As Honda Motor Company’s premium Acura brand comes up on its 30th anniversary next year, it continues to have a bit of an identity crisis not dramatically different from that suffered by Lincoln. Honda has never really had a clear idea about what the brand was supposed to represent, in fact when it debuted in 1986, there wasn’t even a logo. While a stylized pair of calipers have long since represented the “A,” Acura remains as indistinct as ever. Following the launch of the new midsize TLX sedan, last year, the entry ILX got a mid-cycle revamp earlier this year. Does it finally have the character it deserves?
When Acura debuted, the lineup only consisted of the Integra, a sportier version of the Civic and the Legend, a gussied-up Accord. Today, those spots in the lineup are occupied by the ILX and TLX but the bulk of Acura sales today actually consists of the MDX and RDX crossovers which comprised two-thirds of the brand’s volume in 2014.
After an extended period where Acura’s three sedan fleet were all variants of the Accord architecture, the ILX which debuted as a 2013 model finally brought back a smaller car built on the bones of the Civic. For its first two and a half years, the ILX was offered with three four-cylinder powertrain options, a 2.0-liter, a 2.4-liter and a 1.5-liter mild hybrid. Like most most of Honda’s mild-hybrid offerings, the sales of that model were somewhat tepid so for 2016, the ILX has been refocused to give it more of the sporting edge of its Integra ancestor.
Only one propulsion option is now offered, the 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter mill paired with Acura’s unique 8-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) with torque convertor. Honda has always been at or near the top of the class when it comes to building manual gearboxes but sadly most Americans just don’t care, making it to too expensive to justify certifying again. Fortunately, as automatic transmissions go, this one is a jewel, especially in this application.
Compared to its big brother the TLX with the same powertrain, the 370-pound lighter ILX feels noticeably more responsive when you squeeze the right pedal. With the shift lever in D, acceleration feels good, but pulling it back into Sport mode moves the shift points high enough up the rev band to where things start to sound really interesting. Paddles on the backside of the steering wheel provide full manual control over the DCT with lightening quick gear changes. The inclusion of the torque convertor both boosts low-end torque for better responsiveness at low speeds and acts as a bit of a buffer to eliminate any potential jerkiness from the clutch engagement.
In addition to the upgraded powertrain, the ILX has received some visual updates that are definitely for the good. The new headlight clusters now each feature a row of five powerful LEDs that do an excellent job of lighting up the road but also look cool. I just don’t want to think about how much they will cost to replace if you have a fender bender. Acura designers have continued the evolution of the signature shield grille, sculpting out more of the upper surface to open the upper gap. The result looks more like a shovel or snow plow and the overall effect works well.
The lower front fascia has also been recontoured to give it a more aggressive look and the shape of the fog light pockets is now echoed in the rear bumper for the rear reflectors. The A-Spec package on my test car adds handsome 18-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, rear deck spoiler and sill extensions.
Inside, the 2016 ILX is largely unchanged from earlier editions aside from the addition of a second 7-inch touchscreen display in the center stack. This augments the existing display under the hood in the center of the dash top. The new display provides access to media controls while most settings can be accessed through the upper display using the large round control knob below the touchscreen. Sometimes the two displays actually end up displaying the same information making me wonder why Honda has bothered with this arrangement. My guess is that the next generation ILX will consolidate these into a single larger display.
Fortunately, the dual-zone automatic climate control is managed through dedicated physical controls below the touchscreen. The nice thick-rimmed steering wheel and the shift knob are both wrapped in leather with contrasting stitching on the A-spec models. As usual, Honda has crafted some well-shaped and supportive front seats that work well in spirited driving. The A-spec seats get suede inserts as well as the same contrasting stitching used elsewhere while all but the base models also get two-position memory for the driver’s seat and mirrors.
The ILX uses active noise control to cancel out low-frequency four-cylinder boominess that can make around town driving unpleasant. As you get out on the open road, the V-TEC equipped 2.4-liter exhibits a very exhilarating soundtrack as the revs climb that hints at Honda’s performance heritage without sounding like a boy racer. The only real complaint about the ILX cabin is the tight rear headroom that comes along with the standard power moonroof.
Even on the 18-inch wheels, the ILX rides well even over the pockmarked roads around southeast Michigan. The steering provides limited feedback but the effort provided by the electric assist feels just right. This isn’t a drag racer, but with manual control of the DCT, is certainly the most sporting current variant of the Civic, at least until the Type-R arrives.
As tested, the mid-range ILX Premium with A-spec I drove stickered at $32,810 including the destination charge. The EPA fuel economy estimates come in at 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined and I easily matched the 29 mpg figure over one week without trying hard. While it’s not overflowing with character, the refreshed ILX is a handsome compact sedan with adequate sporting DNA and a price tag that won’t break the bank.