Canadian-only Acura Offers Good Value
1.7 EL Basically a Bargain
By Jim Bray
Acuras 2001 1.7 EL is a marvelous bargain that makes luxury and performance
almost as affordable as a garden variety Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.
Thats the good news.
The bad news is that, unless youre a Canadian, you cant get this
snazzy set of wheels.
Unfortunate? You bet! Thats because, for the comparatively affordable
price of $23,500 Canadian (or about $59.95US - okay, Im kidding, it would
be closer to $19,000 US, which is part of what makes it such a bargain for
Canucks) you get Hondas marvelous VTEC engine technology coupled
with just about all the creature comforts you could want.
Based on the Honda Civic sedan, the Acura EL has been available in Canada
for a few years now, but the 2001 model (as is the 2001 Civic) is an all new
incarnation. It gets its power from an aluminum alloy, 1.7 liter SOHC 16-Valve
VTEC Engine that cranks out a decent 127 horsepower @ 6300 RPM and 114 pound
feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. Those arent heady numbers, of course, but
having driven the EL for a week I can safely say it has all the power and torque
you need in a car of this ilk - and in fact it goes like heck! This silky smooth,
high revving engine also comes with Multi-point Programmed Fuel Injection (PCM-F).
My tester, thankfully, came with the standard 5 speed manual transmission
and its a real pleasure to shift at any point in the revs, but if you
let the VTEC kick in at the higher revs your shifts will be a lot more fun.
The only option, for $1000 Canadian, is a four speed automatic that, while
undoubtedly a fine slushbox, will undoubtedly take a lot of the fun-to-drive
quotient out of the package.
The ELs front suspension consists of MacPherson struts with stabilizer
bar. This is the same configuration that caused some media angst when it appeared
on the 2001 Civic because it replaces the supposedly superior double-wishbone
of the previous model. Maybe it is inferior, but in the real world it doesnt
matter a whit: this car handles surprisingly well for whats basically
a gussied up Civic.
The rear suspension is independent double-wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer
bar, and the shocks are hydraulic gas pressurized all around.
Handling is also helped by the ELs Variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion
steering and a good set of all-season, 185/65 R15 tires.
Okay, that covers the "go" part of the equation. The "stop" part
is accomplished by four wheel disc brakes (the fronts are ventilated as well)
equipped with an anti-lock system. Stops are firm and straight and comfortable.
Inside the Acura EL is an all leather and plastic (the plastic, includes the "wood" accents,
which are actually quite handsome) interior thats very comfortable. The
heated drivers seat (the passenger seat is also heated) is very
comfortable and offers good support - including good lateral support for when
you take the car onto those delicious twisty bits of road. Pedal feel is first
rate, as is their placement, and Honda has stuck a drivers left foot
rest in the perfect place for the length of my legs.
Both front seats offer plenty of room and the back seats will hold three in
a pinch, and even the unlucky soul who gets stuck in the center of the rear
will have a better time of it because theres no "transmission tunnel" hump
to intrude on the interior space. The rear seat also splits 60/40 and folds
down to offer extended storage for the already-large trunk.
Creature comforts abound, with a few small and relatively unimportant exceptions.
You get CFC free air conditioning with a micron air filtration system, a power
moon roof, and a 120 watt AM/FM/CD stereo system with four speakers. The audio
system quality is fine, though not outstanding - and heres where one
of those small omissions come in: there are no stereo controls on the steering
wheel (you only get cruise control buttons).
Another slight oversight is the placement of the front cup holders: theyre
forward of the gear shift, which means you have to reach for them and possibly
take your eyes off the road. I would have preferred to see them farther back,
more in the area occupied by the hand brake. Not only that, but the fake wood
cup holder cover (a nice touch thatll keep grunge out of the depressions)
didnt fit quite as well as it should, either: it appeared to be ever
so slightly warped so that one corner of it stuck up a bit. This was the only
fit and finish complaint and it's pretty nit picky.
Other minor complaints were the positioning of the drivers seat armrest,
which I thought got in the way of operating the gear shift to a certain extent.
This is easily fixable, however, by folding the armrest up. Then theres
the air conditioning control: when you put the heating/ventilation system onto
the defrost/defog settings, the air conditioning automatically comes on, which
is a really nice touch. Unfortunately, it stays on when you switch back from
defrost/defog (Hyundai's Santa fe, on the other hand, takes care of this automatically)
- and I noticed a slight decrease in oomph when accelerating while the a/c
is activated, which manifested itself mostly as a slight hesitation as the
revs passed through the area of 3000 rpm.
Still, if these are the most major complaints I could find, and they were,
this must be a pretty spiffy set of wheels!
And it is.
You also get Power Windows with Drivers One-Touch Auto-Down, power door
locks with a keyless entry system, lighted interior switches, time delayed
fading interior lights, and a tilt steering wheel. Instrumentation includes
everything you need, including a tachometer, and its well laid out and
easy to read.
On the outside, Acura fits the EL with body colored bumpers, side moldings
and door handles, front splash guards and heated mirrors. You also get a nice,
and non-tacky, set of alloy wheels and, in Honda tradition, the radio antenna
is built into the rear window. This latter is an interesting point and shows
Honda/Acuras attention to detail: the antenna works fine, and the fact
that its in the rear window, rather than the front windshield, means
itll be cheaper to replace the front windshield if necessary.
Safety features include the abovementioned ABS, as well as driver and front
passenger air bags and dual threshold side air bags with front passenger seat
occupant size and position sensors. Theres also a built in security system.
In all, the Acura 1.7 EL is a very nice car to drive and to live with. While
if I had the budget Id opt for something a tad more high end (like its
cousins, the TL or CL Type S), I wouldnt hesitate to pony up to the bank
manager to finance an EL. Since our primary personal car could be considered
comparable to this model, except that its nearly ten years old
now, the EL would make a fine replacement for it.
Oh, for those lucky readers who arent living in socialistic Canada,
you can get probably eighty to ninety per cent of the Acura EL by opting for
the top of the line Honda Civic sedan EX.