First Drive: 2016 Acura ILX

First Drive: 2016 Acura ILX

More than just a mid-cycle refresh | Honda has always taken great pride in their ability to make a good-handling machine.

San Francisco, CA – Honda has a long history of producing performance cars that tickle the hearts of enthusiasts everywhere. One pinnacle that automatically stands out is the original Acura NSX, a car that became a halo for the Acura brand. The ILX turned up a couple years ago, as a replacement for the CSX, which was essentially a fortified Honda Civic. So much so that the American market didn’t even bother to sell the CSX (or its predecessor, the EL). The ILX was offered with the Civic Si’s fantastic K24 motor and 6-speed manual transmission in Dynamic form, and was instantly one of my favourite entry-level premium cars out there.

First Drive - 2016 Acura ILX

The outgoing 2013-2015 Acura ILX wasn’t all about the fun though. The volume-selling model was the automatic model, and the slick K24 engine was only available with the manual transmission. For 2016 though, they’ve given the ILX a serious overhaul, so Acura flew me to sunny San Francisco to take it for a drive. Most noteworthy are the changes to powertrain options, and then the face freshening with new lighting all around and the implementation of Acura’s current corporate face.

Previous ILXs with the automatic transmission were equipped with the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, which was pretty smooth but relatively anemic, especially when compared to the Dynamic trim. There was also a short-lived Hybrid model, which is also now gone. The only engine Acura offers for the new ILX is the 2.4L I’ve now raved about twice in this story. It’s an impressive decision for them to make, and I applaud them for it. The downside to this? You can only buy the 2016 ILX with two pedals; what was quite possibly one of the greatest manual transmissions in the industry is gone from the Acura brand. The benefit to this is, this engine + transmission combination can still be had in the Honda Civic Si.

First Drive - 2016 Acura ILX

The motor is a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with i-VTEC, good here for 201 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. However, Acura emphasizes it’s no longer called the K24; it now sports direct injection and they claim the motor itself is all-new, despite boasting similar numbers. Although, I can’t emphasize enough that this engine isn’t about the numbers – the powerband, its high-revving nature, and the noise it makes are brilliant. Even though the manual transmission is gone, there’s still a solid option, and it’s the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This transmission is quick-shifting, and with the paddles, makes the 2016 ILX pretty fun to throw about. This is the same transmission that was introduced with the new TLX we sampled recently, as well as the RLX Sport Hybrid.

Handling is great; even though this is a front-wheel-drive car only, Acura as well as Honda have always taken great pride in their ability to make a good-handling machine. This should be commended; in a world where electric steering has done away with a lot of the feedback and passion around cornering a car, Acura’s steering makes it a ton of fun to toss the car about in both a track setting as well as hilly and curvy country roads. The electric assist on the ILX’s steering rack means it’s a bit weightier than before, but I will say that it feels a lot more precise and direct than the previous car and it’s still a hoot to drive. Sometimes, technology can be a good thing.

First Drive - 2016 Acura ILX

Some enthusiasts and critics have given the smallest Acura some hell for not being the prettiest thing around. I think the first-generation car was decent-looking, but had some awkward angles that didn’t do it any favours. This update fixes them, and adds stunning lighting as well as the option for factory A-Spec ground effects and a lip spoiler. This package, which also adds 18” 10-spoke aluminium wheels that look particularly stylish, can be added to higher trim levels and also adds a sexy lip spoiler that sets the car’s styling off nicely. In my opinion, the rear angle is always where the ILX sort of lacked that sex appeal that this segment really needs. The aforementioned A-Spec package also adds things like unique interior trim bits and suede inserts in the seats. This is a car that needs to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.

Acura’s latest infotainment system, as seen on the current RLX, MDX, and TLX, has made its way to the smallest car in the lineup. The only model in the Acura line that carries over the aged navigation setup is the RDX, which will get its own facelift later this year, as we saw at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. Technology on board include the driver assistants included with the AcuraWatch system, a 10-speaker ELS stereo, 4.2” TFT display in the instrument cluster, a navigation system, lane keep assist, and a few other things. There’s also Siri Eyes Free integration that allows you to wirelessly use your iPhone, which is a particularly neat addition. Additionally, there are LED Jewel Eye headlights as well as LED taillights.

First Drive - 2016 Acura ILX

As a purist, I can’t help but notice that the 2016 ILX’s lack of a manual transmission is one of the metaphoric nails in the coffin of the stick shift. This officially means that for the first time ever, the Acura lineup has no option for a third pedal, despite the previous ILX with 20% of total sales being manual transmission models. Even the upcoming NSX supercar will be dual-clutch only, as with nearly other supercar in the world today. It’s a little bit upsetting from a nostalgic standpoint, but there’s no denying the efficiency, speed potential (no human can shift as quickly as a dual-clutch unit), and overall convenience of a good DCT. The Acura unit is exceptional, and only baby steps behind Audi’s S-tronic, which has been perfected at this point.

Pricing for the 2016 ILX is even more appealing than the new car itself. The base model is available for $29,490. Add a couple of options such as power seats, leather interior, XM radio, and heated seats steps you up to the Premium trim at $31,990. Above Premium is the Tech trim, which at $33,490, adds navigation, AcuraLink, ELS audio system, and rain sensing wipers. At the top of the range is the A-Spec, which adds the aero kit and ground effects all around, lix-suede seating, fog lamps and other interior bits, at $34,890. This means that the top of the line ILX can be had under $35,000. Buyers also receive 1 year of complimentary service of AcuraLink (available on Tech and A-Spec trims), which allows mobile connectivity similar to OnStar.

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When it comes to entry-level premium sedans, there are a few good choices. The Audi A4 and BMW 3-series are a class up from this one, but the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 and Audi A3 TFSI are direct competitors of the ILX. The Acura though, is currently front-wheel-drive only, as are lower-trim models of both major competitors. The CLA250 and A3 can both be had with all-wheel-drive, but when you add this option, pricing increases significantly. If only comparing front-drive models, I’d have to give the 2016 Acura ILX the nod; it’s just so refined and modern. With this facelift, the ILX is fresh enough to be the one that stands out in the crowd, and it’s not in a bad way.

 

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