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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Now into its third year since a complete re-design in 2001, Acura’s entry-level subcompact sedan, the EL has received minor updating for 2003. New features include standard anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD), a new console design with centre arm rest and storage, and a new gauge design with white illumination. The front seats have been redesigned and rear outboard adjustable head rests have been installed. The base Touring model gets new seat fabric while the upscale Premium model receives automatic climate control.
Built along side the Civic sedan at Honda’s Alliston, Ontario plant, the Acura 1.7 EL is made in Canada for Canada. It is not sold anywhere else.
Although based on the Civic, the Acura EL has slightly different styling and is a bit more luxurious and powerful than its Honda sibling. The EL offers a number of features not available on the Civic including side air bags, wood grain interior trim, available climate control and optional leather seating surfaces.
The EL uses Honda’s 1.7 litre four cylinder engine with variable valve timing and lift. The engine produces 127 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m. and 114 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 r.p.m. This is the same engine found in the Civic Coupe Si (Civic sedans have a 115 hp/110 ft.-lb of torque version of the 1.7 litre inline four). It is a bit ‘buzzy’ under hard acceleration, but at highway speeds and normal driving, the engine, and as a result the cabin, are very quiet.
With scheduled oil changes at 8,000 kilometres, coolant changes at 96,000 km and platinum tip spark plugs with a 176,000 km life, the 1.7 litre is a low maintenance engine.
My tester, an Acura 1.7 EL Touring model came equipped with the standard 5-speed transmission. An automatic is available for an additional $1000.
This is an easy shifting manual transmission, which combined with a light clutch and near perfect take up makes around town driving a pleasure. The new centre arm rest is a perfect height and does not interfere with shifting.
For the 2003 model year, Acura has also made changes to the suspension and steering, perhaps in response to feedback that the previous suspension setup was a bit firm for a luxury car. While the 2003 EL’s ride is indeed comfortable, it is also a bit too soft, displaying a tendency to bounce over bumps. The EL handles well, but with a bit more body roll than necessary, due probably to the softened suspension.
The EL’s new front seats add to the comfort, providing plenty of support. The new fabric has a rich look and feel. Luxury touches inside the cabin include wood grain trim on the dash, console and doors, chromed door handles, lock buttons and vent handles, and leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob. The new gauges are bright and easy to read, day and night. Even the odometer and trip metre are displayed in large white numerals.
Rear seating is limited to two adults or three small children, but leg room is ample for a sub-compact. The EL offers good storage space with 365 litres (12.9 cubic feet) of trunk space and split folding rear seats to allow flexible cargo and passenger carrying capability. Both the folding rear seats and the floor-mounted release for the trunk and the gas cap are lockable for added security.
With anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, side air bags as well as dual front air bags, the EL offers excellent standard safety features. Although crash test information is not available for the Acura EL, the Honda Civic sedan received a top five star rating for frontal impacts and four stars for both front and rear passengers in a side impact from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Acura EL is a comfortable highway cruiser and a nimble around town driver, easy to park and easy at the gas pump. For fuel conscious consumers who want a bit of luxury, the Acura EL offers the perfect combination of upscale touches and economy car fuel efficiency.
Technical Data: 2003 Acura 1.7EL Touring
|Base price (Touring)||$22,000|
|Price as tested||$22,900|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact luxury sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.7 litre, SOHC with variable valve timing and lift|
|Horsepower||127 at 6,300 r.p.m.|
|Torque||114 lb.-ft. at 4,800 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||5-speed manual or opt. 4-speed automatic|
|Curb weight||1182 kg (2606 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2620 mm (103.1 in.)|
|Length||4485 mm (186.6 in.)|
|Width||1715 mm (67.5 in.)|
|Height||1440 mm (56.7 in.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 7.8 l/100 km (36 mpg)|
|Hwy: 6.1 L/100km (46 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|
|24-hour roadside assistance||3 years/no distance limit|