Acura's least expensive sedan, the ILX, gets luxurious upgrades, improved performance

Acura's least expensive sedan, the ILX, has luxurious upgrades for 2016, including a quieter interior, a handsome LED-accented exterior and improved performance — all at a reasonable price.

In fact, pricing is so aggressive that a 2016 ILX with a full suite of the latest safety technologies, such as collision mitigation warning and braking, lane-keeping assist and road departure mitigation, barely breaks the $30,000 mark with destination charge included.

Good luck finding all those features in a Mercedes, Audi or BMW sedan for that price.

The nicely sized and scaled compact ILX also has revised suspension and an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission for the first time. And it now comes with only one four-cylinder engine — a naturally aspirated 201-horsepower unit with 10 more foot-pounds of torque than last year's most powerful four-cylinder ILX engine.

Other major changes: The ILX gasoline-electric hybrid model is gone, as is the ILX manual transmission.

Still, for 2016, the ILX ranks second best in fuel economy among gasoline-powered non-hybrid premium/luxury sedans in the U.S.

The federal government rates the new ILX at 25 mpg in city driving and 36 mpg on highways. The test-driven ILX beat the government's average for combined city/highway driving and averaged a commendable 30 mpg.

Premium gas is recommended.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a 2016 ILX, including the destination charge, is $28,820. All ILX models come with six air bags, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, a multi-view rear camera, heated front seats, dual climate control, a power moonroof, an eight-way power driver's seat and other safety and convenience equipment.

The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2016 ILX with the AcuraWatch Plus package of collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and other electronic safety features is $30,120.

The top 2016 ILX, priced at $35,810, adds 18-inch wheels, sport seats, fog lights, a rear decklid spoiler and aluminum sport pedals. Its technology package includes a navigation system with voice recognition, a 10-speaker surround sound system that provides the clarity and richness like that in a music studio, and the newest-generation cloud-based AcuraLink connectivity system with real-time traffic monitoring, among other things.

The test-driven car was the top-of-the-line ILX and felt lively compared with the previous ILX.

The sole ILX engine for 2016 — a 2.4-liter double-overhead cam four-cylinder that's also in Acura's pricier TLX sedan — generated strong power as torque peaks at 180 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm. There was no turbo lag in the power delivery because the ILX engine is naturally aspirated and direct-injected.

The ILX isn't a raging speedster, and its 0-to-60-mph time has been reported at 6.9 seconds.

But this ILX time is better than the 7.2 seconds reported by Audi for its base A3 sedan with a turbo four-cylinder engine. The ILX time also ties the 6.9 seconds that Mercedes says its base CLA250 with a turbo four-cylinder takes to get to 60 mph.

The tested front-wheel drive ILX performed well even on twisting mountain roads, where the driver put it in "Sport" mode rather than regular "Drive."

Sport mode changes the transmission mapping so that it's more aggressive and tuned for driving in higher engine rev ranges.

The ILX attacked the uphill segments in the mountains. The newfangled transmission matched downshift revs automatically, and the engine worked happily in the high revs.

The dual-clutch transmission has a torque converter, which isn't always part of dual-clutch transmissions, so standing-start launches of the ILX were quick.

The front-wheel drive ILX held tenaciously to its line in the curves and had an agile personality. The car felt more balanced than before, and the ride was firm, yet comfortable for daily commutes.

The ILX's electric power steering has also been updated. Its numb on-center feel has been reduced and steering feels heavier and better suited to the car's livelier character.

Some road noise on rough pavement intruded into the passenger cabin from the tested car's 18-inch all-season tires. But it was far less than in an earlier-model ILX that didn't have as much insulation and sound deadening as the 2016 version.

Wind noise was scarcely noticed.

Larger brakes in the 2016 ILX slowed and stopped the car quickly.

The 2016 ILX received five-out-of-five stars overall in federal government crash testing.

One note: Some ILX models come with two display screens, one stacked atop the other. Critics complain the screens are confusing, but once a driver gets used to them, the confusion often disappears.