Premium, not luxury: The ILX is a nice, but not breathtaking, small sedan.
– Detroit, Michigan
It’s always been tough to figure out what Acura wants from its ILX. Is the compact sedan, which is based on the last-gen Honda Civic, supposed to be sporty or plush? Is it an appetizer to the rest of Acura’s sedan range or a fully loaded Civic by another name? The answer is both; Acura wants shoppers who can finally afford a nicer car to try out the ILX and, hopefully, graduate to other models in the future. Yet there’s only so much you can do to make a Honda feel like an Acura, and I’ve never been able to fall in love with the ILX. The car was refreshed for the 2016 model year to hone in on its entry-luxury model, but it’s got even more to prove now that the new, tenth-generation Honda Civic is better than ever.
- There’s much to like about using the ILX as a daily driver. It’s quiet, it soaks up road impacts despite this tester’s 18-inch wheels, the 2.0-liter inline-four engine provides plenty of power, and the cabin is light and airy. The viceless driving dynamics make city driving effortless. The back seat and trunk are both plenty large for what compact sedan buyers need, too.
- The ride-and-handling balance is spot-on for an entry luxury car, neither harsh nor floaty. I have yet to find a road over which the Acura beats me up unnecessarily (unlike the Mercedes-Benz CLA), yet it’s still very Germanic in its tautness when darting around slow-moving hybrids on my commute. These competent dynamics are only let down by the car’s woolen steering, which saps any eagerness I have to pitch the Acura into bends.
- Acura’s unusual transmission design works extremely well. The ILX combines the virtues of a dual-clutch transmission with the smooth take-off of a torque-converter automatic. It sounds like a complicated arrangement, yet the trickery produces snappy, precise gear changes without any lurching or clunkiness at low speeds.
- The ILX lacks the flash of its German rivals. Whether or not you love the designs of the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA, they’re both prettier than the ILX. Acura’s idea of bringing luxury to a compact sedan is bolting on big wheels and chrome trim; flat surfacing and bland fascias do little to excite me compared to the bold creases of the A3 or rippling sheet metal of the CLA. Their interiors also present with more flair and character than the inside of the ILX. Acura’s entry (which, it’s worth noting, is cheaper than both those cars) is conservatively styled, and that makes it harder for me to accept paying a premium for it.
- Acura’s dual-mode infotainment systems are dated and disappointing. From the lackluster graphics to the convoluted operating strategy, Acura’s displays are less appealing and harder to use while driving than alternatives from more affordable makes. Every step seems to require digging into multiple menu levels, and some functions are operated by the touchscreen while others by the physical controls. I’d rather use a Kia or Chevy infotainment system, for instance; their bright colors and clear, responsive buttons feel much more modern.
- The new Honda Civic is much better to live with than the ILX. This sounds like an unfair dig until you recall that the ILX is based on the bones of the ninth-gen Civic, whereas the Honda Civic itself is now in its tenth iteration. To me, the Honda has a more handsome interior, a more pleasant ride, and more satisfying steering. It benefits, quite simply, from being newer and having a few years’ more engineering under its hood. Incidentally, the Civic Touring has pretty much all the features you’ll find on the fully loaded ILX, and it also boasts a smooth and torquey turbocharged engine, all for less than you’d pay for this top-spec ILX.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com