One might expect more wholesale changes from a car entering its seventh year on the market, but we’re still staring down the barrel of the same 201 horsepower 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder and trick dual-clutch automatic transmission (which also features a torque converter for low-speed smoothness) from before. These pieces aren’t necessarily the problem though. It’s enjoyable to thrash the engine out to 7,000 rpm, and the dual-clutch snaps off surprisingly quick shifts when using the paddles in manual mode. It’s a bit of a throwback to before all of Honda’s performance engines switched to turbocharging for power. It pulls harder the more you wring it out, and begs to be paired with a slick-shifting six-speed manual like it was in the ninth-gen Civic Si.
Sadly, everything else outside the powertrain (still) just misses the mark. The greatest part of Acura’s old performance compacts was how they made you feel when you were driving them. There was an intimate connection between the driver and road at all times that is sorely lacking from the ILX. Turn in feel is soft and doesn’t offer satisfying quick changes of direction. The old chassis feels its age in controlling body movements too. It all culminates in making the ILX feel like a larger car than it actually is. That’s not to say the ILX handles poorly, though; it simply does so without any eagerness or feel — just like it has from the beginning.
This is unfortunate because the ILX looks better than it ever has. Acura re-did the whole front nose from the A-pillar forward, and it attacked the rear fascia too. We got to check out and drive A-Spec trimmed cars, which add even more aggression to the styling but no performance upgrades. Sure there’s three-too-many fake air vents, but the car finally grew some teeth compared to the ultra-bland looks from before. Props for not following the terrible industry trend of totally unreasonably-sized fake exhaust outlets too.
The interior isn’t as exciting. It’ll take you back a few years, even in the most expensive A-Spec trim, which gets new seats with more bolstering, suede inserts and a proper-feeling stitched leather steering wheel. Acura updated the infotainment system, but it feels ancient compared to the completely new setup in the RDX — Acura needed that system in all of its cars yesterday. Plenty of the requisite tech is onboard, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. AcuraWatch comes standard too, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, road-departure mitigation and auto emergency braking.
While there might be some good features and equipment here, it still suffers from feeling like a slightly gussied-up old Honda. Consider the RDX’s material choices and design language, or the new Accord’s ultra-modern feel. The ILX is old, sure, but you can’t have the luxury car brand interiors lag so far behind the non-luxury branded cars. The ILX needs to be redesigned on the current Civic platform as soon as possible.
And there are no chassis updates to speak of, since it’s still riding on the ninth-gen Civic bones. Acura doesn’t seem to be getting the same performance love bestowed upon Honda these days, at least not at this lower end of the market.
Acura might be realizing that the ILX’s appeal is waning, because depending on the trim level you opt for, the company dropped the price by $2,200, or more. A base price of $26,895 makes this vehicle a bit more appealing, but I’m still not sold. The 2019 Civic Si starts at $25,195, feels much more modern inside and is a blast to drive. In higher trims, where the ILX becomes less of a value proposition, it looks even less appealing. Our tester rung in at $32,545. Unless you need the upscale badge, the Civic — or even other entry-level luxury models, like the Audi A3 or Mercedes A-Class — are more appealing than the old-masquerading-as-new ILX.
What the compact Acura needs is to go back to its roots. We know there are plans bring back Type S models, but we don’t know which cars are going to get the performance treatment. All the profits seem to be in crossovers and SUVs these days, so it’s easy to imagine Acura will make a couple Type S versions of those. However, what we’d love to see is a true performance successor to the Integra. Following the old ILX formula with the new-generation Civic, and swiping the Type R’s beastly turbocharged motor, would be a great play. Because what we have now just isn’t cutting it.