By Derek Price
Buying your first luxury car can’t be an easy decision.
Older buyers, with either high incomes or big nest eggs saved up, might not care about depreciation or the pricey cost of maintenance that can result from driving a full-blown luxury barge.
Younger buyers typically don’t have the, well, luxury of not caring about those expenses, though. They’re more focused on what they get for the money.
That’s got to be a major reason this car, the Acura ILX, is such a hit with buyers under age 35.
The ILX is the most popular car in its segment for millennial buyers, Acura says, which is no surprise when you think about it. Acura may not carry the same prestige and cachet of Mercedes-Benz, Audi or even Lexus, but it’s got a lock on bang-for-your-buck value.
When you need money left over for baby formula and fun vacations, that’s a big deal.
Acura is racking up awards for it, too. According to KBB.com, Honda’s luxury division has the lowest five-year cost of ownership of any luxury brand. Additionally, Edmunds.com recently awarded Acura for having the best retained value of any luxury marque.
What about substance, though?
My ILX tester checked off the right boxes for cars in this class, including adaptive cruise control, a full-feature digital interface and a nicely refined lane-keeping assist system that makes the car nearly autonomous for brief moments. As long as the lanes are well marked, it can smoothly apply steering input to keep the car centered on its own.
While I wouldn’t call it exhilarating, the ILX’s performance is very competent with strong acceleration, crisp handling and good grip in corners. Like most cars in this class, including the Lexus IS and Audi A3, the ILX emphasizes sportiness over buttery comfort.
From the driver’s perspective, its standout feature is a brilliantly engineered dual-clutch automatic transmission. Its shifts feel indescribably beautiful — faster and more tactile than ordinary automatics, and smoother than the clunky dual-clutch units fitted to some of its German competitors. I’d almost recommend this car on the strength of its transmission alone, but I realize not everyone is so nerdy about such things.
The interior still benefits from a 2016 upgrade that emphasized its sporty demeanor. Aluminum trim and eye-catching, European-style stitching give it an athletic look inside, a good match for its firm, supportive seats.
Outside, the ILX is handsome but not too flashy. While this car looked more comparatively aggressive when it was first introduced, recent out-of-the-box styling overhauls by Lexus and Infiniti make it seem conservative in comparison this year.
It looks nice, but it’s not the kind of car you’d buy if you’re begging for attention.
My tester came with the A-Spec trim package, giving it Acura’s most aggressive look on this car. Black seat trim, a black headliner, contrasting gray stitching, red lights on the instruments and pedals made of aluminum help to set it apart.
I do hope Acura can come up with an even more eye-catching ILX A-Spec look for the future, though, more akin to the one on the 2018 TLX I drove a few weeks ago. The new TLX’s A-Spec makes the ILX’s version look subtle.
To keep the interior quieter, every ILX comes standard with Active Noise Control. It “helps eliminate low-decibel booming noise entering the cabin,” Acura claims, while allowing the engine’s sound to resonate nicely at higher RPMs when the driver wants to have some fun.
I thought the system did its job well. On the highway, while it’s not the quietest car in this class, the ILX is perfectly pleasant and more silent than anything I can recall from its Honda cousins. And when you wind up the 2.4-liter engine, it lets out a pleasing wail as it approaches its peak output of 201 horsepower.
Pricing starts at $27,990 and tops out at $34,980 when you opt for both the Technology Plus and A-Spec appearance packages.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec ($34,980). Options: None. Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $35,920
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 181.9 in.
Width: 70.6 in.
Height: 55.6 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (201 hp, 180 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 35 highway
Why buy it?
It’s a lot of car for the money, especially when you factor in its strong resale value. Its dual-clutch automatic is one of the best transmissions in the world.