The market for compact luxury cars has grown in the last decade, as upscale manufacturers realized they needed a way to attract a younger generation of buyers, who would potentially become brand loyalists.
Acura has long been ahead of that curve, with cars like the Integra of the 1980s and 1990s, followed by other Honda Civic-based cars: the EL, CSX and, most recently, the ILX.
Acura introduced the ILX in 2013 and updated it in 2016 and 2019. While Honda completely redesigned the Civic into a more sophisticated 10th generation in 2016, the ILX is still built on the same platform as the unremarkable ninth-gen Civic. On paper, that sounds like a bad thing, but Acura has done a good job making the 2019 ILX look newer than it is.
The 2019 update brings new headlights, grille, and taillights that put some distance between this upscale car and its economy-sedan roots. That’s important because Mercedes-Benz – one of Acura’s key competitors at the entry-level end of the luxury segment – has two very fresh small sedans on offer: The A-Class made its North American debut as a 2019 model, and a second-generation CLA-Class will soon arrive for 2020. Acura also has to contend with the popular Audi A3.
My tester was the ILX’s top Tech A-Spec trim, which adds dark-finish 18-inch wheels, side skirts, a black trunk-lid spoiler, Ultrasuede/leather seats with contrast stitching, and metal pedals. It’s a good-looking package that amplifies the car’s upscale intentions.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
The ILX’s firm ride approaches uncomfortable on Ottawa’s neglected arterial roads. Still, it’s a good fit with the car’s attempt to toe the line between the upscale sport sedan and sport compact classes. Handling is fun, but this is not an all-out sports car: The ILX’s front-drive layout comes with plenty of understeer when powering through a corner. The small sedans from Audi and Mercedes-Benz offer AWD, which promises to improve dry-road handling as much as it adds foul-weather traction.
Acura hasn’t made the ILX appreciably quieter than the old Civic design it’s based on, but the sounds that come into the cabin are nicer to listen to. Some of the credit for that goes to Acura’s active sound control (ASC) system, which uses noise-cancelling technology to filter out the less-desirable aspects of the car’s mechanical soundtrack.
Under the ILX’s hood is a 2.4L engine, a low-tech offering next to Honda’s newer turbocharged four-cylinders. I was tempted to criticize Acura for not bolting the Civic Si’s 1.5L turbo into this car; after all, its power figures (205 hp/192 lb-ft of torque) are similar to those of the ILX.
But that tiny turbo’s peaky power delivery would be a poor fit with the ILX’s upscale mission. The bigger motor boasts more linear performance and doesn’t run out of breath at high revs the way turbos tend to do. This is old-school Honda power, and it feels good in this car.
The ILX’s eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission has tightly spaced ratios that keep the engine in its high-rev happy place in enthusiastic acceleration, but it’s not as smooth as most dual-clutch gearboxes, especially when shifted manually.
Annoyingly, the only way to take full manual control is via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are hard to keep track of when you want to shift mid-corner, so when I wanted quick responses, I left the transmission in sport mode and let it do the work.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
Acura estimates ILX fuel consumption at 9.9/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway), and my test car lived up to those promises with a city-driving average of 9.4 L/100 km.
The ILX’s front seats are supportive enough for enthusiastic driving without overly aggressive bolstering, so they’re comfortable for daily use by people of varying sizes. The A-Spec trim’s Ultrasuede-and-leather upholstery combo looks and feels good, and the suede hangs on to your backside a little better than the Premium’s straight leather would.
We packed three adults into the ILX’s tight rear seat for a short drive (for which I’m sure they were thankful). Taller passengers had a hard time swinging long legs out of the narrow door openings, but enjoyed useful headroom.
At 350 L, the ILX’s trunk is small next to the Benz CLA’s 470 L of cargo space and the A-Class sedan’s 420 L. It looks better compared to the A3’s 284 L, however.
The ILX’s one-piece rear seatback folds down, but the Germans do better with split-folding rear seatbacks.
All ILX trims come with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and road-departure mitigation.
The lane-keeping assist performed inconsistently: it occasionally tugged at the steering wheel for no reason, but often did nothing at all when I purposely let the car wander to the edge of my lane.
User Friendliness: 7/10
If the ILX’s age shows anywhere, it’s in the car’s infotainment system. A dual-screen setup means less toggling between functions like navigation and audio, but the newer RDX crossover does a similar thing with a single, larger display in place of upper and lower screens.
Our test car’s navigation system appeared in the upper screen with some outmoded graphics that might have been acceptable 10 years ago. However, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on Premium trim and higher, so drivers have the option of a slicker-looking interface.
But if the dual-screen setup seems fussy at first, the ILX’s secondary controls are actually straightforward and easy to use.
I wished for a driver’s seat that adjusted further down to create more headroom under the standard sunroof. The seating position also meant I had to duck my head down to see under/around the rear-view mirror for a clear path in right-hand turns.
All ILX trims come with a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, LED exterior lighting front and rear, power sunroof, adaptive cruise control, ambient cabin lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, and passive keyless entry.
Premium trim adds a power front passenger seat, two-position driver’s seat memory, leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, the dual-screen display, an upgraded stereo with subwoofer, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Premium A-Spec brings the larger wheels and body add-ons and LED fog lights, while Tech A-Spec gets navigation, a programmable garage-door opener, rain-sensing wipers, and a 10-speaker sound system.
Acura positions the ILX as a high-value option in the compact luxury sedan class, its sub-$30,000 starting price undercutting the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class and CLA-Class by thousands. ILX pricing tops out at $35,390, which is still less than any of those German cars when optioned to match the Acura’s features.
That said, Acura leaves out a few high-end features, like wireless smartphone charging and parking proximity sensors, neither of which are available in the ILX, even as options.
Unfortunately for Acura, the ILX’s competition doesn’t end with those Benz and Audi models: the Volkswagen Jetta GLI and the Civic Si are higher-tech cars that challenge the Acura’s performance and upscale feature content in the low-$30,000 price range.
It’s easy to write off the Acura ILX based on its modest roots and aging platform, as it doesn’t boast Honda’s latest technology either under the hood or in the cabin. But if you ignore this car based on those things, you’ll miss out on a surprisingly well-sorted sport sedan at a really attractive price.
|Peak Horsepower||201 hp @ 6,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||180 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.9/7.0/8.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||348 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Acura ILX Tech A-Spec|
|Price as Tested||$37,565|