Thursday, May 7, 2015

Youthfully Refreshed | 2016 Acura ILX Review

“Acuras are quick cars driven by old people”
That’s what a friend told me as we discussed the car I was testing. And the more I thought about it the more I realized, he’s right! My dad, for instance, drives one. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Older upper middle class adults are a lucrative bunch. But in our world obsessed with what teenagers think with their #swag on Snapchat, it doesn’t help a brand. Cadillac has been working for the past twelve years to lower the average age on their seats. And Buick? Um…
Acura tried to address this a couple of years ago by launching the ILX. They took a Honda Civic, renovated it and hoped it would be the perfect compact luxury car for young’ns. Unfortunately, the car was “equal parts responsibility and fun.” Wise words to live by. But many young people walked right past the ILX and just bought an Accord instead. I know this because my friend did it.
Clearly Acura know too. Because they went to their parts bin to update the car, taking the new engine and transmission from the TLX, grabbing the AcuraWatch Safety systems and cribbing the fancy JewelEye headlights from all the other models. Add some fancy wheels and a couple of grills and creases the bumpers and viola you’ve got yourself the attention of millennials. Right?
Well, let me first tell if you if any of the changes have actually improved the car. While the new ILX’s styling is certainly more aggressive than the old model, it’s become less balanced. I find it to be quite bottom heavy. The greenhouse is proportionally smaller than the body it sits upon. This is clearly evidenced inside, where the headroom is short and the windshield quite small. Yet at the same time there is lots of room for elbows and legs to move around in. Also the larger grille has me concerned that Acura is contemplating bringing their big beak back.
Certainly the new looks draw attention, but that’s not what makes this all work. It’s actually the new engine and transmission. The 2.4 Litre Direct Injected 4 cylinder is a wonderful. It produces 201 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. The numbers may not be special, but the engine is. It’s surprisingly smooth and refined. And when pushed, it’s quick. On on-ramps you find yourself catching up to cars that have just merged before you know it. Expect 100 km/h to come up in under 7 seconds.
Credit should also be given to the transmission too. The eight speed dual-clutch automatic is just about perfect. Shifts are lightning fast and imperceptible. Yet in traffic it doesn’t jerk about like many other automated manuals I’ve tried. The trick is that Acura added a Torque Converter. I have no idea how it works, just that it does.
Together they are like chicken and waffles. Good on their own, but even more amazing together. You can drive this car calmly and efficiently getting around 8.3 L/100km (like I did driving mainly on the highway). The transmission won’t even let the engine make a murmur above 2000 rpm. Or you can put it in sport mode and flick through the gears and corners like your hair's on fire. And even though it’s front heavy the car holds well in the bends. That’s thanks to a firm chassis that is very comfortable too. Acura installed some trick Amplitude Reactive dampers that make rough roads out in the Fraser Valley feel as if they were coated in velvet.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts, a manual is no longer offered. But there are paddle shifters. Though one problem I ran into during a back country road romp was that I couldn’t quite figure out what gear I was in a times. Eight is a lot and requires frequent paddling.
One of the headline additions for 2016, and a big surprise, is that AcuraWatch is standard on all models. It’s the company’s latest safety tech that includes adaptive cruise control (ACC), a myriad of lane departure warnings, collision warning and brake mitigation features as well as the party trick Lane Keep Assist.
If you plan on never passing anyone on a journey the ACC is great. But it’s not very aware of what’s going on around. If someone pulls in between the set gap it will brake quite forcefully to immediately get that gap back. This may have rippling consequences on traffic behind, or worse if you have someone tailgating you. Frankly I’d rather do the driving myself. Though Lane Keep Assist, which you can use without the cruise control, is actually nice. It’s like having a helpful hand holding the wheel with you to keep you between the lines.
Oh No! I’ve just realized that all these changes only make the new ILX sound more appealing to the silver lined gentry. The smooth engine, the comfortable ride and the effortless cruise control. But, while it has all those great qualities it doesn’t actually feel like an old persons car.
I was quite comfortable in the top A-Spec model I tested, with its fabulous Lux Suede seats, black headlining and aggressive 18-inch rims. And many of my young professional friends also liked the car too. They thought it sporty and aggressive, something they would consider themselves. It certainly has the go to match the show. That engine and transmission have transformed the car. Together, they are a shot of Viagra, a fountain of youth, and make the $31,642 - 37,041 price more palatable.
So Acura have in fact done it. They’ve made a car that doesn’t fit the brand’s stereotype. A car that any young professional would be proud to own.
Well… before I finish let me leave you with this anecdote.

Driving into Vancouver for a meeting I was caught in one of Highway 1’s inevitable traffic jams. I saw a new ILX similar to the one I was testing up ahead. And as I caught up to it and passed I looked over to see who would be driving it. It was, an older couple.

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