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2016 Acura ILX Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Acura ILX front quarter view
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Introduction

For two decades Civic-based Acuras ranked among the most fun-to-drive small cars. My sister's first car was an Integra. She was far from alone in loving the car. Then, suffering from a near-total loss of the plot, Acura decided to abandon the small car business as part of a failed effort to improve the brand's image. Ironically, some of Acura's more prestigious competitors then decided they should start making Civic-sized cars. Acura, realizing its mistake, re-entered the segment after a six-year hiatus. Alas, the 2013 ILX was conceived during Acura's most clueless years. While the compact sedan hasn't sold badly, it hasn't garnered nearly the following the Integra or even the RSX enjoyed. For 2016, Acura has improved this and that. Is the ILX now something you can get excited about, or at least might consider buying?

I've already compared the Acura ILX to the Buick Verano. When I compared the Mercedes-Benz CLA to the Audi A3, I preferred the latter, as it far better befit its brand. So, why (not) buy an updated Acura ILX instead of the Audi?

I'll also compare the ILX to the TLX, as they're closer together in many respects than they ought to be, and not close enough in others.

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX front quarter view

A handsome sedan no one will mistake for a Civic. But no one will lust after this body. more ILX photos

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX interior

Looks like the interiors in other Acuras, but you'll find nicer materials inside a TLX.

Tested: 2016 Acura ILX

4dr Sedan 201-horsepower 2.4L I4 8-speed automated manual FWD

Compared: 2015 Audi A3 / S3

4dr Sedan turbocharged 170hp 1.8L I4 6-speed automated manual FWD

Why the 2016 Acura ILX?

  Compared to the A3 / S3
Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Having price as the top reason to buy an Acura ILX isn't a great sign. It suggests that the car itself isn't good enough to go toe-to-toe with competitors. But Acuras have always been far less expensive than their European and even their Japanese competitors, and some of them have been excellent cars. So don't rule out the improved ILX just yet.

How much less expensive is the ILX than the A3? This depends on how you equip the two cars. Fit the Acura with the $1,990 A-Spec Package, which provided the tested car's 18-inch wheels, body kit, synthetic suede seat trim, and metal petals, and the sticker totals $31,810. An Audi A3 1.8 TFSI with Premium Plus Package, Sport Package, and metallic paint lists for $1,885 more despite including a little less content. (LED headlamps, part of the most expensive option package on the Audi, are standard on the Acura.) Drop the sporting packages, and the Acura's advantage grows by $1,200. While the 201-horsepower ILX might be far from cheap, it is significantly less expensive than the 170-horsepower Audi.

And the Accord-based Acura TLX? Add a $2,000 Premium Package to the ILX to bring its content about even with the base TLX, and the less substantial car lists for $1,795 less. Not pocket change, but close enough that the ILX that makes the most financial sense is one with no options. Ascribe any value to the TLX's standard rear-wheel-steering system? Then reduce the difference by that amount. (TrueDelta's value for this system, based on how much it costs as an option on other cars, is currently $1,500.)


Feature availability
Feature availability: Better Better Worse

Both the Acura ILX and the Audi A3 have scored well in crash tests, and both are available with the latest safety features, including forward collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, and blind sport warning. The Acura is more nearly able to steer itself, and its auto-braking was more effective in tests by the IIHS. But what really sets the Acura apart is the ability get the most valuable safety tech as part of a $1,300 Acurawatch Plus package on an ILX with no other options. To get the same features on the A3 you must also spring for the top option package, bumping the car's sticker $11,000 above the Acura's. If you want a compact sedan with all the latest safety features and a premium brand, but little else, the ILX dramatically undercuts its competition.


ILX Reviews: Acura ILX rear quarter view

S-shaped character line, first seen on the 2013 ILX, now shared with the TLX.

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX instrument panel

Acura's dual-display controls confuse many drivers. Every Acura now has them anyway.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

High-revving largish fours aren't the fashionable route to fuel efficiency. But the 201-horsepower 2.4-liter engine when mated to an eight-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission (DCT) returns EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway--better than the 2013-2015 ILX managed with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. The Audi with its au courant 180-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter checks in a little lower, with 23/33. But the Acura isn't quite best-in-class. The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 manages 26/38. Notably, both the Audi and the Mercedes also have DCTs, though with "only" six and seven speeds, respectively.

Then there are hybrids and diesels. The ILX used to be available as a hybrid. But the ILX Hybrid's fuel economy wasn't stellar (39/38) and its performance was so uncompetitive even compared to the Prius-based Lexus CT 200h (43/40) that Acura killed it after just two model years. The Audi A3 TDI, the segment's lone entrant with a diesel, rates 31/43. For a combination of performance and fuel economy, it's hard to beat. Except that as I write this Audi dealers can't sell them, pending an investigation into whether they violate EPA regulations.

A final note on fuel economy: the TLX's EPA figures are only a single mpg lower than the ILX's.


Why Not the 2016 Acura ILX?

  Compared to the A3 / S3
Quietness
Quietness: Much worse Better Worse

I was initially impressed by how much quieter and smoother the updated Acura ILX seemed to be. Its suspension seemed better sorted than the 2013-2015 car's, and overall the small sedan now seemed to have an appropriately semi-premium character.

Then I drove the 2016 ILX on the highway, where road noise was much higher than the norm for upscale cars. Also, even though the eight-speed DCT kept the engine below 2000 rpm at 75 mph, the latter could be heard humming away. This would not be a relaxing car for long drives.

The Audi A3 is much quieter inside on the highway. Within the Acura line, the larger TLX is significantly more convincing as an upscale sedan.


Handling
Handling: Worse Better Worse

Given its compact size and relatively light weight, the Acura ILX ought to be fun through curves. But, as with the TLX, Acura can't seem to pick a direction. Some things about the car seem sporty, others seek to broaden the car's appeal. So the steering feels overly light and the chassis inclines overly much towards understeer. Press the ILX even moderately hard into a curve, and the nose wants to plow towards the curb. Safe handling, certainly, but not much fun. The related Honda Civic Si is much more fun to drive. As were the Integra and RSX. The ILX is no Integra.

There there's the highway driving experience again. A crosswind repeatedly threatened to blow the ILX into the next lane. This isn't an issue I've ever experienced in a premium brand car before.

While the Audi A3 also could be more engaging than it is, it rides and handles in all conditions with more polish and competence than the ILX.


ILX Reviews: Acura ILX front view

The face of Acura. Fancy LED headlights are standard. The beak remains, but it's been finessed

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX rear seat

Rear seat room typical of the class.

Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Much worse Better Worse

The update gifted the ILX with the same confusing dual-screen infotainment interface that afflicts the rest of the current Acura line. The Audi's controls are much easier to comprehend and operate without taking one's eyes off the road.


Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much worse Better Worse

I kind of liked the styling of the 2013-2015 ILX. The updates for 2016 added Acura's signature LED headlamps, which look expensive and sophisticated. But the tested car's new A-Spec package includes wheels that are trying too hard to appear youthful and sporty. Aside from their 18-inch diameter, they could have been lifted from a 1980s Pontiac. They're as artless as the chrome beak that Acura refuses to abandon.

The Audi A3's styling might be overly familiar--it strongly resembles that of the 2002-2008 A4. But the tastefulness of that A4's styling helped make Audi a serious contender.


Other features of the 2016 Acura ILX

  Compared to the A3 / S3
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Better Better Worse

Acura has offered the ILX with a 201-horsepower 2.4-liter engine from the start. But for reasons I've never understood that engine was previously only available with a six-speed manual transmission. That manual was a joy to shift, but most potential buyers care not for this joy. For rejecters of the third pedal, Acura offered only a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter engine and a 111-horsepower hybrid that struggled to get out of its own way.

For 2016, the only powertrain offered is the 2.4-liter engine with the DCT. Lacking a turbo, this engine must be revved for power, but the transmission makes easy work of this. Brisk acceleration is only a tip of the right foot away. Figure about seven seconds to sixty, which is a little quicker than the A3 1.8T but not as quick as the A3 2.0T. It helps that the ILX's engine sounds better than most fours when revved; Acura's 2.4 has been good for this.

DCTs can lack smoothness when creeping at low speeds. To avoid this, Honda's (unlike others) is fitted with a torque converter much like that used in conventional automatics. The result successfully combines the the lightning-quick shifts and fuel efficiency of a DCT with the low-speed smoothness of a conventional automatic.

While this engine-transmission combo isn't quite punchy enough to warrant a "why to buy" slot, it's far more competitive than those offered in the 2013-2015 ILX.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Better Better Worse

The Acura ILX's front seats feel closer to those in a Honda Civic than to those in a truly premium car. They provide decent comfort and lateral support (the A-Specs synthetic suede center panels assisting with the later), but don't feel at all luxurious. In no ILX are the seat bolsters actual leather; you'll find higher quality interior materials inside the TLX.

The Audi A3's standard front seats provide little lateral support; I personally wouldn't want to own the car with them. The sport buckets in the Sport Package are no doubt better than the standard seats, but I haven't sampled them (they weren't available when the car was launched) so I don't know how they compare to the Acura's.

The largest improvement of the Acura ILX over the Honda Civic could well be the view forward from the driver seat. Instead of the Civic's gigantic bi-level sci-fi instrument panel the ILX has a conventionally designed, reasonably dimensioned dash. So does the Audi.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: About the same Better Worse

Interior dimensions are nearly identical in the Acura ILX and Audi A3. In either car someone my size (5'9") can sit behind themselves with a couple inches of knee clearance and at most an inch between their head and the headliner. In neither car will the adult in back feel like they have much room. If you want a roomy rear seat, you should be looking at cars one or two size segments up. And probably not at an Acura: the TLX offers just a bit more legroom and headroom than the ILX. But if you just need a passable back seat, these will do.

Same for the trunks, which can each hold 12.3 cubic feet, about average for a compact sedan. The TLX's trunk is just a smidge more capacious.


Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Better Better Worse

Acura should have an easy win over Audi in reliability. But in recent years Audis have been doing much better, while Acuras have often been glitchy. During the warranty period their reliability could be about the same. The records of past generations of cars suggest that the Acura will be a much more solid bet after the warranties end, but the long-term records for the current cars won't be compiled until the 2020s. So the jury's still out on ILX vs. A3 reliability.


Conclusion

The 2016 Acura ILX, while a big improvement over the 2013-2015 ILX owing to the new 2.4-liter-engine-plus-DCT powertrain, still won't inspire comparisons to the much-loved Integra and RSX. Starting with a Honda Civic and aiming for broad appeal among buyers of semi-premium compact sedans, Acura has created one that is neither especially sporty nor especially luxurious. It's a good car in most respects, but it doesn't stand out in any particular way (unless you count the fancy headlamps or the A-Spec wheels).

In how it looks and how it feels, the Audi A3 comes across as the more credible upscale offering, while also being at least as much fun as the ILX to drive. People expect Acuras to be much more reliable than Audis, especially after the warranty ends, but recent Acuras have been somewhat glitchy (if well short of horror story fodder).

This leaves a lower price (especially when fitted with the latest safety features) as the most compelling reason to buy an ILX instead of an Audi A3. But, while the ILX's price is relatively low, Honda loyalists seeking something clearly nicer than a Honda should spend a little more for the Acura TLX.

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX engine

The 201-horsepower 2.4-liter engine and eight-speed DCT are perhaps the best parts of the ILX.

ILX Reviews: Acura ILX trunk

Trunk also typical of the class.

See more 2016 Acura ILX photos

Acura and Honda each provided an insured car for a week with a tank of gas. Audi provided airfare, food, lodging, and cars at an event for invited media.

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2016 Acura ILX pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Acura ILX. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from gslippy

9:30 pm October 17, 2015

Acura's styling is so horrendous lately that I couldn't consider their vehicles. The persistent silver beak and the overdone wheels are just two examples, but the tail on this ILX is quite busy.

An A3 might be accused of looking 'boring', but Audis do have clean lines that don't assault your eyes.


I think the buyer would be much better off with a Civic Si Sedan, which costs thousands less, and looks better - as long as they don't mind a manual transmission.

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