First drive: 2016 Acura ILX

Acura\'s compact ILX gets a much needed reboot for 2016.

If at first you don't succeed, you rework it. Sure it's a paraphrase of the old "try, try again” axiom, but they are words that drove the Acura brand with the mid-cycle refresh of the 2016 Acura ILX.

The last time we checked, with the ILX's initial introduction in 2012, we found a Honda Civic-sized compact that possessed a hint of luxury, but puzzled us with its lack of power, refinement and comparatively heavy price tag. Four years in, they reworked the formula, and this time, apparently, got it right.

Performance, Proportion, Prestige The ILX is Acura's gateway sedan to the brand that is geared more towards performance than luxury. In fact, during the company's presentation, we barely heard the L-word mentioned. Instead, the phrase "premium” was bandied about to reflect the refinement that appears in the new model that will find competition from Lexus's CT, Audi's A3, BMW's 2, and Mercedes-Benz's CLA.

Accelerating MomentumIntended to accelerate momentum, modifications to the ILX also go a long way towards accelerating the actual car. For 2016, the ILX will be powered exclusively by a 2.4-liter Direct fuel injected four-cylinder engine that produces 201 peak horsepower at 6,800 rpm, and 180 lb-ft of torque at a mid-range 3,600 rpm. That's quite a jump from the 150 horsepower, 140 lb-ft output of the 2.0-liter fuel-injected four-banger found in the last generation model equipped with an automatic transmission. The previously available 2.4-liter engine — which was available exclusively with a manual transmission — made the same horsepower, but the new model achieves it lower in the powerband. Using a dual stage intake manifold, with long- and short intake runners enables the engine to vary its torque based on engine speed. At low speeds, the long runners are used, switching over to the short-length runners to deliver more grunt during high-rpm runs.

The 2016 ILX will only be available with a new eight-speed Dual-Clutch automatic transmission with torque converter and rev-matching downshifts that are controlled via steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers. Equipped with two drive modes, drivers can select between "D” for smooth operations with efficiency, or "S” for Sport mode, which remaps to offer higher RPMs for performance oriented wheeling. Driving dynamics are improved thanks to a MacPherson strut front and multilink independent rear suspension sporting amplitude reactive dampers at both ends, which read the road surfaces and adapt to conditions on the fly. EPA measures the ILX's fuel economy at 25 city/36 highway, with 29 combined.

An electrically-assisted power steering kit points the way and offered good feedback as well as guidance with its optional lane-keep assist and lane departure warning systems. Braking has improved with a 1.2-inch increase in front brake rotor size from 11.1- to 12.3-inches.

BodyworksOur 2016 Acura has undergone an intense case of rehabilitation in the rigidity department. An expansion of the use of high-strength steel and other fixes have yielded an improvement in firmness of up to 12-percent. In addition to contributing to a better handling car, it has allowed Noise, Vibration and Harshness engineers to tune out much of the noise and vibration seepage into the cabin. They went to work using more insulation, thicker front glass, quieter wheels (yes-quieter) and Active Noise Control technology to make the ILX act like a pair of rolling Bose Noise-canceling headphones. The result is a vehicle that is much quieter and more refined than before.

From a comfort and aesthetic standpoint, our Tech Plus A-Spec-equipped model included new Euro-style stitching on the wheel, shifter knob and parking brake lever, while it was blacked out with the A-Spec's premium black interior color specification that included a black headliner, perforated Lux Suede inserts, red instrument lighting, silver trim and aluminum brake and throttle pedals.

We are still not fans of the two-staged screens, where the upper eight-inch monitor displayed navigation maps and routes, while the lower seven-inch touchscreen display offered audio and climate controls. We felt it drew our eyes away from the road, where our real attention was needed. That, and the excessive use of small buttons, (15 on the steering wheel, alone), which controlled functions around the otherwise well-executed dashboard.

For those ILX models not equipped with Navigation, Acura offers the AcuraLink app, which uses an iPhone (no Android) to bring navigation into a car not equipped with such, with a USB/HDMI cable. The cable and app are available for $99 and $59, respectively.

From an outside view, the ILX moves closer to the rest of the Acura fleet and its performance through technology ethos. From the front, the headlights are pulled wider and lower so they fall in line with others in its Acura stables. Jewel-like headlights are similar to those on the Acura TLX and now include an LED strip that runs below the lamps on either side. The chrome "beak” has been restyled and moved lower in the grille opening for a new sense of symmetry. Since our tester was A-Spec equipped, it was also fitted with 18-inch performance alloy wheels, a chrome-accented spoiler, chrome side sills and fog lights located in the new front fascia.

Safety first and finally lastAcura, and by extension its Honda parent company, are known for their cutting-edge technology. The ILX is not about to break that notion, either. AcuraWatch is their new suite of safety and driver assist technologies that uses a fusion technology-based monocular camera and millimeter wave radar. They help the Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, collision mitigating braking and road departure mitigation to "see” obstructions ahead and bring the ILX to a stop, if needed. We actually were pretty stoked to see the system steer its way around gentle curves in the road-to a point. And it was quick to ask us to "please steer the car” with our hands instead of relying on the system. Cute.

When operating without a couple of wise-guy autojournalists behind the wheel, the system will detect a departure from the road and offer steering and braking. It also provides blind spot and cross traffic warning information.

The ILX will be built in Marysville, Ohio, alongside big-brother TLX.

Wheel timeCruising along the Silverado trail in Napa, California, gave us a quick taste of the ILX's improvements. From the moment we pushed the red starter button, we could see that Acura had corrected many of the motivational issues that plagued the last car. And to their credit, Acura executives acknowledged as much, when during the presentation about the vehicle's new features, they stated that they had taken many an expert's comments to heart.

In addition to the lack of power, one of the bigger complaints of the previous version was the excessive road noise that made its way into the cabin. The NVH guys got it right this time, utilizing tricks and techniques that made a huge difference that was quantifiable in back-to-back tests.

For 2016, buyers will get a taste of just what 51 extra horsepower and an additional 40 lb-ft of torque are capable of, especially in a car that weighs only 3,100 pounds. We found a compact four-door sedan that offered up just the right amount of torque steer when we launched from a standing start. They didn't post exact times but Acura officials state the ILX gets to 60 mph 2.5-seconds faster than the model it replaces. And that was in the normal drive mode. Switching over to sport mode allowed us to put the paddle shift levers to good use as we blipped our way up through the eight-speed gearbox. Offering a different feel then that found in the normal drive mode, it allowed us to hold our gears as long as we wanted while negotiating the twisties in Northern California's wine country.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe 2016 Acura ILX version 2.0 shows that when a design is examined, re-thought, re-engineered and refreshed, truly good things can happen. Offering refined interiors with more technology inside, as well as more power underhood, allows Acura to remove the "coulda been” prefix from the phrase, "a contender.” Now it really is one.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

ILX Base, $27,900ILX with AcuraWatch Plus, $29,200ILX Premium, $29,900ILX Premium A-Spec, $31,890ILX Tech Plus, $32,900ILX Tech Plus and A-Spec, $34,890

Photos by Mark Elias.

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