The 2018 Acura ILX is a sporty front-wheel-drive compact sedan launched as a 2013 model and substantially revised for the 2016 model year. The ILX competes with the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.
A new ILX Special Edition model is available for 2018 that affordably adds 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, and a body kit.
The ILX is a simple car, with one powertrain and just three models available. However, its simplicity makes it no less sporty, with a sharp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and paddle-shifting twin-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission. It makes 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.
Meanwhile the cabin is sweet, with contoured surfaces and instruments that are easy to read.
The ILX gets good fuel mileage, rated by the EPA at 25 City, 35 Highway, and 29 Combined miles per gallon, a bit more than the A3 and a bit less than the CLA 250. That’s on Premium gasoline. It’s recommended but not required; power and mileage go down when using Regular octane.
The NHTSA gives it five stars for crash safety, and the IIHS gives it top scores including in the small overlap frontal impact test, which very few cars ace. Acura’s available advanced safety systems were rated Superior, to give it a Top Safety Pick+ rating.
2018 Acura ILX ($28,100) standard equipment includes power moonroof, power driver’s seat, a multi-view rearview camera, and Bluetooth. The Premium adds leather, power passenger seat, dual-screen infotainment, satellite radio, blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert.
ILX also comes in Premium ($30,100), Technology Plus ($33,100), and the new Special Edition ($28,900).
The ILX is clearly Acura, without being distinctive. It can’t be called edgy despite some sharp edges, down low at the bottom of the front fascia, and the rockers along the side below the doors. Its front bumper is V-shaped, following the V of the grille, and looks like a pointed chin; it’s a dated look that most of the rest of the Acura line has left behind.
The flat black plastic surrounding the round foglamps is dull and awkward. The 18-inch 10-spoke wheels are uniquely ugly, kind of like 10 legs with big feet on them, and look like they should be moving (not like they are moving) when they are standing still. They look better moving and blurred.
The instrument panel is basic and not so sporty, with a spare look to the plastic and vents; but it’s easy to read. The interior materials are fine, improved in 2016 along with the upgraded dual-screen infotainment system. The fit and finish is very good, but it would be nice if the materials showed more color and originality.
Things are laid out neatly, comfortably, ergonomically and intuitively. It’s easy to operate the controls without taking your eyes off the road. Except, unfortunately, for the infotainment system.
Overall the cabin is quiet and refined, with fairly thick glass and standard active noise cancellation system that absorbs small but annoying sounds from the powertrain or road. It uses the sound system’s speakers, a cabin microphone, and a sophisticated processing algorithm.
The front seats are supportive and very adjustable for the driver. But Acura seems to be missing an opportunity here, because although there is a bit more headroom than most compact cars, there could be more if the seat adjusted lower, as appears possible.
In the rear, the ILX earns praise for providing enough leg room and knee room for six-footers.
The overall interior space is impressive, with plenty of room for small personal items. Unlike in the frustrating Audi A3, there are well-planned bins and cubbies everywhere. The 12.4-cubic-foot trunk can hold two large suitcases, or a large cooler, or even a wheelchair. The split rear seatbacks can be flipped forward for access to the trunk with extended space.
The direct-injection 2.4-liter engine, making 201 horsepower, delivers strong and satisfying performance. It’s the same engine as in the next biggest Acura model, the TLX. Acceleration is smooth and linear, and we had no problems merging into fast traffic or passing on two-lane roads.
The 8-speed, dual-clutch transmission is the perfect companion, superbly responsive. It uses a torque converter for low-speed smoothness, while it shifts very quickly with the paddles yet not jerky, when driving the ILX aggressively, including rev-matched downshifts in Sport mode. In Sport, the ILX holds gears longer and downshifts perfectly when decelerating, providing some extra oomph.
The ride is pleasant, tuned more for comfort than cornering. It’s nose-heavy, which makes it a better choice for cruising and commuting rather than tackling demanding roads. The ILX has a weight distribution of a whopping 63/37 front/rear, compared with the near-50/50 balance of the BMW 2 Series or the 58/42 split of the Audi A3.
The ILX is reasonably quiet, with mild road noise on bumpier roads. Active noise cancellation picks up engine and road sounds from a microphone and pipes in noise-combating frequencies through the car’s speakers.
The A-Spec performance package with 18-inch wheels that are 7.5 inches wide, with very low-profile tires, improves handling. However, the low-profile tires make the ride harsh on bumpy roads. We got a lot of seat time in an A-Spec, and don’t believe the harder cornering allowed by these wheels and tires is worth the compromise in comfort.
The Acura ILX can be an enjoyable car, but limited in its appeal. The price is right, if you don’t expect anything special. The styling is common; the engine is quick enough but not thrilling; and the cabin is quiet, refined and functional, sweet for those things, but still mundane. The one exceptional feature is the superb 8-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports.