Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 8, 2020
The Acura ILX is a blast from the not so recent past. They certainly don’t make cars like this anymore: compact, analog, naturally aspirated sedans with dual-clutch transmissions and handsome styling. While the ILX is certainly not the most well-packaged and spacious four-door, the interior is aging faster than a wine without a decanter, and the new (and cheaper, I might add) tenth-generation Honda Civic is miles more refined and attractive, the ILX still makes a compelling argument for itself in the $30,000 range.
The 2020 Acura ILX lies on the last-generation Honda Civic platform, so all of its ergonomic quibbles, limited interior headroom, and outdated powertrain, are turn-of-the-decade old. Depending on who you ask, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Personally, I find the ILX refreshingly analog, and it offers an incredibly characterful driving experience that you won’t find in modern day vehicles.
The sole engine choice is a free-revving 2.4-litre inline-four unit that carries a great deal of personality. It rewards fast driving and the ability to trigger its 6,800 rpm redline. Sure, the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a slow-shifting clutz, and most of the power lives on the right half of the tachometer, but that means you actually have to work for your acceleration, a refreshing change from the laziness of a torque-filled turbocharged engine. It reminds me of Honda engines of yore, sweet-sounding reactors that only got better the higher you revved it. The same goes for the ILX, and though it may not be the most efficient example on the modern market, we’ve been pining to get behind an S2000 for quite some time. The ILX gives us a bit of that sensation.
It doesn’t take away from the fact that the gearbox is lethargic, inconsistent, and 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 loads up nicely and offers 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.
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. The red leather interior is quite appealing and definitely more upscale than anything you would find with a Honda badge, but when combined with the blue exterior paint, it makes for a quirky Superman spec. 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, and I would choose this layout over the digital screens found in new Hondas and Lexus’, but also migrating over are the horrid dual infotainment screens with the redundant array of buttons and dials that control each one. 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.
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.
We’re not entirely sure when Acura plans on updating their entry-level sedan, but the ILX remains an intriguing and characterful entrant in a jam-packed segment. Argumentatively, 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 more refined, more comfortable, and better packaged than the ILX. Now, the Acura may not boast modern amenities that are almost expected in this day and age, the gearbox is plagued with inconsistencies, it’s not smooth, and it’s not polished, but you can’t deny that it’s got presence and personality. For that, we praise it.
Model: 2020 Acura ILX A-Spec
Paint Type: Apex Blue Pearl
Base Price: $35,890
Price as Tested: $36,390
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): 11.9