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2016 Acura ILX is a Rewarding Driver’s Car

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The average price for a brand-new automobile in the United States is a hair under $34,000. Think about that. The aggregate average of everything from teenagers'first cars to celebrities'umpteenth fleet purchase has crept quietly above $30-grand barrier over the last several years-making it difficult for automakers to deliver both high value and high feature content.

Lo and behold, the industry is scrambling to adapt and change to the redefined market segment. Witness the entry-level luxury market, and cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3, as responses to luxury now concerned with the bottom line. As you can imagine, the majority of luxury automakers are following suit (no pun intended).

The timing is remarkable, as Acura introduces a mid-cycle refresh to its ILX sedan for the 2016 model year. In the not-too-distant past, this was the space in which Acura dominated. Along with Lexus and Infiniti, back in the late '80s and early '90s, it was the Japanese manufacturers that made a value play for luxury, packing a copious amount of feature content into an excellently executed package.

The '16 ILX continues that tradition, with tweaks subtle and significant that make it an even better car to live with and drive.

Starting with the exterior, which comes into sharper focus with revised headlights and taillights, the ILX now heavily reflects the styling of the largerTLX. The same goes for the interior, which lifts the two-tier navigation/infotainment system from the TLX and larger vehicles, and includes new options for leather and pseudo-suede seating. Importantly, Acura left the working details alone, adding sound deadening and more refined materials while keeping the structure we liked intact.

Combined, the details effect the feel of a mature sport sedan-perhaps too mature for its intended customer-that needs to be driven to understand the full effect of its character. Neither overly luxurious nor over-styled, as some of its competitors are, the ILX makes a lot of sense as an entry into the luxury market.

Also new for the ILX is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection, which replaces two engines previously available. With 201-horsepower, this naturally aspirated engine sits comfortably among its turbocharged brethren in the segment, and does not want for power. An 8-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only transmission available, and it one-ups the dual-clutches offered by German competitors by adding in a torque converter.

This powertrain gives the ILX distinct character, making it truly

a sedan in the near-lux segment that takes driving pleasure into account. Step on the gas pedal with some force, and the engine sings-not groans with a gravelly undertone, as some of its competitors do-all the way to redline. Shifts click off with smoothness and speed, and there is virtually none of the ka-thunk of some dual-clutch transmissions. Cornering is flat, suspension travel is tuned for comfort, and the sound deadening works well.

 With this much punch available in such a compact package, Acura could've dusted off its nearly-forgotten Vigor badge-it would've an apt description of this compact sedan.

When you're not in the mood to drive hard, however, the ILX is equally good at driving itself. Its roster of optional active and passive safety equipment is so extensive that you'd think it was a class or two above its price point. Where active cruise control and lane departure warning are de rigeur options, the ILX adds a lane-keep function that works with lane markings to steer you through a corner and safely help you avoid pedestrians and other obstacles.

However you choose to drive the ILX, there's no fuel economy penalty to pay: Over approximately 200 miles of mixed driving, we saw as high as 36 mpg with a gentle touch of the throttle. Keep the transmission in Sport, as the car's chief engineer suggested to us, row through the gears on your own, and your mileage may vary.

Overall, this re-examined ILX is much-improved over the vehicle it replaces, and it remains a great car to drive. It may not be as configurable as the A3, as luxurious as the CLA, or as stylish as the Cadillac ATS, but that's not the point. Acura is keeping entry-level luxury right where it wants to be, while adding a healthy serving of safety features where it matters most.

Date Posted: March 14, 2015