Driven: Acura ILX Tech Plus

The Acura ILX is a premium but affordable sports sedan | Bob Golfen
The Acura ILX is a premium but affordable sports sedan | Bob Golfen photos

The Acura ILX is a satisfying sports sedan that doesn’t cost a boatload of money, but looks cool enough to garner admiring glances (especially from young guys in tuned Hondas) while providing practical, economical transportation.

Sadly, ILX falls victim to one of the most pernicious trends in today’s automobiles, the demise of the manual transmission. No more can you purchase the agile Acura sport compact with this most-engaging form of sports car driving, which seems to be going the way of carburetors and breaker points. Too bad, as a generation of millennials grows up not getting what it’s all about. Or caring, apparently.

The ILX looked appealing in Catalina Blue Pearl paint with black wheels
The ILX looked appealing in Catalina Blue Pearl paint with black wheels

Part of the reason for the shift (pun intended) to automatics is that modern technology has made them so good. The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the ILX is a perfect example. In normal driving, the shifting is crisp and precise, quick to downshift as needed and continually working to optimize the engine’s power band.

I had the opportunity to run out the Acura on a very twisty little two-lane road, so I set the transmission to the “sport” mode. The car suddenly felt like it was made for misbehavior, running with an aggressive snarl from its 2.4-liter four, holding the gears as needed, and generally doing the things automatically that I would be doing manually to best hustle through the curves.

The IXL is equipped with paddle shifters, but since I was sampling the sport mode, I didn’t use them. Nor did I feel the need to use them, the dual-clutch automatic did that well. Essentially, that explains the lack of interest in shifting for yourself. Although a clutch and stick shift are still more fun.

The front-wheel-drive ILX also handles nicely, maybe not up to the levels of the pricier performance sedans but quite tossable and able to rush through sharp turns with a decent level of poise. The suspension is stiff, which sometimes comes through harshly on even mildly rough surfaces, at which time there is also considerable tire noise. But this model ILX is tuned for driving enthusiasts, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Styling looks aggressive but generic
Styling looks aggressive with a sporty stance

The 2017 ILX continues essentially unchanged after its major makeover for 2016, when Acura ditched the smaller 2.0-liter engine and, sadly, stick shift along with making improvements in the car’s styling and performance. The ILX gas/electric hybrid model is also gone, which is not much of a loss since the small sedan gets a sterling 25 city and 35 highway, according to the EPA.

The 2.4-liter engine makes a solid 201 horsepower with high-revving delivery, enough for decent acceleration in this 3,100-pound compact, especially with the benefits of the dual clutch transmission. Throttle steer is well-controlled in this nicely engineered car, and the powertrain overall feels quite sophisticated.

Exterior styling is aggressive though not quite as extreme as some of Acura’s competitors, and sport-compact tuners might find ILX’s look a bit too sedate. But the car has good presence, not looking too dinky, and with a sporty stance. The headlights are cosmic, with five LED “jewel eyes” on each side, which make the car look like it has 10 tiny headlights.

Five LED lamps shine out from each headlight | Acura
Five LED lamps shine out from each headlight | Acura

The electric Catalina Blue Pearl paint raised its curb appeal considerably, and I caught some envious glances from the drivers of the compact competition. The blacked-out alloy wheels and low-profile tires set the color off nicely.

The interior is roomier than expected, with plenty of space for this too-tall driver. The small sedan has reasonable seating for four, five in a pinch, and a good-sized trunk. The seats are comfortably supportive, sporty but not too much so.

Speaking of trunks, one reason this one is roomy is because it goes along with the current unfortunate trend of eliminating any sort of spare tire, equipping the car instead with the accursed setup of a plug-in air pump and an aerosol can of tire-sealant goo. Sure, flat tires are not so common these days, but I’ve already experienced one instance in which a test-car flat tire was too damaged for the sealant to work. Seems to me like a recipe for getting stranded. I’ll take the donut, please.

While the interior trim mostly looks high quality, and the dashboard is straightforward, I did find the two stacked video display screens to be kind of overkill. Yes, functional and accessible, but annoyingly busy and distracting, especially at night. It seems to me that there are enough analog controls on the center stack, as well as steering-wheel buttons, without having to resort to two large video screens that sometimes seem to be doubling up with the same information.

The double-stacked video screens were distracting
The double-stacked video screens were distracting | Acura

The ILX that I drove was the upgraded Tech Plus model with an array of electronic features, including a navigation system with voice actuation and a multi-view rear camera, AcuraLink communication system with real-time traffic information, Acura ELS premium audio with 10 speakers, GPS-linked dual-zone climate control, the touch-screen displays, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitor and Homelink.

The test car was equipped with the AcuraWatch Plus package of driver assists, with adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, road-departure warning, forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist system and lane-departure warning. While all good safety features that could keep you from crashing or running off the road – and bringing us ever closer to self-driving cars – I found some of it to be an annoying intrusion. The forward-collision warning in particular seemed pretty overwrought.

In usual Honda/Acura fashion, the ILX Tech Plus comes complete as a package without added options, with a price tag of $33,930 including shipping. That’s not bad considering the car’s performance and features. The ILX comes in six models, starting at $27,990 plus shipping for the base version and going up to $34,980 plus shipping for the Tech Plus with the A-SPEC package of sporty trim additions.

2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive
Base price: $32,990 Price as tested: $33,930
Engine: 2.4-liter inline-4, 201 horsepower at 6,800 rpm, 180 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm Transmission: Dual-clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches Overall length/width: 181.9 inches / 70.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,115 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 25 city / 35 highway / 29 combined
Assembled in: Marysville, Ohio

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