2016 Acura ILX review notes: A Civic-minded Acura

Photo: 2016 Acura ILX Photo 1

Despite improvements, Acura‘s entry-level sedan fails to shine

Digital editor Andrew Stoy: There’s an anecdote in Steve Jobs’ biography where an acquaintance recounts seeing him parked in his car, screaming into a cell phone. Perfectionist to a fault, Jobs was incensed over the hue of the then-prototype iMac, shouting, “Not f*&king blue enough!”

Acura needs a Steve Jobs.

The Acura ILX was introduced for the 2013 model year, garnering mostly crickets from the U.S. buying public. For 2016, Honda has tried to spice things up a bit with styling revisions and a fresh powertrain. The improvements help, but my message to Acura?

You know what’s coming.

Not f#&ing blue enough.

There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about the new engine and transmission, but overall the ILX remains one of the dullest ways to spend $35,000 I can think of. It’s not just that it’s a gussied-up Civic … it’s that it’s not even that gussied up. Interior plastics are Accord-spec at best, seat support is mediocre and the feature set is what you’d find on a Civic EX-L for $10,000 less. The ILX is noisy inside, with wind and road both contributing to the din; tire rumble is particularly pronounced on any surface other than pristine asphalt; and the suspension delivers harsh crashes to the cabin from bumps, potholes and the like. Especially compared to cars on the new MQB platform from Volkswagen Group (the Golf and Audi A3, for example), the ILX chassis feels dated and unrefined.

Under the hood is a new Earth Dreams (possibly the goofiest greenwashing idiom in use today) 2.4-liter I4 coupled to Honda’s unique torque-converter/DCT eight-speed automatic. The transmission uses a lightweight torque converter to facilitate smooth launches, yet shifts with the authority of a dual-clutch once underway. Both the engine and transmission are outstanding, in typical Honda fashion; the inline-four has decent torque down low and loves to rev, while the DCT bangs off up and downshifts instantly whether in automatic mode or when using the paddles. There’s plenty of power to get the ILX moving, though it’s found at higher revs than with its turbocharged competitors.

With swoopier sheetmetal and a nicer interior, the powertrain might be a reason to recommend looking at an ILX, but as it sits the car is seriously outclassed on the lower end by competitors like the Jetta and Golf and the entry-luxe end by the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Even within the Honda family, the Civic EX-L is a far better value, and the Accord V6 is faster and more entertaining to drive.

Still nothing to see here.  

Photo: 2016 Acura ILX Photo 11

Editorial intern Joseph Grove: My night with the ILX didn’t start with a bang, rather with an awkward fight with the keyless entry system. Little did I know that just putting your hand behind the door handle was enough to unlock it. Once I got the hang of that, it turned out to be a handy feature, and the system responded fast.

I warmed up to the ILX as I was sprinting around the detours through a construction-ridden Detroit. It handled all the stops and starts like a champ, and the 2.4-liter engine was more than up to the task of hauling the car around. But I found the eight-speed a bit of a distraction since there are multiple up and down shifts even in slow-speed city driving.

I agree with Andy about the suspension and road noise. Unfortunately, turning up the radio only helps one of those problems. Driving home on I-75, the car let me know about every expansion gap and small bump I ran over, and when I arrived at my exit, which resembles microwave bacon, I thought I might chip a tooth.

The exterior of the car is one of its brightest spots. The ILX stands out on the road and looks rather aggressive with the thin head- and taillights, as well as a highly reformed version of Acura’s signature beak grille.

The outside looks more premium than the inside, at least to me. The dual infotainment/HVAC screens are more of a confusion than a notable feature; the shift knob has an awkward release button that isn’t very ergonomic, and the steering wheel adjuster is practically hidden. However, the heated cloth seats are a nice touch; I didn’t use them at all, but I did appreciate that they were there.

I was impressed by how easy it was to merge the car onto the freeway, as well as by the light and nimble steering. The ILX would be a compelling choice if it weren’t for the suspension, road noise and a few questionable interior issues. I don’t think the ILX will be getting my (admittedly imaginary) $35,000.

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