On the 2016 Acura ILX

It’s a midcycle update, but more than just a nip-and-tuck for the entry-level Acura, the ILX.

Gary Robinson, Acura product planning manager, talks of the 2016 Acura ILX as being a “gateway” car.  Meaning, that this is a car that they hope will get people into the brand and, ideally, not exit.  “Once they’re in, they’re in for life,” Robinson says of what typically happens to a buyer of a luxury car.

The ILX debuted in 2012 as a 2013 model, and yet Acura has undertaken a fairly major revision—even though in Honda-speak this is known as an “MMC,” or “minor model change”—to the car with hopes that this gateway is going to become more appealing to a greater number of people.

Arguably, one of the biggest changes takes place under the hood.  Gone is the hybrid model that was once on offer.  Gone, too, is the 2.0-liter, 150-hp in-line four that was mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

What they did, essentially, is go to the parts bin and take an engine and transmission combination that is being used in the TLX sedan that was introduced in 2014.*  This includes a 2.4-liter, direct-injected, 201-hp in-line four (it should be noted that the engine in the larger TLX produces 206 hp) and an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) with a torque converter.  (Why the torque converter?  Because otherwise DCTs or DSGs, depending on the OEM, can impart an unpleasant jerkiness.)

The engine has a die cast aluminum block and a pressure-cast aluminum head.  There are cast-in iron cylinder liners for the block.  There are exhaust passages cast into the head, thereby eliminating the need for a separate exhaust manifold.  Speaking of manifolds: the intake manifold has two intake runner lengths and an actuator and a set of four butterfly valves; the short runners at high engine speeds and the long at low.

The aluminum pistons are engineered so there is minimal friction.  For example, there is a coating on the outer skirts.  And the pistons undergo a two-stage grinding process called “plateau honing” rather than the more conventional single honing.

As for the DCT, there is one clutch for the odd gears and one for the even.  The control of the clutches and shifting mechanisms is achieved via electronics, which provide fast shifts and automatic rev-matching without the need for a clutch pedal or manual shift lever.  However, because of the sporty nature of the car, there are paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.  

Speaking of sportiness, there is what’s called “Cornering G Shift Control,” which monitors the vehicle’s lateral acceleration when turning so that should the driver be going into a corner fast, the transmission won’t upshift mid-corner and consequently upset the chassis balance.

Although there had been a six-speed manual transmission available on the original ILX, Robinson points out, simply, that it has been discontinued because the take rate was in the low single digits.  EPA certifying a transmission that few people are interested in isn’t particularly cost effective.

According to Koichi Fujimori, the large project leader for the 2016 ILX, when they set about to modify the vehicle, the theme was “Sporty Elegant.”  On the one hand, they realized that the buyer of the entry vehicle would probably be younger rather than not, and that that person would be moving to a luxury marque for purposes of achieving something more elegant than what could be found in a mainstream vehicle.

Typically, the midcycle refreshes by any OEM include changes to the fascias and trim.  And in that, the 2016 ILX is no different.  There is a new front fascia.  This has a slimmer center bar on the grille, as well as a wider center recess in the lower section, and taller outboard recesses (which receive fog lights in one trim package).  The headlamps are the Acura “Jewel Eye” style with five LED clusters.  (Interesting fact about the LED headlamps: they require 57% less power than traditional halogen lamps, just 47 W.)  The tail lamps are also LEDs and have a different configuration than the previous model, as well.

Notably, they enhanced the basic body rigidity, which is something that doesn’t ordinarily happen.  They stiffened the B-pillars, added a floor pan tunnel brace and cross member, and added stiffeners in the C-pillar, rear wheelhouse, side sills, and rear parcel shelf.  More than 50% of the ILX body structure is high-strength steel.  And there is a considerable amount of advanced high strength steels used, as in 38% of the structure (front side frame, front floor frame, center tunnel frame, mid-floor cross member, rear frame and center pillar stiffener) being 590 grade, and 780 and 980 grades used for the inside sill, front floor cross member, front damper extension, and other components, accounting for 8% of the unit body.

Compared to the previous model, the 2016 has 12% more torsional rigidity.

(And for those who are interested in nonferrous materials application: the hood is aluminum, as is the front bumper beam.)

Not only are the steel components used so that the 2016 ILX has Honda’s Next-Generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure that enhance safety for both the people in the vehicle as well as those who might be in other vehicles with which the ILX might collide, but also contributes to improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

And NVH—the N in particular—is addressed through countermeasures for cabin quietness, as in the use of an active noise control system, thicker front door glass (5 mm vs. 4 mm in the previous model), and a resonator in the alloy wheels designed to reduce middle-frequency road noise.

As in keeping with cars in this category, Acura is rolling out with an array of sensors, actuators and alerts under the rubric “AcuraWatch.”  This combines forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind spot information, cross-traffic monitor, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, and multiview camera with dynamic guidelines.

Mike Accavitti, senior vice president and general manager, Acura, says that the division has had three years running of sales increases.  In 2014, according to Autodata (motorintelligence.com), Acura sales were 167,843.  That’s better than Nissan’s luxury marque, Infiniti, which finished the year with 117,330, but a little better than half (54%) of Toyota’s Lexus, at 311,389.  That said, Acura outsold Lincoln (94,474) and was just a couple of percent behind Cadillac (170,750).

“We are going to focus more resolutely on our core brand values: performance, prestige and proportion,” Accavitti says.

And the 2016 ILX is part of that refocus at Acura. 

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*The TLX is built in the Honda Marysville, Ohio, plant.  The ILX had been built at the Honda plant in Greensburg, Indiana, but for the 2016 model they have shifted production to Marysville.  Acura, which was established in the U.S., has been building vehicles in the U.S. back in 1995, when it produced the CL, which was the first production luxury model from a company not headquartered in the U.S. designed, engineered and manufactured in the U.S., at the plant in East Liberty, Ohio.  The 2.4-liter engine that’s used in the TLX and the ILX is manufactured at a plant in Anna, Ohio.  According to Mike Accavitti, senior vice president and general manager, Acura, in 2014 94% of the Acuras sold in the U.S. were built in Ohio, Indiana, or Alabama.  And what is probably the most-anticipated Acura—or maybe anticipated vehicle, period—is the NSX, which will be produced at the Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville.