Words and Photos by Anne Proffit
Acura, the upscale Honda brand that built its credentials in 1986 with cars named Legend and Integra, decided to discard names for most of its vehicles many years ago, preferring to use three-letter signatures for nearly all of them. That decision brought us the NSX, MDX, RDX, RLX, TLX and now ILX as its entry-level, front-wheel-drive near-luxury four-door sedan model.
Refreshed for the 2016 selling season, Acura’s ILX sedan sports a sexy body accented by deep air intakes, the familiar smiley-face grille and effective jewel eye LED headlights at the front. An upper strake carries to the raised trunk area that features a low-load rear opening and minimal sight intrusion along the “C” pillar.
The 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec in San Marino red with black sport seats that feature Lux suede inserts with contrast stitching was waiting at the Orlando, FL airport. The objective? An evening with friends in Sarasota on the state’s west coast, followed by the season-starting Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
Traffic was moderate and flowing on the hike to Sarasota, allowing the 2.4-liter inline, directly-injected four cylinder engine a chance to use its 201 horsepower at 6800 rpm and its 180 lb-ft of torque at 3800 rpm. Redline is near 7,000 rpm. Acura fits an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with torque converter; it smooths the torque between shifts and rev-matches on downshifts, allowing the driver excellent control with the paddle shifters. Engine and transmission together are well-mated, responsive and smooth.
This single offering of running gear removes the base 2L previously offered and gives the Acura ILX a less-confusing option list. The use of direct injection adds to the smoothness o the power train and aids its efficiency. The dual-clutch gearbox is the only transmission offered, which reduces the sporting nature of this car. Mileage is rated at 25/35/29 mpg from the 13.2-gallon fuel tank. Those figures are accurate for this vehicle – with 10,000 miles on it. Even after suffering the rigors of the press fleet, the Acura ILX is tight and efficient.
Beneath the pretty body lies a chassis bolted together with MacPherson strut and multi-link suspensions, front to rear. Disc brakes are ventilated at the front, solid to the rear and Acura uses an electric power assisted steering system that has very little vagueness at center. Trim-specific Continental 225/40R tires ride on 18-inch 10-spoke black and polished noise-reducing light alloy rims. While this is not the most lightweight sedan in the compact class at 3137 pounds, it sure rides and this made-in-USA sedan drives in a most agile fashion.
Elegance and purpose abound inside the cabin of the 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec sedan. There are excellent soft plastics throughout the cabin, dual memories for the driver seat and seat heaters in the front of the cabin. The seats, while on the firm side offer power for both front seat occupants; there’s no lumbar control but it’s just fine as is. The dash is well laid-out with good and full instrumentation, including a temp gauge. There’s central covered storage for a phone but that’s about it.
Acura fits two display screens in this cabin. The upper screen is for the navigation system, the bottom for audio and a multimedia interface (MMI) lies below the second screen. The dual screens were disconcerting at first but, after a day’s worth of usage, it became quite familiar to use with the MMI. The cheap-looking plastic surround on the bottom screen takes away from the overall elegance and quality on the balance of the car.
As this 2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec sedan is a soup-to-nuts version, it comes with no options, having a list price of $35,920 inclusive. The Technology Plus package encompasses the nav system with 8-inch crisp color screen, ELS studio premium audio with 10 speakers, GPS-linked dual-zone climate control with air filtration, driver recognition and memory system, four-way front passenger power seat, XM/Sirius and HD radio, auto-dimming rear mirror, blind spot information, rear-cross traffic monitor and HomeLink.
There’s more: an AcuraWatch Plus package has the adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking (you know, that horrid red “brake” light), road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist system. All of these “nannies” are meant to keep the driver and four passengers safe. It would be far better if we were more attentive behind the wheel.
Finally there’s the A-Spec package of the alloy rims and uprated low profile tires mentioned above, the sport seats, dirt-resistant black headliner, fog lights, body color side sill garnishes, rear chrome-like decklid mini-spoiler and aluminum, rubber-tipped pedals. Not included in any package is the standard driver’s 8-way power seat, LED illuminated tail lights, one-touch two-way quick-action moonroof, heated side mirrors and keyless access with proximity entry and exit to the car.
Overall the navigation system and infotainment items are well laid out and easy to work. Syncing a phone is quick and the nav system gives excellent directions both on the cabin-central screen and in the central pod in the driver’s direct line of sight. All ILX models include hands-free text messaging that reads messages over the audio system and generates one of six programmed responses. There’s also buffered satellite radio, enhanced traffic and weather info.
The ELS audio system is excellent, and includes Pandora compatibility, Bluetooth streaming audio, a single USB, auxiliary and 12-volt in the small central storage. Acura fits Song By Voice on this model configuration and there’a aha, ApplePlay and AndroidPlay availability. iPhone users can use Siri Eyes Free; email reading is available, as well. The steering wheel features audio and phone on the left, cruise and trip info on the right.
While two six-footers can easily sit in the back of the Acura ILX, the only amenities they receive are pull-down cup holders; there is no airflow to the rear. Those rear seats do fold to add more volume to the already excellent 12.3 cubic feet of trunk space. There’s no spare tire but an inflation kit to take care of any malfunction. A single chrome-tipped exhaust pipe is well-hidden beneath the aerodynamics of the rear fascia.
I enjoyed driving the 2017 Acura ILX with Tech Plus and A-Spec; I assume that it is more sporting than other models in the ILX lineup. As the drivetrain is the same as the base mid-size TLX, it behaves a bit more lively than that car does. It was easy to maneuver around the Florida back roads and on the highways and was definitely well-behaved. The infotainment interface worked exceptionally well and I appreciated the ability to turn off those safety aspects that are foreign to me.
While the new NSX Acura sports car is an awe-inspiring vehicle, the ILX is kind of blah. It competes well with its German and Japanese competitors, as well as some American and Korean offerings, but it really doesn’t inspire any great feelings of lust. Rating five safety stars in all but passenger frontal crash and rollover, where it gets four stars, the ILX is safe as houses.
But it just needs something more, a turbo, some jazzier clothing inside and out? The previous TSX Acura model had soul and inspired a driver; not sure the ILX does. There’s a disconnect somewhere…
Vehicle provided for testing by Acura North America.