Entry level Acura a nice ride once nannies shut off

Acura ILX (photos courtesy Acura Canada)


It used to be the EL, then the CSX and now it’s the ILX. Whatever you want to call it, it’s Acura’s lowest priced sedan and it’s a darn nice one all things considered.

Sure, it’s basically a gussied up Honda Civic, but if you have to start with something as the basis for a car, you could do a lot worse! After all, it isn’t as if the Civic is a slug itself! And this year, Acura has upped the oomph ante, kind of, by dropping the base engine from previous years, now offering only the one engine that was previously the ILX’s top line choice, a 2.4 litre inline four cylinder unit rated at 201 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque.

The horsepower is adequate, though a higher torque figure would be nice. That said, the car reminds me of the original generation Acura TSX, which also didn’t offer excessive power but which was about as much fun as you could get from a normally-aspirated four banger back then. The ILX doesn’t feel as sporty and spry as the TSX, sadly, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, especially if you press it.

Engine output gets to the front wheels, and front wheels only, via an eight speed dual clutch transmission that’s no PDK but which is still a step up from “regular” automatic transmissions, let alone CVT’s. Shifts can be a tad jerky at times and sometimes it felt as if the car were reluctant to downshift when I tromped on the gas for passing on highways but, that said, I never had issues with the car having to spend too much time out in the oncoming lane. Good thing!

If you’re not driving enthusiastically the transmission tends to upshift quickly to its top gear, undoubtedly as a fuel saving measure. You can control this by being more aggressive on the gas pedal, or by using the sport mode and/or the manual shift mode. Acura includes paddle shifters in the package, and while the shifts you accomplish with them aren’t as lightning quick as on some dual clutch-equipped cars, they’re still a lot better than shifting via the console-mounted lever because you can keep your hands on the steering wheel, where they belong.

I liked the suspension of Acura Canada’s sample ILX (which came with the top line A-Spec package). It uses a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear, both ends also equipped with stabilizer bars, and is tuned to toe a good line between luxury and fun. The “motion-adaptive electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering” also works well and offers good feel to the driver. Brakes are discs all around, power assisted of course and with all the usual nannies.

Speaking of nannies, the A-Spec ILX is loaded with them. And that’s too bad. Now, this isn’t an Acura thing because these supposed safety systems – blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, cross traffic assist, etc. etc. etc. – are cropping up across the auto industry. I hate these things in general and am of the belief that if you need to rely on them then perhaps you should think about taking public transit.

The worst of these as it appears on the ILX is the forward collision warning system. This lights up a big rectangular amber light on the instrument panel saying “BRAKE!” and it’s far too sensitive. It would come on if I was behind a vehicle and sped up to pull out and pass – at which time the car would freak out and flash “BRAKE!” in front of my eyes, attracting my attention to the warning (undoubtedly as it was designed to) and away from the view outside. It would also come on if it didn’t think I was slowing down quickly enough behind a vehicle ahead. It was wrong. Whoever programmed this feature programmed it to be a wuss.

To me, the fact that this supposed safety feature is right in your face and pulls your attention off the road makes it a danger feature, rather than a safety one. It’s so stupid that, like daytime running lights that lead to oafs driving with no taillights on after dark, it must be government-mandated, or at least threatened.

Ditto for the blind spot monitors that stay on too long, though the ILX’s aren’t as bad as some. I also found the cross traffic monitoring was too sensitive and would go off when there was no cross traffic. In fact, between the collision mitigation, the adaptive cruise control that slows you down long before it really needs to (even on its closest-following setting) and the other “collision mitigation systems,” I found myself yelling at the poor ILX (which, like a robot, was really only reacting to its programming) on numerous occasions.

Anyway, if you can get around the nannies (and you can avoid most of them by not going beyond the car’s base configuration, though you’ll lose some good stuff, too), you’ll find a handsome and modern car with cool LED lighting and a nice, clean look. The greenhouse is a little small, but as with most of my complaints about this car, not too bad and hardly a deal breaker.

Inside is a typical Honda/Acura cabin, with good quality materials and a mostly clean and efficient design. I still don’t really get the double, stacked LCD screens that appear to be Honda’s attempt to minimize the seemingly hundreds of buttons and switches from previous model years. I’m starting to get used to it as I spend more time with Honda/Acuras, but think it’s unnecessarily confusing, let alone redundant – though still better than all those buttons and gewgaws were.

You can use voice recognition if you want, but if you’re anything like me you’d rather just cuss at it than actually use it. I shut off most of the prompts because they were driving me crazy (I really don’t need to have the radio station name read out to me every time I change channels), but still didn’t like the slow and clunky interface. The whole voice shebang made me wonder if Honda/Acura was tailoring its cars to blind drivers…

The seats are comfortable. Acura’s sample wore leather, with power up front and heating of course. I wished for a digital speedometer on the instrument panel, and while I preferred driving the ILX in sport mode, it’s still a nice place to be if you leave it in its default mode; it just isn’t as much fun. It’ll undoubtedly return better gas mileage in its default mode, however, which might make it a preferable choice for the economy-minded.

There’s decent storage inside (and in the trunk, too) though the interior 12 volt outlet is mounted far back in the centre console, inside the storage box/arm rest. This makes it a long reach if you’re powering something like a navigation system, music player or radar detector.

The sample included Acura’s famous ELS audio system, which used to be one of the best you could get. That was then, however. Now, it’s still a good system with very nice sound, but it no longer plays specialty audio discs like DVD-Audio and SACD’s. Most people won’t care, but audiophiles might.

Other than the nannies and my audio snob angst, my complaints about the ILX are pretty minor and overall this is actually a darn nice entry luxury sedan. The base 2016 ILX starts at $29,490 Canadian, which seems decent considering the car you get. Option it up all the way, like Acura Canada’s sample A-Spec model was, and the price reaches $34,890, sans the usual extra kilos of flesh such as destination charges, taxes and levies that are merely renamed taxes.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray


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