Remember when Acura first launched?
It may seem common now, but Honda was the first Japanese brand to bring in a luxury line – setting the path for Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti. Mazda was dangerously close to bringing in the Amati line…but backed out.
Still we owe props to Acura for being first, and the two first products, the Legend and the Integra were excellent, with all the Honda goodness, plus a nice layer of premium added on top.
And now we have the entirely freshened ILX A-Spec, Acura’s most affordable entry.
The ILX A-spec has been to the gym, and it’s put on some solid visual muscle, along with some changes that bring it into the modern Acura mold.
The 2019 puts on great first impression – it’s all-new from the A-pillars forward. There’s the corporate Diamond Pentagon grille, aggressive looking 7-element Jewel Eye LED headlights and a sculpted hood that’s really apparent when you’re behind the wheel. Out back, a new decklid fascia, LED taillight and lower diffuser with exposed exhaust finisher give a tough look. Standard on ILX models is also a new 17-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheel.
These alone make for a much more handsome package, but the A-Spec is where it’s at. LED fogs, more sculpted side skirts and a rear spoiler make for one mean looking ILX. The icing on the cake was our tester’s Platinum White Pearl.
Crouched over unique Shark Gray 18-inch wheels, it made our A-Spec look ready for some serious driving.
Bold and Beautiful
Inside, the A-Spec feels and special. Our tester’s Red leather is a classic combo with the white exterior, and the black Ultrasuede center and contrast stitching really pop. There’s a nice chunky leather-wrapped A-Spec badged steering wheel, paddle shifters, and aluminum sport pedals. A graphite silver dash accent with chrome insert adds a little bling.
The materials feel high quality. We’re kind of amazed how much more upscale the ILX is over the previous-gen Civic it’s based on. Occasionally you find some hard plastics, but they’re well hidden.
The all-new sports seats in the front are spacious and supportive. The rear seats are tight – adults will fit, but best for short jaunts. The trunk though, is surprisingly large – a bonus for those who think you need a hatch to have hot compact performance.
It’s a fine driver’s environment. You sit low and sporty, and the large speedo and tach are bright and clear – no digital nonsense. Between the gauges is a small display that gives typical info in a concise manner. Info-tainment controls are simple and intuitive.
There’s a dual-screen display that you find on other Acuras, and even though there is an improved 7-inch touchscreen, it seems smallish here, and the navigation graphics look like they’re beginning to show their age.
The workaround here are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which work great – and hey, if you’re messing around with the technology, you’re missing the point of the A-Spec.
So, what’s the point of the A-Spec?
Driving fun. The A-Spec fits in that special group that always puts a smile on your face, like the Mazda Miata and the VW GTI.
While turbo is the word again for performance, the ILX reminds us how well Honda builds normally-aspirated engines. Under that curvaceous hood are 2.4-liters of four-cylinder goodness, pumping out a nice 201 horsepower. There’s a great exhaust on the A-Spec; a nice bark on startup and a lovely tenor voice as you wind it out. 180-lb feet of torque is plenty for a small car, and the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic does what DCT’s do best, with crisp, fast shifts that help keep the power on tap.
Sport Mode is a tug back on the transmission lever, and it makes a notable difference, feeling more aggressive through the throttle response and popping off shifts while keeping rpm higher up – all the better to enjoy that meaty little four cylinder.
The handling is excellent too, with good heft and precision in the steering, and a ride that’s firm, but not harsh – even on the 18-inch wheels. It feels very GTI-like, with beautifully-balanced performance in all directions. A complete sport sedan.
You also feel well looked after, too. For 2019, every ILX comes standard with the AcuraWatch suite of active safety and driver-assistive technology, including Collision Mitigation Braking System with Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Road Departure Mitigation with Lane Departure Warning.
A Big Bang for the Buck
The ILX starts with exciting news, the base price was dropped $2,200 over last year. And that model is a compelling product at $25,900. You get the mechanical goodness of our A-Spec, and loads of features, including keyless entry, dual zone climate control, power driver’s seat, moonroof and more.
Stepping up to the Premium will cost you $27,650, and includes extras like leather seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Sirius XM radio, 8-inch center display, memory seats, premium audio system and more. The ILX Technology starts at $29,550, and adds navigation, an even more premium audio system, real-time traffic info and rerouting, and a color Multi-Information Display.
The A-spec model is actually a package offered on either the Premium model at $29,650, or like our tester, on the Technology model, carrying a sticker of $31,550. Add in the $995 Destination fee, and our tester totaled $32,445.
Being an entry-level premium brand means competition from luxury and non-luxury nameplates. A Comparable Honda Civic Touring comes in at $28,900. A nice car, and larger for sure, but less sporty and the Civic CVT transmission can’t come close to the ILX DCT.
A Civic Type R is a close $36,620 – if you can find one at that price! An awesome car, but really for the most dedicated performance purist.
We feel that the VW GTI is more the ILX’s spiritual adversary, and comparably-equipped it comes in at $37,990. The new Mercedes A-Class looks pretty sweet, but you’ll pay the price for being first on the block – comparable to the ILX, it rang in at $41,100. So, consider the Acura an excellent buy.
The 2019 Acura ILX A-Spec is a delightful blend of awesome looks, immense driving fun, excellent comfort and value. And did we mention fun?
The latest update to the current Acura brand, it reminds us why we loved Acura so much in the first place.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.