As Canadian as maple syrup, the Acura EL is a premium compact based on the Honda Civic and available north of the 49th parallel only. Although it shares Civic’s underpinnings, its upscale interior appointments give buyers a chance to move up to Acura for relatively low dollars.

The EL’s 4-cylinder 1.7-litre engine is borrowed from the top-of-the-line Civic Si, and it makes 127 hp to the more pedestrian 115 hp that comes with the Civic’s lower lines. A $1,400 difference separates the EL’s base price from the Civic Si, covering such add-ons as four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, side air bags, six speakers instead of four, and fog lights.

New for 2005 are a power moonroof on both trim models, and a new interior wood trim colour on Premium. Both models come with a 5-speed manual transmission that can be upgraded to a 4-speed automatic.

The EL Touring comes very generously equipped, including 15-inch, 7-spoke alloy wheels, fabric interior, leather-wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning, power windows and locks, and power heated mirrors.

The EL Premium adds 15-spoke 15-inch wheels, leather-trimmed interior and heated front seats.

Like the Honda Civic, the EL is fun to drive while retaining the practicality of four doors and decent fuel economy, while offering the superb fit-and-finish and upscale refinements of the Acura brand. Its 15-inch rims may seem miserly compared to the larger diameters other automakers are using to fill their wheel wells, but even an inch can translate to a huge price difference when buying replacement tires.

Still, the EL’s horsepower-to-dollars ratio falls short in the marketplace. Although it’s not a truly fair comparison, since they lack the EL’s convenience features and interior quality, the Chevrolet Cobalt makes 145 hp for $15,495; the Dodge SX 2.0 produces 132 hp for $15,605; and the Toyota Corolla dishes up 130 hp for $15,490. Acura would do well to up the go to the show.

That said, the EL provides a starting point for buyers who want to move into the Japanese “big three” luxury marques: the least expensive Lexus is $37,990, while it takes $39,900 to step into Infiniti. Acura has priced this model to appeal to those who prefer an “A” to an “H” on their trunk lid, or to tap into the lucrative tuner-car market, where Acura commands slightly more “street cred” over its Honda sibling.

The Acura EL is manufactured in Alliston, Ontario.

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