Upon seeing the first photos of the 2016 ILX, I already liked the exterior styling updates. With the exception of the bulbous, overdone "nostrils" in the fascia, I quite like the styling updates, especially when trimmed with the A-spec package. There are still a few minor details which could be cleaned up, but perhaps not without major sheetmetal changes (I'm looking at you, strange door handle placement).
Inside the car, the updates are generally nice, and I do like the "lux suede" treatment and black headliner offered by the A-Spec package, but let's be honest - this interior still isn't quite up to par when compared to some of its direct competitors. The general ambiance just doesn't have the same level of "premium" feel of cars like the Audi A3. It's not for a lack of features - it's more about design and finish in general. Front seat comfort levels are generally good, but as with the TLX, the seat bottom cushions have virtually zero lateral support - this is said to be done to accommodate a wider range of arses, and I can appreciate that, but I personally prefer a lot more lateral support. Your mileage might vary. In the rear cabin, accommodations are actually pretty decent, though it's still a bit limited in rear headroom. Taller folks, or those who are long of torso will likely find their scalps at least brushing the headliner.
Driving the car is where things get interesting. Fire it up and it settles into a nice and smooth idle. From the exterior, you can easily hear the clickety-clacket sounds of the cam-driven high pressure fuel pumps pressurizing each molecule of petrol to within a psi of its very existence. Inside the cabin, things are well muted. At low speeds, as in puttering around a parking lot, or backing out the garage, uphill, the car behaves exactly as you would expect a car with an automatic transmission to behave. There's no robotic stuttering of clutch engagement or any of the herky-jerky behavior normally associated with automated clutch transmissions. Then when it comes time for a shift, whether it's an upshift or a downshift, you can expect nearly instantaneous and seamless engagement. Very satisfying, indeed.
While the ILX's engine and transmission are virtually identical to the units found in the 2015 Acura TLX, the ILX gets a taller final drive ratio and slightly smaller tires (in terms of rolling circumference). When everything is calculated out, the ILX's effective gearing works out to be about 10% taller than the TLX's. This taller effective gearing offsets some of the ILX's ~400lb weight advantage over the TLX, so acceleration actually feels fairly close between the two cars. From the seat of the pants, the ILX feels to be at least a couple or three tenths quicker in the sprint to 60. This means that acceleration is definitely much stronger than last year's ILX, but perhaps not as zippy as one might think after quickly glancing at the spec sheets.
At wide throttle openings, the engine responds smoothly and eagerly, though it felt slightly more strained at the top end of the range when compared to the TLX. Unlike the TLX, there is no "IDS" on the ILX - you simply have "D" and "S" modes selected via the console shifter. Of course the S mode gives you a more aggressive automatic shift map and will continue to shift automatically until you manually request an upshift or downshift via the paddles. At this point it will go into a "manual mode", though it will automatically upshift if you approach the rev limiter in a given gear. Similarly, it will downshift to first if you bring the car to a stop, rather than lugging it to a stall.
At more normal cruising ranges in "D" mode, this car is tuned to upshift early and often, settling into 8th at relatively low speeds, resulting in a little bit of a bassy, almost subsonic rumble from the exhaust as the car trundles along at engine rpms as low as 1400. With some past and current Honda and Acura V6 owners complaining of their exhaust booming in top gear at very low rpms, we wonder how the ILX will wear over time, and if this will turn into more of an annoying resonance as time wears on and parts change their characteristics. One other peculiarity I noticed was at certain lift throttle situations I could hear a very faint flutter from the exhaust - almost as if a baffle in the exhaust was suddenly closing or something. It wasn't anything bad - in fact it lends a little bit of sportiness to the car's character, it's just something I don't recall ever noticing in any past normally-aspirated Hondas or Acuras.
Thankfully our drive route for the day consisted of some seriously twisty roads in and around the Napa valley region, and the ILX acquitted itself much better than I had anticipated. Maximum lateral grip is better than I expected, and you have to push the car very hard before you begin to sense any meaningful understeer. That's not to say that it feels perfectly balanced, but the front end hangs in much deeper on decreasing radius turns than logic would tend to dictate. Considering the all-season radials and rather meager 15mm rear swaybars on this car, my mind began thinking about how brilliant it would be with a simple upgrade to summer tires and a larger rear bar. Oh, and the brakes. For the first time in a long time at an Acura event, I'm pretty sure not a single journalist on our wave managed to make them smoke, or even fade. And believe me, we worked them pretty hard as we gained more and more confidence in the chassis. They responded confidently and without protest time after time.
While the chassis impresses with its ultimate abilities, Acura has worked to improve its overall feel. They have improved two areas rather significantly. First of all, the suspension tuning is much closer to ideal now. The car maintains superb poise under almost all circumstances, with nearly perfectly damped ride motions and a sense of calm that is normally associated with larger, heavier vehicles. As an entry premium vehicle, ride quality and handling are important components, and the ILX delivers here. Secondly, interior noise has been significantly improved. To achieve this, Acura employs thicker side glass, active noise control, a new engine mount design, and a new noise reducing wheel design with special resonator channels in the rim. All of this, combined with the newly strengthened body structure results in a considerable improvement over the 2015 ILX.
If we were to register a complaint with the chassis, it mostly comes down to the steering feel. Over the years, Honda and Acura have struggled to consistently deliver a good, precise steering feel with their electrically assisted racks, and maybe with all of the ILX's electronic aids such as the Motion Adaptive steering system, it makes it all the more difficult to provide a natural feel. The bottom line is that while the car generally does what you tell it to do, it's ultimately lacking in a natural feel - everything feels just a little too synthetic. And finally, another minor gripe is the outward visibility. On very twisty roads, while rounding right-handers, I found myself having to look around the large rear view mirror quite a lot, and on left-handers my view was routinely obstructed by the A-pillar.
Acura has done a lot to make the 2016 ILX far more competitive in the marketplace. It offers a compelling package in terms of performance, efficiency, comfort, value, and it happens to look pretty good as well. Will all of these virtues be enough to overcome the ILX's previous struggles? Will the marketplace finally take notice of the ILX? It's difficult to predict these things, but the 2016 ILX is positioned better for success than it ever has been. We plan to spend more time with the 2016 ILX in the near future, so watch for our followup impressions.
For the full gallery of photos from our first drive, click on to the next page