With adaptive cruise control set, I don't have to touch the gas or brake pedal in the 2016 Acura ILX as it bullets down the freeway. Self-driving phase one complete. Switching on its Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), I feel the steering wheel move under my hands as the car actively keeps between the painted lines. Self-driving phase two complete.
Then I loosen my grip, letting my hands hover over the steering wheel. The ILX maintains its lane position, but a warning message in the instrument cluster tells me "Steering required." OK, maybe I can't put up my feet and read a book for this hour-long freeway journey. Not yet, at least.
As Honda's premium brand, Acura fits the ILX with a full load of tech features, a seeming strategy to elevate Acura's smallest sedan well above its platform-mate the Honda Civic . But these features don't quite lift the little ILX above its pedestrian roots, a problem partially mitigated by the car's low price.
At only $28,820 for the base model, the ILX runs just a little more than a high-trim compact economy car in price. However, the model I tested, and pictured here, is the 2016 Acura ILX with Technology Plus Package and A-Spec, this latter piece including wheels and appearance touches, which comes in at $35,810. UK and Australian readers may never have heard of an Acura, as Honda doesn't market the brand in those areas. The closest equivalent would be a high-trim Honda Civic, but with a completely different sedan body.
As for premium equipment, the driver assistance features in the ILX are very ambitious. Adaptive cruise control uses forward radar to track cars ahead, matching speeds when traffic is slower than your set speed. This system let me set three following distances, but it was a little too abrupt with its braking and acceleration, something that could be smoothed over with better programming. The forward radar also enables a pre-collision warning system, lighting up a "Brake" message in the instrument cluster when the car thinks you are about to hit something.
LKAS worked well, although I noticed it correcting off the left lane line, then correcting off the right lane line, then correcting off the left lane again in a continuous oscillation. While this feature takes some of the work out of driving, I've never found it a must-have feature, albeit interesting a step towards self-driving. Acura also fits the ILX with something called Road Departure Mitigation, more of a conventional lane departure warning system.
Add in the blind-spot monitor and rear-view camera, and the ILX is as aware of its surroundings as many high-end luxury cars. However, I have seen similar equipment in a Ford Fusion .
Powering the ILX is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. In line with Honda's new Earth Dreams engines, this one uses direct injection to gain efficiency. However, its output is a bit modest at 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The showpiece of this driveline is the eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Developed by Honda, this new transmission also uses a torque converter to make starts smoother, similar to a traditional automatic transmission. While I did find the ILX made smooth starts, gear changes while under way were occasionally clunky. And frankly, I didn't feel this transmission superior in character to the S-tronic dual clutch transmission in the Audi A3 .
The transmission includes a Sport mode, maintaining higher revs and more ready power than the standard Drive mode, and paddle shifters let me manually select gears with a satisfying quick shift. While this engine-transmission combo got the ILX around just fine, with a decent power overhead, the transmission took a little time to gear down when I floored it for a passing maneuver. I found that the paddles enacted faster downshifts when I wanted some extra steam.
Fuel economy comes in at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. My average during this review period hit 30.8 mpg, which is nothing to boast about for a car of this size.
I was made particularly aware of the ILX's engine because I could hear it continually grinding away, rising to machine shop levels under heavy acceleration. I don't fault the four cylinder mill for noise, but the cabin, which didn't seem to have any more sound deadening materials than a standard Honda Civic.
The engine noise marred the otherwise comfortable ride, as the suspension did an admirable job soaking up the bumps in the road. Along with MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link suspension at the rear, Acura fits the ILX with mechanically adaptive dampers, contributing to ride comfort. Making use of the transmission's Sport mode on a mountain road, I was impressed by the reasonable handling afforded by this suspension. The electric power steering system felt well-programmed, lacking the rheostat character of some competitors' steering systems.
As I've come to expect with Acura vehicles, the steering wheel came well-loaded with buttons, more than you find on an F1 car. With these buttons I could control the instrument cluster display, the cruise control system, LKAS, audio, voice command, and hands-free phone calls.
Further complicating the ILX, Acura uses my least favorite infotainment interface in the center dashboard. An LCD at the top of the dashboard shows navigation, phone and audio information, with a set of buttons and a jog-dial to control functions lower down. Between LCD and switchgear sits a touchscreen, showing audio, phone and destination presets, providing an alternate means of controlling car functions. In the ILX I could bring up audio controls on both screens simultaneously, giving me two distinctly different interface formats.
Voice command for this system is comprehensive and accurate, covering all the infotainment functions, but a series of help prompts made using it tedious.
Audio sources include Pandora integration, an onboard hard drive, a USB port for iOS devices and drives, satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming. With the latter, I was impressed that I could use the ILX's dashboard controls to browse and select music stored on my iPhone, a feature not available on many other cars.
The 10-speaker ELS audio system sounded too trebly initially, but adjusting the equalizer brought up the mids and bass, making the output more to my liking. I liked the clarity of this system, as it made instruments and vocals distinct, but was even more impressed when I checked the DTS Neural Surround box in the sound settings. The output became more robust, filling the cabin.
The navigation system proved responsive, with easy-to-read, clear maps available in both perspective and plan views. The maps show live traffic information, and the system routes around serious traffic problems. Destination entry includes typical options, along with a free-form search of the points-of-interest database. While the navigation menu doesn't show an online destination search option, Aha app integration includes limited online search.
The nascent compact luxury market includes cars such as the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz CLA and Lexus CT200h , all tending to be a little pricier than the 2016 Acura ILX. That may give some room for the ILX's shortcomings. However, I found it difficult to distinguish the ILX from a high-trim economy car, especially as automakers have upped their game in cabin appointments.
The ILX employs some intriguing high-tech features, from the new dual-clutch transmission to the driver assist features, but these are not unique to the premium or luxury segments. The transmission in particular could use some refinement in its gear changes, because it wasn't always as smooth as billed.
The infotainment system is serviceable, but doesn't rise above typical Honda equipment. The interface itself is a confusing mess, and needs a complete rethink. However, I was impressed with the audio system.
Where the ILX really suffers against premium competition is the cabin noise. The grinding engine sound should not be part of the driving soundtrack, especially at the mid-$30K price range.
|Model||2016 Acura ILX|
|Trim||Technology Plus A-Spec|
|Powertrain||Direct injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||25 mpg city/36 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||30.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based streaming, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||ELS 10-speaker system|
|Driver assistance||Lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$35,810|