The 2016 Acura ILX finally feels like a proper Acura, which wasn't always the case with the division's smallest offering. While the 2013 ILX was among the first cars in a new segment of entry-level compact luxury sedans and Acura did a good job making it look different than the Honda Civic upon which it was based, the car drove just like its sibling. That lack of distinction was a turn-off for luxury buyers. 

So, for the 2016 Acura ILX, Acura decided on a do-over. Some changes are cosmetic; the ILX gets Acura's "jewel eye" headlight treatment, new LED-augmented taillights, new wheels, and a sport appearance package called A-Spec. More changes are inside, with nicer materials and the dual-screen infotainment system we've seen in other Acura models, among other touches. 

New powertrain

But the ILX was already a good looking car, and it's the changes under the skin that are most important. For starters, Acura ditched the base 150-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a 5-speed automatic and the 6-speed manual equipped 2.4-liter engine. Instead there's a single powertrain choice: The 201-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, now exclusively paired with Acura's dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission. Not only does the new engine offer 51 more horsepower than the 2.0-liter, it gets better fuel economy, thanks to the new transmission. 

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Since Acura retained the more powerful engine, and added a better transmission, the new ILX loses virtually nothing in acceleration compared to last year's combination of the 2.4-liter with the 6-speed manual. The new 8-speed shifts smoothly and quickly in Drive. Putting it in Sport and using the steering wheel-mounted paddles gives you the control of a manual, although it does automatically upshift at redline. Still, the ILX retains its sporty feel, with a well sorted suspension that was entertaining on the twisty roads around Napa, California, but still compliant enough when things got bumpy. The steering is on the light side, but it's doubtful potential buyers will mind.

Quieter and techier

But the sporty driving feel is only half of the equation. Inside, the new Acura ILX offers better sound deadening with thicker glass, active noise cancellation, and even wheels that insulate the car from road noise. Acura provided a pair of 2015 ILX models for comparison, and in a back-to-back drives there's no doubt that the new ILX is significantly better, even if it's not exactly vault-like quiet. Add to that better seats and a redesigned dash that incorporates a touch-screen interface and you have an Acura that further distinguishes itself from its Honda brother. 

If you don't want to make the stretch all the way to the top-end model for a built-in navigation system -- or just don't want one -- Acura has a mid-step solution that uses your iPhone. By purchasing the $60 Acura Navi app and the $99 cable kit -- which connects your phone via USB and HDMI -- you have a tethered navigation system that uses your data stream and iPhone for navi duties. It's a nice work-around, and less expensive than the full navigation system.

Also new for the 2016 Acura ILX is the addition of AcuraWatch, a new name for the bundled driver safety and assistive technologies. This includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation and braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and assist, blind spot information and rear cross-traffic monitor.  It's a pretty comprehensive suite, and although some of it doesn't quite match the stuff available in higher-end Acuras -- there's no low-speed follow for the adaptive cruise control, for example -- it's still a lot of technology for the price. 

Inexpensive, not cheap

Speaking of price, the 2016 Acura ILX remains a bargain. The base price is $27,200, not including destination charges, and includes the jewel-eye headlights, moonroof, power driver's seat, rear view camera, and Bluetooth. A Premium model adds leather seats, blind spot and cross-traffic detection, memory for the driver's seat, and audio system upgrades for an extra $2,000. The Tech Plus model throws in navigation, an even better audio system, and AcuraWatch. The good news is that most of the AcuraWatch goodies (minus blind spot and cross-traffic detection) are available as a $1,300 standalone package on the base model, which is a break from the usual Acura practice of only offering high-tech options as a separate trim level. The other major option is the A-Spec package on Premium and Tech Plus models. It has 18-inch wheels, suede-like seating surfaces, fog lights, a chrome-trimmed rear spoiler, and a few other goodies for $1,490 on Tech Plus models, or $1,990 on Premium.

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At a topped-out price of $34,390, that's a lot of car. A loaded Buick Verano is about the same, but doesn't offer many of the ILX's active safety systems. The 2016 ILX is also about $10,000 less than a similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz CLA, a difference that will have you wondering if that three-point star is worth a 25-percent price bump. On the other hand, the ILX is also in the same price zone as several more mainstream midsize sedans, such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata. While not all of them have the same techno gadgets as the ILX, they're larger, and offer V6 engines at the same price. 

The question is whether a luxury model justifies its price, and we think the new 2016 Acura ILX makes a good case for itself. With a cool design, upscale features, good driving dynamics, and a premium badge at a reasonable price, it's definitely worth a look.


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