Expert Reviews

[Video] Test Drive: 2016 Acura ILX A-Spec

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

If you’re after an entry-level luxury sport sedan, Acura wants to make you a deal. They’ve extensively updated their entry-level ILX, with more standard power, significant styling improvements, a new transmission, and enhancements throughout. Partly, that’s because the Germans are moving in on their pricing turf, and because shoppers in this segment are constantly demanding more for less.

The ILX is a compelling deal on an entry premium sedan.

ILX’s pricing starts under $30,000, in a segment where many competitive premium-branded rides start from thousands more. The tested ILX A-Spec is the top-dog version of Acura’s entry-level model, adding $1,400 to the price of the fully-loaded ILX Tech unit for upgraded wheels, metal pedals, a body kit, and the like.

In any grade, the ILX’s price includes the warm and fuzzy stuff Acura shoppers love, like a proven reputation for safety, reliability and residual values. All considered, for the short term and long, one might argue that the ILX is a compelling deal on an entry premium sedan.

That’s backed up elsewhere. For 2016, a boatload of newly-infused Acura DNA is included as standard, packing ILX full of those techy bits and styling touches that, lately, make an Acura an Acura.

Advanced hazard detection and auto-braking systems are included as standard, as are Acura’s LED cluster headlamps, the latest in connected-car tech via the Acuralink system, and dual screens occupying the vertical centre of the dash. The on-board atmosphere puts the technology front and centre, with dark colours and bright, metallic accents dispatched towards a youthfully premium and luxurious look. Steering wheel push-button and voice-activated access to numerous functions, as well as automatic lights, climate control, and wipers, help contribute to a laid-back drive.

There’s plenty of room for those little items you like to keep nearby, proper cupholders, and plenty of recharging points and covered storage cubbies. Upscale materials are found in most of the right places, and front-seat entry and exit is issue-free, with memory seats working for easy access to the perfect driving position. Rear seats are comfy once settled into, and two occupants of about 5’11 can sit behind one another with little issue—though the rear roofline shape and sunroof provisions cut notably into headroom and complicate rear-seat entry and exit, thanks to the short rear door aperture. Further, the trunk is deep, lengthy, and has a generous opening for larger items.

So, this year, ILX offers plenty more tech, safety, styling presence and feature content than ever, all of which should make it more competitive and relevant in its segment. Still, to your writer, there’s one part of the ILX that stands out in its appeal beyond all else: the powertrain.

There’s nothing quite like revving the absolute pants off of a hard-working little VTEC engine to brighten one’s day, and in the newly updated ILX, a power plant with some serious old-school VTEC charm adds to the experience.

There’s no turbocharging here, and the ILX’s 2.4L, 201-hp, dual-cam, direct-injection engine performs in a way that stays in step with the brands roots: by spinning fast.

More revs means more fuel burned and more power generated. Balancing out a high-revving character with delivery of generous low-end torque, engineers specified a redline of 7,000 revs, and the ILX uses every one of them to make enthusiasts smile when called upon. As VTEC engines do, this one piles the sauce on as the revs rise, pulls hard to redline, and has a peaky and thrilling power curve with a huge sense of rising action as max revs approach, complete with the elevated sound effects as the VTEC power-cam kicks in. Yahoooo!

It’s a snarly little thing that revs eagerly, hard, and fast, all while making a gorgeously mechanical sound. The acceleration is more than adequate – it won’t flatten your eyeballs, but keep the revs up, and it’s all smiles. Owners of sporty Honda and Acura products of days gone by will feel right at home with the whole experience.

In contrast, the transmission is brand new to Acura. It’s an eight-speed dual-clutch unit with paddle shift, capable of perfectly-matched, lightning-fast shifts every time, all with absolutely no interruption to the pulling power for change-ups. It changes gears with urgency and shift speeds in the same ballpark as a good Audi or BMW DCT, which is sweet.

So, an old-school snarly, peaky pull complete with new-to-the-brand blink-speed shifting breaking up the sound effects and helping make even better use of the engine’s output.

This is a unique experience indeed at full throttle.

Further, and unlike many DCT transmissions, the ILX’s unit is uncommonly smooth and refined when taking off and stopping in stop-and-go traffic, since it has a torque converter, which most DCT’s don’t. With the best parts of an automatic and DCT transmission combined, the ILX’s transmission performs with smoothness in virtually all situations.

Ride and handling are balanced mid-pack between sporty and luxurious. The ILX’s suspension feels well damped, solid, and thick when travelling on rough roads, with only nasty surfaces coaxing unwelcome sounds and sensations from beneath the car. The setup feels taut and agile after an initial thin layer of softness is overcome. In all, a driver after a car simultaneously ready for energetic browsing of empty backroads and comfy long-haul drives should feel nicely backed up.

Steering is quick and light. Though the system isn’t enormous on feel or feedback, the fast ratio and fairly light effort required at the wheel adds to a feeling of playfulness when tossing the ILX about on an empty, winding road. Torque steer is all but a non-issue here, and never felt as anything more than a slight tug at the wheel when full throttle is applied at low speeds on a flat surface. Internet haters besmirch front-wheel drive on account of at-the-limit understeer, (this is often caused by the driver, not the car), and unless you plan on drifting around corners on your daily commute (which you don’t), the front-drive setup here takes little from the experience.

Other notables include great brake pedal feel – the calipers start biting hard and fast with minimal effort at the pedal, and emergency stops saw the ILX pull down from speed faster than expected. If you’ve got a sudden stop in your immediate future, you’ll feel well supported in getting stationary, fast.

Further, although all-LED headlamps are becoming common and have proved largely hit-and-miss in your writer’s experience, the ILX makes great use of the technology with low and high beams both demonstrating a saturating flood of clean forward and peripheral lighting after dark.

Mileage also impressed – the tester, driven vigorously and extensively, turned in an overall measured by hand average of 8.0 L/100 km, with the computer reading 8.5 overall, during your writer’s 1,600-kilometre test. So the fuel-saving and performance enhancing technologies work. This figure should improve further once engine break-in completes.

Complaints include a curiously large amount of road and wind noise at speed, and most shoppers will expect their new luxury sedan to be considerably quieter. Further, though it’s easy to appreciate the presence of all radar-detection and camera-based hazard detection systems at this price, adjustments to throttle and braking coming from the radar cruise system can feel abrupt at times.

Ultimately, as ILX re-invents itself for added relevance and competitiveness, the 2016 model should amount to compelling deal for an entry-luxury shopper after top levels of confidence, safety, fuel efficient fun factor, and a fantastic and hard-working engine.

The fully-loaded ILX A-Spec tester, wearing its sporty body kit and packed with all of the bells and whistles, comes in right smack at the entry price of a Mercedes CLA 250, and about a grand cheaper than a base model BMW 3-Series. You can bet that’s on purpose.

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Audi A3
BMW 2 Series
Cadillac ATS
Lexus CT200h
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

Model Tested 2016 Acura ILX A-Spec
Base Price $34,890
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,945
Price as Tested $36,935
Optional Equipment