It took some adroit arrangements, but Acura has neatly stacked the deck with its 2016 ILX sports sedan.
First introduced in 2012, the ILX was intended to lure new customers to Acura, Honda's luxury brand. Mostly, it was little more than a well-dressed Honda Civic -- a nice enough, dependable car, but hardly a performance/luxury machine.
The exception was a version powered by the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine lifted from the Acura TSX performance compact. But sales of that hi-po ILX model were handicapped because it came only with a six-speed manual gearbox -- unpalatable to the vast majority of customers.
strong>Acura has since shuffled its lineup: It merged the TSX and midsize TL to create the 2015 TLX. Then it dealt the 2016 version of the ILX, which borrows some of the best elements of the original ILX and the new TLX.
If you're not confused by all the triple-letter designations, then you'll find a nifty new car with attractive fresh exterior styling, including penetrating new LEDs for the headlights, turn signals, and parking lights. But what defines the 2016 ILX is its appealing drivetrain, which transforms it into a competitive, exciting, and affordable sports sedan.
The engine is the same 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that powered the previous TSX and manual-gearbox ILX. But the six-speed manual is gone, replaced by Acura's eight-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission.
With that combination, the new ILX has the same powertrain as its larger sibling, the TLX 2.4L. But because the ILX is smaller and weighs less, it's actually quicker off the line than that TLX.
In some iterations, it even costs about the same, which presents a dilemma to a prospective buyer: Do you go for the top-line ILX with all the goodies, or do you favor the TLX 2.4, which still has plenty of additional inducements, including four-wheel steering?
For example, the 2016 ILX Tech Plus A-Spec model has a sticker price of $35,810. The TLX 2.4L Tech, which I previously drove, was priced at $35,920. Acura officials are aware of the potential conflict, but believe that customers will sort it out, depending on whether they want a smaller (8 inches shorter), quicker ILX sports sedan or the TLX with its bit more heft and interior space.
But you don't have to go all-out for the $35,810; my tester was the ILX Tech Plus trim with a delivered price of $33,820, and the starting price for the base model ILX is $28,820 (including destination), which has all the same mechanical goodness.
Every ILX comes with the 201-hp engine and the twin-clutch automated manual, which is about as good a transmission as can be found for a sports sedan. One clutch controls first, third, fifth, and seventh gears, while the other handles second, fourth, sixth, and eighth.
In operation, the computer-controlled gears are locked and loaded, waiting for the clutches to engage. As they do, shifts up and down happen in milliseconds. In addition, the system features rev-matching on downshifts, blipping the throttle to match engine speed to the lower gear.
strong>It makes for a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: Put the shifter in "drive" for docile motoring with enhanced fuel economy as the transmission shifts quickly into the next highest gear. Or, select the "sport" mode and the transmission holds lower gears to higher engine revs for gripping performance.
On twisting mountain roads, it's an exhilarating experience as the engine snarls when the computer automatically downshifts going into a corner, and then upshifts as you power out. For even more involvement, you can shift it yourself with the paddles on the steering wheel. (But, you can't beat the computer.)
Acura did not stop there. It also upped the ante by including a host of state-of-the-art embellishments of the sort that increasingly define modern luxury/sports sedans. Among them are adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, collision mitigation braking, blind spot warning, and cross traffic monitor.
The focus for this review is on the ILX Tech Plus, which included some of those features as well as a high-zoot ELS audio system, navigation, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, satellite radio, motorized sunroof, and power seats with memory settings.
With the new 2016 ILX, Acura has dealt itself a winning hand, with an ante low enough to attract customers who might otherwise be going for the likes of the Audi A3, Cadillac ATS or Mercedes-Benz CLA.
Copyright © 2015 Motor Matters
|Base price||$32,900 (as tested: $33,820)|
|Curb weight||3,115 lbs.|
|Engine type||16-valve iVTEC 4-cylinder w/DI|
|Epa mileage rating||25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway|
|Fuel capacity||13.2 gal.|
|Horsepower (net)||201 at 6800 rpm|
|Overall length||181.9 in.|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||180 at 3600 rpm|
|Vehicle type||5-passenger FWD compact sedan|
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