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Review: 2016 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec

Acura\'s compact ILX gets some big improvements for 2016.

Practice makes perfect in getting to Carnegie Hall, and in the automotive world too, as Acura has found out with their 2016 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec. Following the introduction of the severely lacking 2012 Acura ILX, the company almost immediately called for a do-over with the 2016 model. Why the three-and-a-half year time lag? Because auto designs, like ocean liners, can't exactly turn on a dime.

Did they do enough, or has the ILX been left still wanting for a heart and soul? We spent a week in it to find out.

What is it?A five-passenger, four-door premium sedan, the ILX is powered by Honda Corporation's 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine. When compared to the previous 2.0-liter version, this mill acts like it has been juicing on steroids for an extra 50 horsepower, moving up to 201 peak hp. Torque also took a climb to 180 lb-ft from the previous 140 lb-ft. While the previous version, with the 2.4-liter engine and manual transmission made the same horsepower, the newer version does it at a lower rev-point.

The lower-end power was achieved by a dual-stage intake manifold. At start, long runners are used at vehicle launch, and at a certain point short-length runners take over to produce more power as the revs rise.

Instead of giving buyers a choice, the 2016 ILX will be available with a singular eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Featuring a torque converter and rev-matching downshifts, it is just enough to channel your inner Andretti, should you be up for a bit of driving excitement.

Our example was ordered as the Tech Plus A-Spec version and, as such, included (from the Tech side) a navigation suite with voice recognition, and multi-view rear camera, the AcuraLink communications system with realtime traffic, and the high-line ELS 10-speaker sound system with SiriusXM Satellite radio. A hard disk drive, and curiously, GPS-linked Dual-Zone Climate control, were also along for the ride.

From the A-Spec side of things, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats with suede inserts and contrast stitching, fog lights, a rear deck lid spoiler and aluminum sport pedals were included. While the previous year's ILX came up a bit short in the safety features department, the 2015 addresses those shortcomings with the addition of the AcuraWatch Plus package that includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and a color meter display screen. Essentially, our ILX sits at the top of the food chain, and as such offers no factory installed options. That's not to say that the dealers won't try to have their way with you through various high-profit add-ons .

ILX models not equipped with navi, can take advantage of the capabilities of their iPhone via the AcuraLink app, which uses a USB/HDMI cable ($99/$59) respectively.

What's it up against?Priced at nearly $36,000, the ILX Tech Plus A-Spec should go head-to-head with such others as the Mercedes-Benz CLA, BMWs 3-Series, the Lexus CT and Audi's A3. Domestically, buyers might also look at the Buick Regal Turbo.

What does it look like?While the Acura ILX retains much of its original appearance as seen in 2012, it has been updated to reflect the design changes from Acura's studios. They include a more refined grille, which rests between five-lensed LED headlamps and A-Spec fog lights. Saving for newly introduced wheels and trim pieces, all else remains the same… on the surface. It's under the skin where the magic really happens. Engineers responsible for suppressing noise, vibration and harshness were hard at work to eliminate all of the above. Starting with the expanded use of high strength steel, they have stiffened the chassis by up to 12-percent, which yields better handling and all-around performance.

And the inside?Those NVH engineers didn't stop there, though, and used more insulation, a thicker front windshield, active noise control technology, and quieter wheels, all in an effort to suppress noise intrusion into the cabin. They've succeeded grandly, creating a rolling pair of Bose Noise Canceling Headphones in the process.

While we wouldn't call the ILX particularly luxurious, we do agree with the premium moniker that Acura officials talked up at the vehicle's launch earlier this year. Seating in the leather and suede front buckets had us driving in comfort for the better part of five hours. All controls were logically placed, to the point where we really didn't have to remove our eyes from the road to reach certain items. That was until we got to the two-stage center console displays which had us reaching low to tune a radio channel on the less-than-intuitive audio display screen, and then having to look up to confirm directions on the navigation, all before looking forward through the windshield again. Sometimes high-tech to the exclusion of everything else is a potential for trouble.

The rear seat offered comfortable seating for three passengers hovering around the six-foot tall range. But special care should be taken getting in or out of the rear seats, to avoid a good head thumping. That seatback, by the way, folds forward to expand the cargo capacity of the trunk, which is12.3-cubic feet.

But does it go?What a difference a model year makes. Now that the 2.0-liter has been replaced by the more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder, it seems that all is right under the hood of this particular Acura. The ILX gives a driver the choice between normal "D” mode for every day driving, while a switch to "S” for sport mode enabled the holding of gears to a higher rev-point in the power band.

The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is definitely a smooth operator, never hunting for an improper cog or holding a gear longer then would feel natural. We enjoyed flipping the steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers while negotiating through a turn that activated rev-matching for a more engaging drive. Other than when accelerating with a fully-loaded right foot, the ILX offered a quiet cruising environment once our desired speed had been achieved.

A minimal amount of side-to-side body lean was controlled better in this latest version, thanks to a MacPherson strut front and multilink independent rear suspension kit with amplitude-reactive dampers and sensors that monitor the road surface on a moment-by-moment basis.

The EPA states this Acura can achieve 25 city / 36 highway. During our week with the ILX, we observed a 29.4 mpg average, which is four-tenths above their combined estimate from this 3,137-pounder.

Leftlane's bottom lineThree years into its lifecycle, Acura redesigns their entry-level-premium ILX to more closely correspond to their asking price. While still lagging behind some of its European competition, aligning more with a high trim level Honda, it is vastly improved over the model it replaces. Still, it will find its right buyer.

2016 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec base price, $34,890. As tested, $35,810.Destination fee, $920.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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