Acura always held an odd spot in the auto world – the Honda luxury sub brand was a step up from its mainstream cars, but not quite on the same level of refinement and performance as rivals Lexus or Infiniti. Aside from the legendary NSX sports car, every Acura in history starts out as a front-wheel drive (FWD) car based off a Honda platform.
Sure, some models offer all-wheel drive, but they're mostly FWD cars. That brings me to today's vehicle, the 2016 ILX that Acura sent techradar for review.
Acura released the ILX as a 2013 model year vehicle and, for the first time since the discontinuation of the Integra sedan in 2001, the brand finally had a compact vehicle in the US, again. Initial reactions to the Civic-based compact were disappointing. I spent some time in the 2013 ILX and was not impressed. The interior used low quality materials and it didn't offer much over a fully-loaded Honda Civic – all at a higher price.
However, Acura went back to the drawing board and substantially updated the 2016 ILX with more premium interior materials, driver assist features and LED lights. The ILX Acura sent to techradar for review is the top-of-the-line Technology Plus and A-SPEC package configuration that carries an MSRP of $35,830 (the car isn't available outside of North America).
The exterior updates for the 2016 refresh, while minor in the grand scheme of things, alter the looks for the better. The former projector beam headlights were replaced with Acura's Jewel Eye LEDs, which use three bright LEDs for the low-beam and two for the high beams. The tail lights are LEDs, too.
I'm impressed by the sculpted exterior, with its subtle creases and curves. The wheels are stylish, with black accents and a silver face – the look reminds me of fan blades. All combined, the exterior updates give the car a sophisticated look, but that's where the likable bits of the car end.
Step inside, and you're treated to a comfortable pair of sport seats with excellent side bolster support. The seats hug my 5-foot-7-inch and 195-pound frame, while the adjustable lumbar provides comfort for my lower back.
Acura splits up the dashboard with a thick strip of silver trim that brightens up the all-black interior. The surfaces above the silver trim are soft-touch and feel softer than the typical economy car. That's where the premium quality ends. Everything below the silver trim is hard plastic befitting of an economy car, unfortunately.
It's not surprising to see better quality materials on frequently-touched surfaces, given the premium pedigree of the Acura brand. However, the car still feels more like a dressed-up Honda than a genuine luxury vehicle, given the cost savings on the interior.
Grab the leather steering wheel, and you'll notice it's not heated, which seems ridiculous when the mainstream Kia Optima includes it as standard equipment on the mid-level EX trim for $10,000 less.
Look forward, and you see the analog gauge cluster with an LCD sandwiched between. The LCD provides trip information, access to vehicle settings, turn-by-turn navigation, music information and a visual representation of the available driver assists.
Overall, the Acura ILX interior is nicely laid out, using buttons and knobs for frequently accessed features, like the climate control and some infotainment functions. Sadly, the latter is exactly where things take a turn for the worse.
The Acura ILX infotainment system is at the top of my list for one of the worse systems installed in a modern car. It's a dual display system with an 8-inch LCD mounted high and center as the primary display, and a 7-inch On-Demand Multi-use Display (ODMD) is located below for control functions.
The ODMD features capacitive multi-touch technology with haptic feedback, but it's still terrible. It has a frustratingly over-complicated user interface that involves a touchscreen with dynamic functionality, depending on what you're doing, and a physical control knob that controls the top screen.
The system features HD Radio, SiriusXM, a single USB port, Aha radio and Pandora connectivity, Siri Eyes-Free and navigation with real-time traffic information, which is typical of all new cars. I'm not sure how the user interface made it past usability testing, or who approved it for production, but it's not an easy system to get accustomed to.
By the end of my time with the Acura ILX, I simply gave up on trying to use the system for anything other than music. My problem with the ILX infotainment system isn't limited to any particular function, it's just painfully annoying to use.
The top display can show navigation, music information and phone information, while the lower ODMD changes its function by music source, and occasionally displays an onscreen keyboard for navigation input. If I'm listening to SiriusXM, the ODMD shows six music presets and the ability to tune to any station. But, if I want to view the stations by category or scroll quickly through the stations, I have to press the physical audio button located below the ODMD and use the control knob and the top display.
Things get more complicated when you're trying to input navigation instructions, too. You have to press the NAV button below the ODMD to bring up the navigation functions on the top display, then navigate the menus using the control knob while the touch screen continues to show music controls.
If you want to search for an address or point of interest, you're presented with two methods of input: the control knob or an on-screen keyboard. Neither methods are available if the vehicle is moving, of course.
During my time with the ILX, I never had an enlightening moment wherein I thought the infotainment system made sense. Rather, I imagined it was a cruel joke played by sadistic Acura engineers. The entire infotainment system needs to be disposed of because of how clunky it is to use, unless you enjoy self-torture through technology.
I don't particularly enjoy torturing myself on a daily basis, especially not for 36 grand.
The sad thing is, the earlier ILX with a single screen and control knob was much easier to use, and this refreshed 2016 model takes the infotainment system a step backward. It's as if the Acura engineers took advice from Xzibit to make the ILX more appealing to which he said, "Yo, I heard dudes like screens, so…".