Acura’s entry level ILX is redesigned for the 2019 model year. With new styling and additional technology on board, it fulfills the brand’s desire to display a cohesive design language across all models. But is this refresh of a refresh any good? We headed to Columbus to find out.
(Full disclosure: I drove from Cincinnati to Acura’s full line event in Columbus, Ohio on my own dime. Acura provided nice food and accommodation, and a day out at the Transportation Research Center driving various Acura vehicles including the new ILX. Acura gave me a hat which I gave to my brother, and a solid metal model of an NSX.)
The ILX has held its place as the entry-level model for the Acura brand since 2013, when it debuted as an upscale sibling to the ninth-generation Civic. Acura refreshed its smallest sedan for the 2016 model year, and is repeating the process for 2019.
Just to be clear, the 2019 ILX is the third iteration of the same underlying vehicle launched for 2013, as the sedan has not shifted to the 10th-generation Civic platform. Sharper TLX-like styling is a highlight of the newest version, as are new seats, audio system, various driver assistance aids, and the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Three trims are available for 2019: base, Premium, and Technology. To the latter two, buyers can add the A-Spec package. It nets dark 19-inch wheels, dark-colored trim in various places, leather seats with Ultrasuede inserts, and metal plates on the pedals. Pricing starts at $25,900, which Acura points out is lower than ILX competitors. All tester models supplied were the highest trim — Technology A-Spec, which is priced at $31,550. Fortunately, all of them were white, so I didn’t have to break my white test car streak.
The revised look of the 2019 ILX is sharper and more angular than the outgoing design. Less anonymous and more sporty in its appearance, there’s generally more visual interest when the ILX is static. The most obvious changes on this refreshed version are the trapezoidal corporate grille at the front and a rear license plate that’s now located in the bumper. Exterior panel gaps are even all around, and trim alignment is very good. There’s a nice linear action to the door handle, which has a smooth return without any plastic clicking noises. Doors open and shut with an authoritative sound that is decidedly not economy car in nature. Nice job there.
The A-Spec trim of the ILX allows for a choice of black or red leather interior, with inserts of black Ultrasuede. Other trims have interiors of black, light stone, or new for 2019, brown “Espresso” leather. It’s nice to see some color returning to car interiors, and Acura is making this red a staple of A-Spec trims across their lineup.
The leather on the seats and door panels has a lightly pebbled grain, and feels soft. I did notice some rippling along the side bolsters, so a bit of attention to finishing in that area would not go amiss. The armrests at either side and the center console are nicely padded for elbow resting. Suede seat inserts add a sporty touch and some visual interest, but also have small perforations in them (said perforations remind your author of basketball shorts, though perhaps others enjoy such a literal sports reference).
Other cockpit materials are a mixed bag. While the dash is nicely padded with a textured rubber, the central screen surround and all panels flanking the center console are hard plastic. Of particular concern is the plastic around the gear shift, which was already wearing scratches in the test car (photo below). The enormous glove box latch looks out of place here. Similarly out of place is the sunroof shade, with its flimsy feel and cheap closing action. Kudos on the metal pedals which come with the A-Spec, as they feel solid and sure underfoot. The same cannot be said for the floor mats, which are really very thin.
Elsewhere up front, button placement is familiar enough to anyone who has driven a Honda or Acura vehicle made in the last few years. There’s a dual-screen setup for the stereo/climate and navigation functions, and separate climate control via knobs and buttons down below. Gauges are simple and clear, done in white lettering on a black background, and lit up with red accents. Navigating through the touch screen is easy enough for the stereo, and navigation functions are done via the large directional dial in the center of the stack.
Seats are comfortable enough, and with 10-way power adjustments most people should be able to find a happy position. Though supportive for a shorter drive, those with longer legs may find the bottom seat cushion a bit short. Hopping in the back, I was able to sit behind myself with the driver’s seat in position. My legs were touching the seat back, but we can give that a pass for such a small car.
Drive Around Ohio
For 2019, the engine and transmission in the ILX stay the same. All trims have the same direct-injected 2.4-liter four cylinder they’ve had previously, mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The engine produces 201 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. Said engine is smooth in its operation, and Acura has engineered out the vibrations often found in four cylinder engines. I didn’t notice any vibration at idle.
The selected drive route included higher speed highway driving, as well as back roads. Available power from a standstill and in passing situations feels more than adequate. The dual-clutch transmission responds quickly to throttle inputs, without hesitation or gear hunting. Gear changes are quick and smooth for the most part, with just a couple of slightly jerky upshifts as the car settled from acceleration. It was easy to learn the correct throttle input to order up a gear change, and within 15 minutes my right foot knew how far to travel. Brakes were strong, and brought the car to a halt very quickly when desired. Steering had a decent weight to it, and it was very easy to place the ILX in the right part of the bend as the corn fields observed silently.
Underway, the 10-speaker stereo that comes with the Technology trim produced a nice sound, and made listening to jazz along the test route enjoyable, though I found myself continually upping the volume. The volume increase was not so I could enrich my ear drums; rather it was so I could continue to hear the music. Wind noise was well isolated in the cabin of the ILX at highway speeds, but more time could have been spent either increasing sound insulation, or reducing tire roar. The tires start to sing along to the music right around 40 miles per hour. Their quad tones advance to an unpleasant harmony on the highway, making the notion of long-distance driving in the ILX fairly questionable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the suspension on the ILX is tuned more toward sport than comfort. Small bumps in the road come through the car, conveyed via the driver’s seat and the steering wheel. It’s not intolerable, and for drivers who like a firm ride with their sporty compact sedan, it will be fine. Smooth surface driving was pleasant, without any wallow or floaty feelings.
The ILX bests its competitors on paper. At any trim level it offers up a bit more power for a bit less money. Acura views the ILX as the gateway into the brand — it’s supposed to attract the youngest and most upwardly mobile customer, then get them hooked on what Acura can provide. In this entry level luxury segment it can be difficult to pull the prestige-focused young consumer away from that silver star or blue and white roundel, but being the value choice is a place to start. Maybe work on that tire noise, though.