2019 Acura ILX first drive review: Same car, better value
Originally launched in 2012, the ILX is no spring chicken. At its core, Acura's entry-level sedan is still a slightly more premium version of the Honda Civic -- the last-generation Honda Civic. The ILX was last updated for the 2016 model year and is undergoing yet another refresh for 2019. In other words, the 2019 ILX is a reheat of an already reheated model that sold a paltry 930 units in September.
To its credit, the ILX's second makeover is actually is rather substantial. The car gets a much fresher look, not to mention improved technology and more safety equipment, resulting in the car being a better overall value. But even so, is that enough?
The outgoing ILX was far from riveting in terms of design, but the 2019 model's fresher face goes a long way toward giving it a bit more on-road presence. Everything from the A pillar forward has been revamped, and the ILX now wears the brand's sharp corporate face, first seen on the Acura Precision Concept. The "Diamond Pentagon" grille sits front and center, flanked by "Jewel Eye" headlights and more aggressively creased body panels.
Big changes are apparent out back, too, with a redesigned trunk lid and LED taillights. The license plate moves down from the trunk to a new bumper with a prominent diffuser, helping to give the rear a cleaner and sportier appearance. From the rear three-quarter view, the ILX is really attractive.
The 2019 ILX gets an optional A-Spec styling package that includes a matte graphite grille, darkened light housings, side sill extensions, piano black bumper accents, deck spoiler and redesigned rear diffuser. The package also fits a unique set of 18-inch, gray, multi-spoke wheels, wrapped with Continental ContiProContact all-season tires. The A-Spec can also be ordered with a model-exclusive Apex Blue Pearl paint job, which is one of the ILX's five new color options.
All ILX models get more supportive, redesigned front seats, and A-Spec cars can have their chairs outfitted in red leather with suede inserts. The package also adds stainless steel pedals, red gauges, a black headliner and special scuff plates. Unfortunately, outside the seats and small color and trim alterations, the ILX's cabin layout is unchanged, with a blocky dash and large swaths of cheap, hard plastic on the center stack.
You won't find Acura's new True Touchpad infotainment system in the 2019 ILX. Instead, the older, two-screen layout remains. Available on mid-grade Premium and range-topping Technology trims, the system's graphics are sharper, and Acura says there's a 30-percent improvement in response times. On my ILX Technology A-Spec tester, I find it super easy to use the navigation system, and thankfully, Acura's interface bundles both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto , as well as a 10-speaker ELS audio system. Of course, if you opt for the base ILX, you don't get any of this. Instead, you're left with a single-screen interface that lacks any smartphone mirroring tech, and a six-speaker sound system. Regardless of trim, the ILX has only a single USB port along with a 12-volt outlet in the center armrest compartment, which will likely have passengers jockeying to juice up dying phones .
The only major tech improvement is the addition of the AcuraWatch safety suite, which is standard on every ILX, and bundles adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. Moving up to the Premium or Technology trims gets you blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
A surprisingly capable performer
Every ILX is powered by the same 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine as the old model, with 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is on the only transmission available driving the front wheels. According to the EPA, this drivetrain should return 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.
If you're a fan of old-school Honda and Acura models, you'll love this high-revving, naturally aspirated inline-four. It's certainly no rocket ship off the line, but power builds progressively up to the 6,900-rpm redline. Sport mode keeps the engine spinning high in each gear, the transmission firing off quick upshifts and smooth, rev-matched downshifts. Acura's dual-clutch automatic isn't quite as good as Audi's S-tronic gearbox, but it's close.
The ILX's suspension gets a real workout on the twisty, country roads outside Columbus, Ohio. I like the crisp turn-in, respectable grip of the Continental rubber and nicely controlled body roll. Sure, the front end will wash out if you dive-bomb a tight turn, but all told, the ILX is a really enjoyable car to drive spiritedly. The only real dynamic disappointment is the steering, which is too light for my tastes.
Slowing down, the ILX shuffles through towns with respectable poise. Unlike some dual-clutch transmissions, the ILX launches smoothly in first gear and doesn't lurch under downshifting at low speeds. Taut as the suspension is, it strikes a happy medium, with enough damping to make the ILX comfortable in everyday driving situations. My only in-town complaint is that the ILX lets a lot of tire and wind noise into the cabin.
More bang for your buck
With a $26,895 base price, including $995 for destination, the 2019 Acura ILX's price tag is actually $2,200 less than its predecessor. Stepping up to the Premium model with the better infotainment setup for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bumps the price tag to $28,645, while the top-of-the line Technology trim starts at $30,545. The A-Spec package adds an additional $2,000 to the bottom line of either Premium or Technology cars.
Considering its improved appearance and longer list of standard safety features, the ILX is a much better value than ever before -- one of the best in its class, in fact. But with old bones and old tech, I'm not sure if it's enough to really move the sales needle for this often overlooked compact luxury sedan.
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