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2016 Acura ILX review: Acura ILX doesn't live up to premium aspirations

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The Good The ELS audio system in the 2016 Acura ILX produces clear and robust sound. Driver assistance features maintain speed in concert with traffic, help keep the ILX in its lane and warn of impending collisions.

The Bad The infotainment interface is a confusing mess of duplicate controls in differing formats. Engine noise in the cabin detracts from ride comfort.

The Bottom Line The 2016 Acura ILX undercuts other comparably-equipped premium cars in price, and while it offers some impressive cutting edge features, falls down in overall driving quality.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.0 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media 5

Review Sections

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.

2016 Acura ILX
Acura's smallest car takes on the premium segment with high-tech equipment. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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 .

Innovative eight-speed

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.

2016 Acura ILX
Standard LED headlights are one of the ILX's premium features. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

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