Monday, September 28, 2020

2020 Acura ILX -- Some Thoughts

 One of these days, I'll give a more substantial update and I'll address the insanity that our world has seen over the past several months.   For now, though, my 2003 Acura CL Type-S six-speed is in the shop for a fresh drink of oil, and I'm driving a 2020 Acura ILX Premium sedan for the next day or so.  

Here's a little background on the ILX:

1. It's based on the LAST generation of the Honda Civic (the one sold from 2012 - 2015), and it has been around since 2013 with a few moderate updates here and there, but nothing substantial.  

2.  Over the years, it has gained several touches that make it more of a true Acura and less of a glorified Civic of yesteryear, such as:

-- The 2.4L four-banger and 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission from the one-size-up TLX.

-- LED headlights and taillights, and the corporate gaping Acura schnoz.  

-- An upgraded infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

-- Outstandingly comfortable leather seats shared with other Acura products, and not with the Civic.  They're even upholstered in a stunning espresso color on the car I'm driving.  

3.  However, in some ways, its last-generation roots are still obvious:

-- The adaptive cruise control cuts out at about 25 mph, and will not slow the car to a stop as it will on other Acuras, or even the current Honda Civic and Accord.  Mildly annoying.  

-- The rearview camera's guidelines don't rotate with the steering wheel unless you upgrade to the Technology Package, and there's a grainy-ness to the camera's display at night.  

-- The steering wheel is shared with none of the current Acura lineup, and as such, it struggles ergonomically with the placement of the many buttons that have been added over the years for features that the original car lacked.  

-- It still has a mechanical handbrake, which I love, but which is odd given that no other vehicle in the Honda/Acura portfolio has one.  It also lacks the "brake hold" function of those cars, which holds the car at a stoplight without requiring pressure on the brake pedal.    

And here's now it functions and drives in the real world, as well as my take on whether it's worth it's approximately $28,000 asking price (which also buys a fully loaded Civic or a nearly loaded Accord, but undercuts probably every other offering from a premium brand).   

1.  The seats are excellent.  They're definitely better than the chairs in the Civic and no worse than those in the Accord.  And the espresso leather is classier than the leather on either of those cars.  

2.  That said, I'd like some more premium interior trim to accompany the stunning leather.  Some wood trim would class it up a bit, and it'd be nice if the memory seat buttons on the driver's door didn't look like an afterthought.  A sliding center console armrest would also be quite nice.   

3.  Even though it only has a four-cylinder motor without a turbocharger, the car is very responsive and the power is delivered in a linear fashion.  And while I'm still bitter that the ILX no longer offers a true stick shift, the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (physically, it's a manual, but the clutches are automated, so you don't really lose the performance or efficiency advantages of a manual)  is exceptional.  It shifts instantaneously and smoothly, and always keeps the engine in its powerband.  Unlike my 2019 VW Golf Alltrack with its 1.8 liter turbo four, the ILX doesn't run out of steam after you pass 4,000 or so RPM.  It's refreshing.  

4.  The LED headlights are excellent, but not as good as those on my Alltrack, and they don't swivel with the steering like they do on my Alltrack.  At night, swiveling headlights are one of those features that I don't know how I survived without for so many years.  

5.  Ride and handling are very good, and the car is very snappy and fun to drive.  It's also quiet at speed (noticeably more so than the Civic, slightly more so than an Accord, and comparable to my Alltrack).  That said, the car isn't quite as planted as any of the aforementioned cars, due to being built on the LAST generation Civic's platform).  It also understeers (resists hard cornering) noticeably more than my 2003 CL (thanks to the CL's limited-slip differential, which overdrives the outside front wheel when cornering) and my 2019 Alltrack (thanks to the Alltrack's trick all-wheel-drive system, which I believe can do similar tricks with its rear wheels).  

6.  The driver-assist features work well overall (adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, etc.).  That said, it's disappointing that the car can't slow itself to a stop, which the current Civic, Accord, and everything else in Acura's lineup can do (except maybe the NSX supercar).  If the car had a stick shift, I'd understand it (my Alltrack, with its six-speed stick, has very good adaptive cruise), but on an automatic car, it makes no sense for the adaptive cruise not to function at all speeds.  

7.   The back seat is comparable to that in a Civic, and is nicely finished with the same espresso leather as the front seats, but it's not somewhere my six-foot self would want to ride for any length of time.  If you want to carry more than two adults for more than a minimal amount of time, the Accord is the only car I've referenced in this post that I'd recommend for that purpose (yes, even my VW Alltrack wagon has a fairly small back seat).  

8.  The stereo on the car I'm driving is the mid-level unit out of the three options on the ILX.  It has seven speakers, including a subwoofer, and 360 watts (I think).  It's at least as good as the TOP system in a Civic or Accord, and it's also at least as good as the base systems in several more expensive luxury cars.  It puts out solid bass, has good separation, and is quite powerful.   That said, it does give up a little clarity and cohesiveness to the Fender system in my Alltrack, the Bose system in my 2003 CL, and the 10-speaker ELS surround system that my previous 2012 Acura TL had (and which is offered as the top system on the ILX  with the available Technology package).  If you're an audiophile, I'd strongly recommend getting the Technology package; the ELS audio system is out of this world.  If you're not, you'll probably be fine with this system.  

9.  The ILX has Apple CarPlay, but it cannot be controlled by the touchscreen.  I thought this would be a problem at first, as I have come to love being able to control CarPlay with the touchscreen on my Alltrack.   That said, the center knob interface is very well-designed.  I could very easily control CarPlay using the knob and back button on the center stack.  And honestly, mounting the CarPlay info higher up on the dash makes it easier to safely use while driving.  

Now, let's talk value.  For the same money as this ILX, you could get a fully loaded Civic or a nearly loaded Accord.  You'd get newer tech (full-speed adaptive cruise, a better backup camera, a more modern infotainment system with touchscreen CarPlay, a more up-to-date gauge cluster that can show more data), better fuel economy (due to those cars' turbo motors and CVTs), slightly better ride and handling (due to those cars' more modern platforms), and more features and amenities in some cases (particularly with the Civic -- rain-sensing wipers, heated REAR seats, etc.).  

However, this Acura does offer some things that neither Honda does, such as a slightly quieter driving experience, nicer interior materials in many cases (particularly the leather seats, though the fake wood trim on the Accord looks more luxurious than the Acura's black plastic), more linear power delivery, a more responsive transmission, slightly better audio, and a longer warranty and a superior dealer experience.    That, and the ILX does come with the prestige inherent in being an Acura instead of a Honda.  

Back in 2013 when it first came out, the ILX was little more than a glorified Honda Civic of its time.  However, seven years (and a newer Civic) later, the ILX has been updated enough to make it feel far more like a true Acura.  It can't hide ALL of its Civic roots, or all of its "last-generation" baggage, but it does enough of the "Acura" things right that it should ABSOLUTELY be considered by anyone currently looking at a new Civic or Accord.  Unless, of course, a manual transmission is a must-have feature, as it is with me, which is why, despite how much I enjoy driving the ILX, I look forward to getting my 2003 CL back with new oil!