They call it a “gateway”. It’s Acura’s way of “getting them young”, and they’re proud of the fact that the ILX had the most market penetration with millennials (people under 35) in recent years.
Those laurels are drying out, though, and there are some heavy-hitting newcomers muscling into the segment – specifically the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 and Audi A3. Honda – sorry, I mean Acura – has never been a company that rests on its laurels, and so it’s no surprise we have a fairly significant refresh of the ILX sitting before us.
The target market for rigs like this? Young, affluent, educated professionals with a sense of practicality, style and youthful exuberance about them. If we’re honest, the target market also extends to older generations who buy things marketed to “the youth” so they can muscle in on that “youthful” action – but I digress. The target market as stated is the sort of person currently enjoying the trappings of start-up business success, the type who move to San Francisco in the hopes of impressing the tech giants with their savvy and their swerve. Acura knows who it thinks will buy this car. That’s why we’re here, in San Francisco.
Acura probably hopes some of your Kickstarter pledge goes to your budding entrepreneur’s local Acura dealer.
The refresh is subtle on the outside – a grille tweak here, a new set of LEDs to replace the ancient bulbs in the head and taillights, that sort of thing. There’s also a new top-tier trim, the A-Spec, complete with a lip spoiler on the trunk lid and some minor aero tweaks, plus 18-inch wheels.
Under the skin, things get far more significant. Gone is the hybrid version, and so too the base 2.0L inline-four engine. Let us pause for a moment to mourn the loss of the slick six-speed manual because it went the way of its less lovable five-speed auto brother: to the scrap heap. And continuing in Civic Si application presumably.
There is still a 2.4L inline four offering, but it boasts an all-new block and now has direct injection for bonus torque with improved fuel economy. More on that in a moment.
The biggest story of the ILX is the new transmission. Acura has grabbed itself an eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual and slapped a torque converter from a conventional slushbox onto the front of it. The goal is smoother shifts. See, a DCT has a habit of letting you know about the work it’s doing by shunting you in the back, but a torque converter should smooth that out – and it does definitely do that. It also provides more instantaneous acceleration as the torque converter lets movement through the driveline sooner than a clutch would in this setting – or so I’m told.
The problem with this configuration is the gap between Acura’s target market and the way this transmission feels. If Acura is going for a sportier, more youthful feel, surely the visceral sensation of a rapid-fire, mechanical jolting DCT is the way to go? Won’t a smoother feeling simply be a duller feeling? That’s how it felt to me. The torque converter dulled up the DCT in a way that disconnected me from the driving feel.
There are other issues with this transmission, too. In automatic mode the shifts are rapid and even. Both downshifts and upshifts happen quickly and pretty much right when you need them. In manual mode, however, the message seems to take too long to get from the paddle on the steering wheel to the gearbox. The change itself happens quickly, but pulling back two quick downshifts on corner entry left me stuck waiting until corner exit.