Quick Summary Previously, the Acura ILX suffered from a weak base engine, while the more powerful option was only available with a manual transmission. That's all changed now that the old base engine has been eliminated and a new eight-speed automated manual transmission is standard across the board. A slight styling refresh and additional features are also new, making the 2016 Acura ILX more competitive among the new crop of entry-level luxury sedans.
What Is It? Acura's entry-level sedan, the ILX gets a midcycle refresh for the 2016 model year to address some of the drawbacks that kept it from reaching its full potential. Gone is the 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder and its outdated five-speed automatic transmission. Now, the 2016 Acura ILX is only available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 201 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque, which all goes through a modern eight-speed automated manual transmission. The ILX's chassis also receives some enhancements to stiffen the structure and improve crash-worthiness.
On the outside, some subtle styling updates further improve the ILX's overall impression. The front and rear fascia have been sharpened ever so slightly, and LED headlights and taillights lend a more modern appearance. The interior also receives a freshening with improved materials, added sound insulation and a secondary infotainment screen on higher-trimmed models. The newly available AcuraWatch suite of technology-based safety features brings the ILX up to date with its contemporaries.
Prices start at $28,820 for the base ILX. For another $2,000, the Premium package adds features like leather upholstery, the secondary infotainment display, navigation via newer iPhones, some of the AcuraWatch safety features and an upgraded audio system. The Tech Plus package increases the price to $33,820 and gets you a built-in navigation system, premium audio and the complete AcuraWatch safety suite. Available on the Premium and Tech Plus packages is the sporty A-Spec package that adds 18-inch wheels, faux suede seat inserts, foglights, a rear spoiler and a few interior trim elements. We spent a day driving the Tech Plus model with the A-Spec package throughout California's Napa Valley. The as-tested price for this model came to $35,810, including $920 for destination and handling.
How Does It Drive? Power from the now standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder isn't what we'd call impressive, but it is certainly adequate for most drivers. We were more impressed by the new eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Unlike some automated manuals that exhibit some unrefined lurches off the line, the ILX's transmission is as smooth as a traditional automatic. This is due in no small part to Acura fitting a torque converter to the transmission, an element that is normally associated with typical automatics.
In normal drive mode, the ILX accelerates smoothly on city roads with a pleasant low burble and precise steering. Reaching highway speeds and passing slower traffic with confidence requires a decent prod of the pedal in order to get the revs up as the engine begins to emit a strained groan. Once up to speed, the engine quiets down considerably, overtaken by a noticeable but not intrusive amount of road noise.
On more demanding roads, we slipped the transmission into Sport mode. Engine revs are held higher in this setting, and under braking, the transmission keeps power on tap with well-timed rev-matched downshifts. As good as Sport mode was, we preferred the manual mode that was commanded by the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. In this setting, the quicker but rougher gearchanges had us driving with much more enthusiasm.
The ILX delivers a compliant and comfortable ride quality without compromising on sporty handling. The A-Spec package's 18-inch wheels transmit more road imperfections into the cabin, but even on broken pavement it never becomes harsh. Overall, the car feels solidly tethered to the road, which gives us the confidence to have some fun in the narrow curves. Steering effort is noticeably light and relays very little information back to the driver, but it is very precise. The first indication of the performance limit is the lack of front wheel traction as the tires claw at the asphalt coming out of turns. Otherwise, the ILX should satisfy drivers seeking some thrills.
How Is the Interior? The basic design of the previous interior carries over to the ILX's refresh for 2016 with a few notable improvements. The most obvious change, at least for Premium and Tech Plus models, is the addition of a touchscreen right in the middle of the center stack. It replaces the outdated buttons, knobs and digital readouts of the previous ILX for a cleaner, contemporary look. Operation of the system isn't as intuitive as we'd prefer, as the upper screen atop the dash displays both audio and navigation, while the middle touchscreen handles audio, climate and general system settings.
The abundance of physical buttons throughout the cockpit further complicates operation. We counted about 30 buttons on the center stack and another 18 on the steering wheel. Compounding matters is the main infotainment dial's positioning in the middle of the dash instead of closer to the center armrest and where your hand naturally rests.
Shoppers on a budget may want to try out the Premium package's ability to use select iPhones as a substitute for the Tech Plus package's integrated navigation. It's not as elegant as the integrated system, but in our experience it does a fine job of bridging the gap between phone-only and a traditional in-dash system.
As far as materials quality goes, the ILX still trails its German rivals by a noticeable margin. There is an abundance of hard plastics by comparison and the soft-touch and leather surfaces are also not quite as nice. After an hour or so of driving, we would also have preferred more padding on the door and center armrests to cushion our elbows.
The well-shaped and adequately cushioned seats are comfortable over longer distances. Lateral support was a bit lacking for spirited driving, but the A-Spec faux suede surfaces provide plenty of grip to hold occupants in place. Rear passenger space is considerably more generous than in other sedans in the class, as average-size adults can comfortably be accommodated.
The ILX's trunk can hold up to 12.3 cubic feet of cargo, which is about average among its entry-level luxury sedan rivals. Thanks to the space behind the rear wheel humps, a golf bag can easily be accommodated width-wise across the trunk. Remote handles to release the folding rear seats are handy, but the seats only fold down as one piece, meaning you can't transport longer items and a rear passenger at the same time.
What Safety Features Are Available? In addition to the typical safety features found in other vehicles, the 2016 Acura ILX's standard equipment list also includes a multiview rearview camera. Opting for the AcuraWatch suite of safety features adds forward collision warning and mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and intervention, a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alerts. Structural enhancements have also been made in this refresh in response to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's challenging small frontal overlap crash test.
During our drive, we were most impressed by Acura's new lane departure warning and intervention system. When drifting out of a lane, subtle visual warnings appear initially, followed by a gentle nudge felt through the steering wheel to move the car back in line. Without any intervention, the system steered the car through gentle turns as well as a human pilot, but it does require occasional driver input to remain active.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect? The EPA estimates the 2016 ILX will achieve 29 mpg combined (25 city/36 highway). Compared to direct competitors, these figures are average.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Audi A3: The Edmunds "A"-rated Audi A3 is the leader in the entry-level luxury sedan segment. Depending on trim levels and options, the Audi will cost $2,000-$4,000 more than a comparable Acura ILX, but its advantage in quality, performance and prestige may justify the financial penalty. As with the other competitors listed below, the A3 can also be had with all-wheel drive.
BMW 320i: As the perennial leader in this class, the 3 Series remains a benchmark, but its higher price may keep it just out of reach for some shoppers. The base model 320i costs about $2,800 more than the ILX. Equipping the BMW to be comparable to the Acura further widens the price gap. It may be better in a number of ways, but value is not one of them.
Mercedes-Benz CLA250: Besides the prestige factor and better interior materials, the CLA-Class trails the ILX in a number of areas. Cramped rear seats, inelegant lurches from the transmission and its stiff ride quality may be enough to drive savvy shoppers away from the entry-level Benz. If that's not enough, the CLA costs between $3,000 and $4,000 more than the Acura.
Why Should You Consider This Car? The 2016 Acura ILX benefits from a more affordable price tag than its German rivals. With a high level of driver engagement balanced with a comfortable ride and plenty of standard and available features, it's clearly the value leader in this class.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car? The ILX's relative affordability comes at the expense of interior quality. Even at the highest trim level it doesn't match the solidity, materials and driver-to-car interface of the German sedans. With no all-wheel-drive model available, shoppers in areas prone to foul weather may want to weigh their options.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.