"The ILX was always a great idea," said Mike Accavitti, senior vice president and general manager for Honda's premium brand. "However we wanted a significant increase in premium feel."
The "feel" that Accavitti was referring to is horsepower-related, pure and simple.
It's not that the original ILX that arrived in mid-2012 as a 2013 model was inherently bad, but even Accavitti and other Acura team members said at a recent press event the car's performance disappointed many prospective buyers. As it turns out, the ILX's ties to the Honda Civic sedan economy car were just a bit too tight.
The 2016 ILX corrects that problem in a significant way. Banished is the 2015 car's range of powerplants, beginning with the 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder and optional 201-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder (the hybrid model was dropped after 2014).
The 2.4 that was plucked straight from the Civic Si could have been a contender had it not been for its exclusive pairing with a six-speed manual gearbox. It works well for the sporty Si, but near-luxury-compact-sedan buyers would rather not shift their own cogs, as evidenced by the five percent "take" rate for that particular drivetrain.
As a replacement, Acura tapped the 2.4-liter four-cylinder from the new-for-2015 mid-size TLX. It makes the same 201 horsepower as the Civic Si-based 2.4, but generates 180 pound-feet of torque, up from 170.
The new 2.4 incorporates an array of improvements, not the least of which is the adoption of direct fuel injection, whereby fuel is sprayed into the combustion chambers under very high pressure, instead of injected through the intake manifold. Along with more power and improved acceleration, the result is a cleaner burning engine with lower emissions and a fuel-consumption rate that actually betters the outgoing base 2.0 (25 mpg in the city and 36 highway versus 24/35).
Standard is the eight-speed automated manual transmission, with paddle-shifters, that comes from the TLX.
On the down side, the ILX still doesn't offer an all-wheel-drive option that can be had with virtually all of its segment peers.
Outside of the mechanical and minor front-end changes, Acura reinforced the ILX's structure, upgraded the front suspension and steering and made the cabin a quieter place.
Part of the process involved using wheels with built-in acoustic resonators that help cut road noise.
Acura also tweaked the dashboard by adding a display screen for the standard Multi-View camera plus an optional seven-inch touch-screen for the ventilation, audio and voice communications systems. A bit busy to be sure, but straightforward and readily mastered.
Driving the 2015 and 2016 ILX back to back, the differences are obvious. The punchier engine is a character-changing step in the right direction that thrusts the ILX several levels beyond its Civic roots. As well, the revised suspension pieces give the car more purchase in the turns without adding undue harshness when the pavement gets rough. Finally, a noticeably sound-deadened interior helps create that premium-feel sense that Acura was shooting for.
Along with the Multi-View camera, the $28,900 (including destination charges) base ILX is equipped with a power moonroof, eight-way power driver's seat and pushbutton start.
Extras include navigation and premium sound systems, a leather-interior upgrade and 18-inch wheels (17-inchers are standard). There's also a full range of collision-avoiding tech available that warns you of other vehicles in front, beside or crossing behind you. There's also lane-departure warning and lane correction, where the ILX will automatically keep you between the lines.
Ultimately, the ILX now does a better job representing the entry point in Acura's lineup. Although it remains a compromise of sorts, the sedan's substantial enhancements make it a credit to the brand.
What you should know: 2015 Acura ILX
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (201)
Transmissions: Eight-speed automated manual (with torque converter)
Market position: The ILX is slotted in the near-luxury class alongside similar cars from BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Automakers refer to these as "gateway" models that help maintain customer loyalty at trade-in time.
Points: Modest, almost imperceptible styling updates; TLX-based four-cylinder engine and transmission does wonders for the car's attitude; Dash refresh still lags behind the competition; Suspension improvements and a quieter cabin add to driving enjoyment; Completely new ILX is likely at least two to three years away.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 25/36; Base price (incl. destination) $28,900
Base price: $31,000
Entry model switches from hatchback to sedan for 2015. AWD available.
Base price: $34,000
Compact Caddy offers a choice of four-cylinder and V6 power.
Base price: $32,400
Sleek compact sedan comes in 208 and 355-horsepower strengths.