level sedans do a good job of coddling their occupants, thanks to generous insulation and high-quality soft-touch synthetic surfaces above the waste, not to mention effective electronic noise canceling systems. The more modern cabins of the CLA and A3 might make them more appealing visually, plus some of their switchgear is nicer, but all stand up to this segment’s expected quality.
All are roomy and comfortable up front too, while only the CLA lacks rear seat room, it being a four-door coupe and all. As for cargo capacity the CLA’s 16.6 cubic feet and A3’s 16.9 beat the ILX’ 12.4 hands down, the Acura’s smaller trunk strange considering its near identical length to the former and longer dimensions when compared to the latter. What’s more, its single-piece folding rear seatback makes it the least flexible for loading in long cargo when rear passengers are aboard.
I expect Acura to address most of the current model’s shortcomings when the next-generation ILX debuts near the end of this year as a 2019 model, but until then the current model will continue forward as one of the better value propositions in the luxury car market. After all, we can’t expect perfection at such an accommodating base MSRP, especially when factoring in its many standard and agreeably priced options.
The ILX really does delivery solidly above its asking price, with sharp styling, a quality interior, good economy, and excellent driving dynamics, all for a price that’s thousands less than key competitors. In fact, its fiercest rival is probably the new Civic when fully optioned out, but unless moving up into Si or Type R trim, which won’t allow for an automatic transmission, the ILX delivers much better driving dynamics. In other words, there are still plenty of reasons to choose an ILX over its four-door rivals.
*Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press Inc. *