Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 8, 2019
The refreshed 2019 Acura ILX is a stylish and spritely compact sedan based on the last-generation Honda Civic platform, not the new one that we have constantly praised in our reviews. That means it does not receive the stiffer chassis, roomier interior packaging, modern infotainment unit, or an updated powertrain. The latter isn’t exactly a bad thing. The naturally aspirated free-revving 2.4-litre inline-four unit in the ILX (carried over since 2016) is incredibly characterful and actually the most engaging part of vehicle. Though most of the power lives on the right half of the tachometer, having to work for it is a refreshing change from the laziness of a low-end torque-filled turbocharged engine. Reminding us of previous Honda engines, it’s a sweet sounding motor that only gets better the higher you rev it, and we’ve been pining for one like this for quite some time. We have an aging platform to thank for that.
The ILX rewards fast driving and the ability to trigger that 6,800 rpm redline. Driving slow is punished by a lethargic and inconsistent 8-speed dual-clutch transmission that is miles behind in reactivity and responsiveness compared to Volkswagen’s DSG unit. Pleasant and unnoticeable when left to its own devices, it’s only when you take command of the gears that the vices rise to the surface. The downshift can take one second, two seconds, or sometimes even three. The system can’t seem to make up its mind on how to shift, what revs are optimal, and what it should do, even when you’re controlling the paddles. It’s odd because that only seems to happen when driving politely and gently. When you get that engine warmed up and hit nail biting speeds, the gearbox is suddenly alert and caffeinated, and shifts as quickly as a Volkswagen Golf R. Though conflicting as it may be, some might argue that anything is better than listening to the droning and buzzing of a Honda CVT, and I’d agree. That’s one of the finer points of the ILX experience and at its limit, it feels like a proper driver’s car from the 90s.
The steering isn’t bad either, loading up nicely and offering a good amount of grip feedback through the grapevine. The steering wheel does require a fair amount of rotation to get the vehicle turning however. Whereas other vehicles may need only 45- to 90-degrees of rotation to make a 90-degree right hander, the ILX requires about 120-degrees. That gives the driver slightly more control of the front wheels but requires more arm effort.
Still, if you take the engine out of the equation, the ILX doesn’t exactly give us a compelling reason why we should choose it over like-minded $30,000 vehicles like the Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen Golf GTI, or a Subaru WRX. They all cost roughly the same amount of money, carry sporting potential, and are arguably more refined, more comfortable, and better packaged than the ILX.
Where the ILX platform further shows its age is on the inside. The cabin design is very last-gen and despite the added machine-finished push-button ignition, contrast piping and stitching, and new seats, it’s all just garnish and wallpaper. There is even a manual handbrake and while this isn’t a bad thing on sports cars, it takes up precious center console real estate in the ILX, and along with the bulky gear shifter (not the button gear selector in other Acuras), the amount of front cabin space becomes narrow and restricted.
The ILX gives off a modestly premium vibe from the choice of materials but the interior packaging is poor and miniscule compared to the roomier tenth-generation Honda Civic. I stand six feet tall and in my standard driving position, my hips are squeezed and my head is nudged up against the headliner due to the sunroof’s elevated ridges that exacerbate the confinement. I have to carefully adjust the seats and recline more than I’m used to to get into a mildly comfortable position. The seats are mounted too high up on the platform as well without any downward adjustment available. The rear seats are even more cramped.
I admire Acura’s decision to stick with illuminated analog gauges but also migrating over are the horrid dual infotainment screens with the redundant array of buttons and dials that control each screen. The system has been beefed up for 2019 with new graphics and faster response times, but it lags behind the new units found in the Acura RDX and Honda Civic. It’s rare to see the premium brand of the automaker umbrella use last-gen technology versus the mainstream brand. Not only is the Civic more up to date in the tech-sector but it’s more spacious, has a more ergonomic cabin, and costs less. Performance aside, the Civic is clearly the better buy.
At least the ILX looks the part of a sports sedan, wearing the new corporate diamond beak better than any of its larger siblings, and the rear end appears anything but generic despite the lonely exhaust tip. The A-Spec trim spices things up with aesthetic goodies like LED fog lights, darkened headlights and taillights, a black decklid spoiler, dark trim surrounding the front grill and lower fascia, unique 18-inch wheels, sport pedals, and new sport seats with suede inserts. I’ve never seen a new ILX on the street without the A-Spec package either, a rare sight like a Lexus IS without the F Sport package.
Aside from the climatic engine and handsome sheetmetal, there’s really not much going for Acura’s entry-level sedan. The transmission is peppy but inconsistent, and the interior is aging at an exponential rate when compared to the newer Honda Civic. The ILX’s infotainment unit is also a strong limiting factor for those who prefer the latest gizmos. Even though the badge prestige of owning an Acura is there and the fast-revving engine is emotionally stimulating, the ILX lacks any standout features that pull it out of the Civic’s shadow. If it were my money, I’d be splurging on the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Mini Cooper instead, both which cost the same amount of money and offer accessible performance with a better packaged interior.
Model: 2019 Acura ILX A-Spec
Paint Type: Performance Red Pearl
Base Price: $35,390
Price as Tested: $35,390
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,620 / 1,794 / 1,412
Curb weight (kg): 1,428
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower: 201 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.9 / 7.0 / 8.6
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.6