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Test Drive: 2016 Acura ILX A-Spec

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By Kevin Harrison

When I was younger, I had certain people in my life who pushed me to do better. Parents, friends and teachers all knew I could achieve more than just getting by.

Am I ever thankful to have had such supportive people in my life.

Because of this, I likely was able to push myself to settle for something better than typical lame-duck jobs or even lame-duck girlfriends. This sort of push to raise the bar definitely helps to steer people in the right direction.

I can only assume that the Acura’s corporate division had all of their mothers do the same thing when it came to the ILX.

When the ILX first debuted in 2012, the reaction to it was quite tepid. Its exterior looks were quite underwhelming for a premium brand and even worse was the interior. Driving dynamics? It had them in the sense that it was capable of driving, but that’s about it. Sure, Acura gave us a choice when specking out the ILX. There was the base 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, a manual transmission and a hybrid model.

The end consensus was, yes Acura, this is fine. But is fine really what you want?

Acura, who is owned by Honda, isn’t quite used to mediocre praise. And thankfully, they don’t take their time when addressing criticism.

So here we have a heavily refreshed version of the ILX. Does it have what it takes to go from being C student up to an A student?

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One of the main criticisms of the ILX was its exterior design. While other premium brands have evolved themselves to stay fresh and eye-catching, the old design was a bit of a snooze-fest. Now, the ILX sports corporate branding cues such as the company’s signature jewel-eye LED headlights. My tester’s A-Spec trim – a term that used to be synonymous with Honda performance – is now mostly cosmetic. It adds front fog lights, a chrome accented lip spoiler, A-Spec badges and polarizing 18-inch wheels. From a visual point of view, this is much better. However, I still cannot get over the fact that Acura now feels the need to hide the exhaust tips on all their models. They claim its to look more environmentally conscious. Well, ‘looking’ and actually ‘being’ environmentally conscious are two separate things.

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Inside you’ll find typical Acura design language. That means a long-in-the-tooth steering wheel design that is still overly complicated with buttons and a two tiered dash layout that takes some getting used to in terms of operation. While I can appreciate the idea of the two tiered dash, which allows you to operate the radio without losing your navigation map for instance, it still strikes me as something that isn’t completely necessary. Thankfully, one of the screens houses the visuals of the back-up camera and it is among the clearer cameras on the market today. You can also cycle through different view-points.

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Interior space is a bit cramped, even for the driver. This is because the ILX’s sunroof impedes on head space for front passengers. This author is unfortunately an inch shy of 6 feet and when I sat in such a manner that would make my physiotherapist proud, my head would graze the roof lining. The driver’s seat is 8-way power adjustable however it doesn’t lower itself very much to the floor. Rear seat passengers nearing or above the 6 foot mark will also have their heads brush against the rood lining however space overall is adequate, especially when you consider some of the ILX’s competitors like the Mercedes-Benz CLA which has a notoriously small back seat. The good news is leg and foot room are actually quite good for the class.

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The rest of the interior has premium feeling materials however the inserts on the driver and passenger seats are not real suede. That said, the material does do a good job of keeping you in place, which is good because the side bolsters could be more robust.

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All ILX’s now get a standard power plant and it comes in the form of a 2.4 litre 4 cylinder which packs 201 horsepower and 180 pound foot torque. That’s a pretty big jump in power from the old 2.0 litre. The 2.4 litre gets mated to an 8-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic transmission. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this is among the best automatic transmissions in the market today. Not only are shifts crisp and quick, but Acura equipped it with a torque converter which addresses one of the main issues with dual-clutch transmissions: low speeds. In heavy traffic, DCT’s are jerky and hesitant. With the torque converter, low-speed driving is a synch.

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Out on the road, the ILX can carve corners decently however there is a bit of noticeable body roll. It’s not enough to make you lose confidence but it’s there. Unfortunately for this particular copy of the ILX, it was still wearing winter tires which likely prevented it from performing the way it knows it can. Steering feel isn’t as direct or engaging as it could be as well. However on the whole, the ILX can certainly hold its own in the corners, it just isn’t the raw performance you’d expect from a premium sports sedan.

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The ILX’s main trick is the high-revving nature of the engine and in a way, it makes it quite the screamer. In sport mode, engine noise seems to be dialed in a bit more. When matched with that fantastic transmission, you’ve got yourself a Jekel and Hyde situation. It’s a quiet, unassuming commuter car when you need it to be, but can quickly come to life as an angry sedan at the flick of the downshift paddle.

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On the highway, the ILX lacks the planted feel of its German rivals. It feels light. Almost light enough that a gust of wind could throw it off course (and in some cases, I had to adjust for that). However it’s a quiet ride with little vibration or road noise.

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The ILX has a pretty decent fuel efficiency rating, which may lend a bit of credibility to the reasoning for the lack of exhaust tip visuals. It’s rated at a respectable 9.3 L/100 kms city and 6.6 L/100 kms highway. In mostly city driving, I returned 10.3 L/100 kms. That isn’t great but I suspect my heavy right foot let the ILX’s real world numbers down.

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At the end of the day though, this is an obvious much improved effort from Acura and I am happy to give it an A  for effort. However when we take a look at other players in the category, I’m not entirely confident that it can hold the crown. But, in a way, it depends on what your priorities are. If you’re looking for a small premium sedan that looks great, drives decently, is easy on gas and has a host of tech and features, there really isn’t a whole lot that can touch the ILX’s value proposition. And in the end, all we can ever expect from a car is for it to be the best it can be. I’m not entirely sure the ILX has reached its peak for achievement, but it’s definitely a giant leap in the right direction.

Price As Tested: $36,985

Pros:

  • She’s a looker now
  • Fantastic transmission, among the best
  • Can be a bit of a screamer
  • Good tech, feature and value

Cons:

  • Interior a bit cramped
  • Still button heavy, especially on steering wheel
  • Would appreciate less numb steering
  • Feels a bit unstable on the highway

Immediate Competition:

  • Audi A3
  • Buick Verano Turbo
  • Lexus IS
  • Mercedes-Benz CLA

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