Acura ILX review

Meet the slightly more sophisticated Honda Civic

Acura ILX

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Acura teams up with Panasonic for the ILX ELS Studio Premium audio system. The premium sound system is tuned with the golden ears of Elliot Scheiner, who has won a few Grammy's. The ELS Studio Premium audio system promises to recreate music the way you'd hear it in a recording studio.

The ILX implementation features 10 speakers with six discrete channels. Each door has a mid-range speaker, the front doors have tweeters, a mid-range center-channel is in the dash while two surround speakers and an 8-inch subwoofer is in the rear deck.

Acura ILX

DTS Neural Surround rounds out the ELS sound system to create surround sound from all audio sources. Overall, the ELS Studio Premium audio system has a neutral tonality to it. The highs are crisp and the mid-range is smooth. There's very little thump in the bass department, but that's expected from studio sound.

I'm not fond of the ELS sound signature, since I prefer a heartier kick in the bass department. The relaxed sound from the ELS system complements classical music, but I enjoy EDM, hip-hop and the occasional Meghan Trainor who's all about that … you know.

Driver assists

Acura makes the ILX available with the full AcuraWatch Plus driver assist suite, which includes adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane keep assist (LKAS) and automatic emergency braking (AEB). The ACC system in the ILX only works at speeds of 19 mph and above, and not the full speed range – like the new Honda Civic – or 5 mph and above, like the Hyundai Elantra.

The limitation of the ACC in a supposedly premium vehicle doesn't sit well with me, especially when it's mainstream cousin has a better system. Acura is charging more money for the ILX than Honda is for the Civic, and to have inferior technology in a segment that promotes bleeding-edge technology makes it a hard sell.

Limitations aside, the ACC is downright scary to use on highways with traffic lights. I had a lot of close calls where the system continued to maintain speed or aggressively accelerate to get to the set speed, when traffic was at a stop ahead, only to essentially hard brake to slow the car down at the last minute. This happens in all of the distance settings.

I can't say that it's a fluke with the ILX, because I've had the same experience in other Acura's, like the RLX and MDX. The ACC in the ILX is definitely better suited for highway cruising than driving in traffic, unfortunately.

LKAS in the Acura ILX can help steer the car on straight and slightly curved roads to keep it within the lane markers. The system only works at speeds above 40 mph and needs to be turned on every time you start the car. The Mercedes-Benz Distronic Plus system, on the other hand, automatically turns on every time.

My experience with the LKAS is much more promising than ACC. The car doesn't have trouble staying within the lanes on the highway, but it gets angry if it detects there's no driver steering input. After three audible and visual warnings, LKAS automatically disables until you shut the car off and start it back up again.

I imagine the warnings are a precaution to keep Acura out of legal trouble, in case someone tries to rely solely on the technology and get into an accident.

After experiencing the ILX ACC and LKAS system, I understand why George Hotz's hacked, self-driving ILX is meant mostly for highway cruising only. The system doesn't work at speeds below 40 mph, so no amount of hacking can make it self-driving where it's needed the most: stop and go traffic.

Acura names it's AEB system the collision mitigation braking system (CMBS), but it's the same thing. The ILX flashes a large "BRAKE" warning in the gauge cluster LCD with accompanying beeps if it thinks you should be braking. I managed to trigger the warning a few times, and found it more distracting than useful, since I have to glance down at the gauge cluster.

I prefer implementations that incorporate a bright flashing LED on top of the dash that projects bright warning flashes on the windshield to get my attention. Now, if the system detects that you don't react, it can automatically apply the brakes to slow down or even stop the car. I never let AEB fully take over control, as it would be reckless of me on public streets, so I have to assume it works as advertised.

Acura ILX

The Acura ILX tester had a blind spot monitor that works at speeds above 20 mph. It's a standard system with a warning indicator in the side mirrors that shows a single flash when there's another car entering the blind spot, and constant flashes with an audible warning if you put on the turn signal.

It's a non-intrusive system that works well without any annoyances, unlike ACC and LKAS.