2004 Acura EL Touring
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

The idea of a small luxury car built exclusively for the Canadian market in Canada was a fairly bold move back in 1996 – even for Honda. But almost nine years later, the Acura EL is still one of Acura’s most popular models.

It helps to start off with a winning platform. The EL is based on the Civic sedan, but has different exterior styling and interior trim, more luxury features like automatic climate control and optional leather upholstery, standard side airbags, and standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS. It also uses the 127 horsepower 4 cylinder VTEC engine that’s only available on the Civic Si sedan and Civic Si Coupe.

Starting at $22,200 for the EL Touring model with a five speed manual transmission, the EL is $700 more than a top-of-the-line Civic Si sedan which doesn’t have rear disc brakes, automatic climate control or side airbags – but does have a standard moonroof.

An optional 4-speed automatic transmission adds $1,000 to the price bringing an EL Touring AT model up to $23,200. The EL Premium model goes for $24,200 with the manual transmission and $25,200 with the automatic. Premium models add leather seats, heated front seats, and a power moonroof as standard.

New for 2004

Acura made a few changes to the 2004 model – new headlamps, bumper and grille give it a sportier look, as do the restyled taillights, trunklid and rear bumper. Wider P195/60R15 Bridgestone Potenza all-season performance tires and new 15-inch wheels were made standard. Automatic climate control was made standard on the Touring model, and front fog lamps became standard on all models. Other minor changes included a restyled steering wheel, new woodgrain trim patterns, and two additional speakers (tweeters) for the 6-speaker stereo.

Acura is also offering an “Aero package” this year that includes a lower front spoiler, side sills and rear spoiler. The EL Touring model with the Aero package is $23,500 and the Premium “Aero” is $25,500.

Interior impressions

2004 Acura EL Touring
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The interior has an expensive, luxury-car appearance. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard on all models and the dash plastics have a quality, textured appearance. The artificial wood print trim on the doors, dash and centre console of my test car had a swirling dark blue pattern which added some contrast to the black interior, and it’s also available in an orange hue – but not real wood? A tasteful use of chrome is found around the shift lever gate, gauges, door handles and parking brake lever. The three gauges (tachometer, speedo, coolant/fuel) are backlit in red, even in the daytime, for easy viewing.

2004 Acura EL Touring
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The EL’s front seats have beefy side and thigh bolsters – a bit of a surprise in a luxury car – and the driver’s seat includes a manual height adjustment via a round dial on the left side of the seat. Standard side airbags are built into the sides of the front seatbacks. The EL’s standard black fabric upholstery is soft to the touch, but I discovered after a week of use, that it quickly collects lint and dust – which unfortunately shows up well on the black fabric.

Like the Civic, the EL has three round dials for the climate control system stacked vertically within easy reach of the driver’s right hand. However, the EL includes standard automatic ventilation and fan speed control. Standard cruise control functions are found on the steering wheel hub where they can be operated with the right thumb. The standard 6-speaker, 120 watt AM/FM/CD player is mounted high on the centre control panel, and includes two new tweeters for 2004. A covered storage bin just below the stereo is a handy place to stack a few CDs. But I wonder why a 6-disc CD changer is not standard?

2004 Acura EL Touring

2004 Acura EL Touring

2004 Acura EL Touring

2004 Acura EL Touring
Click image to enlarge

Power door locks and power windows (with driver automatic down) are standard, but I noticed the rear windows don’t roll all the way down. A remote key fob, which unlocks the doors and the trunk, is also a standard feature on ELs. A 12 volt powerpoint is located on the lower centre console, and a flip-up lid reveals two cupholders. A handbrake lever shares precious real estate with a centre armrest/storage area, and as a result, the storage bin is rather narrow. There are door pockets in the front doors, but not the rear doors.

The rear seat, which is really only wide enough for two adults, has generous legroom, and the front seats are raised to allow extra-large shoes to fit under them easily. Headroom is also generous for adults, but note that ELs equipped with moonroofs have less headroom than ELs without moonroofs. Quibbles? There is no rear folding centre armrest and no rear cupholders – the latter a serious oversight for owners who have children. A map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat is the only storage area for rear passengers.

The 60/40 folding seatbacks are unlocked with the ignition key – by turning the key to the left, the left seatback is released, and by turning to the right, the right seatback is unlocked. Lockable seatbacks prevent thieves from breaking into the trunk from the cabin.

The trunk is large for a compact car – it has a wide opening, is fully lined, and can be opened with a remote unlock button on the key fob – however, there’s no keyhole in the trunk.

Standard safety features on the EL include 3-point seat belts at all five seating positions, four height adjustable head restraints, dual stage front airbags with a front passenger occupant out-of-position sensor, front side airbags in the front seats, front seat knee bolster, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and shoulder height adjustments, rear child seat anchors and rear child-proof door locks, ignition immobilizer and alarm.

As a Canadian-only car, the Acura EL has not been crash tested by U.S. safety organizations, but the popular Honda Civic, which is virtually identical, has. In 40 mph offset frontal crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Civic Sedan was rated a “Best Pick”, the best rating given. In the NHTSA 35 mph frontal crash test, the Civic with side airbags was given “5 stars”, and in the side impact crash test, it was given “4 stars”.

In Consumer Reports evaluation of the Civic Sedan EX (a U.S. model with the 127 horsepower engine), the car’s predicted reliability was ranked “excellent”, its owner satisfaction rating was “very good”, and its predicted resale value was ranked “very good”.

Driving impressions

The driver’s seat of the EL is a pleasant place to be – those supportive side bolsters hug you firmly; the small, leather-wrapped tiltable steering wheel is nicely positioned to see the gauges and over the low hood; the shift lever and all controls are easily accessible, and a large ‘dead’ pedal provides a convenient place to rest your left foot.

From the driver’s seat, outward visibility is very good in all directions despite a rather high trunklid.

2004 Acura EL Touring

2004 Acura EL Touring

2004 Acura EL Touring
Click image to enlarge

Start up the engine, and there is surprisingly little vibration through the steering wheel and seat. To my ears, the EL’s 1.7 litre 4-cylinder engine is quieter than in the Civic Si – there is some buzziness on acceleration, but for such a small engine, it’s surprisingly smooth and quiet. As well, the 4 speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly. New, double-edged window seals and improved insulation in the doors were made standard for 2004, and they appear to be working.

A couple of points about the automatic transmission: the shiftgate is straight, not gated (which I prefer). ‘P,R,N,D,D3,2’ is indicated beside the shift lever and in the instrument cluster, another good thing. The transmission is responsive to kick-down, and it features grade-logic programming which will automatically hold it in a lower gear while descending or ascending a slight grade – all good things. My only complaint is that the shift lever release button does not have to be pressed to put the transmission into D3 from Drive, or from Drive into Neutral. On a few occasions, I slipped the lever from Park into D3 without realizing it – until the high-revving engine clued me in.

Acceleration off the line is peppy, and 0 to 100 km/h with the automatic transmission takes about 10 seconds. The engine’s weak point is mid range responsiveness and passing power, particularly if you have four adults on board. This is mainly due to the engine’s relatively low maximum torque rating of 114 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm.

Once up to speed, the engine hums comfortably at 2500 rpm at 100 km/h, and 3000 rpm at 120 km/h. Fuel consumption is excellent: 7.9 litres/100 km (36 mpg) in the city, and 6.0 litres/100 km (47 mpg) on the highway with the automatic transmission. Curiously, fuel consumption ratings for the manual transmission aren’t much different: 7.8 litres/100 km (36 mpg) in the city, and 6.1 litres/100 km (46 mpg) on the highway.

With a 103 inch wheelbase, a four wheel independent suspension (front toe control-link strut/rear double wishbone with coil springs) and decent-sized Bridgestone Potenza 195/60R-15 inch tires (on 7-spoke alloys), the EL offers a comfortable, stable ride, with predictable almost sporty handling. Its variable power assisted rack and pinion steering is light and responsive though its 37 foot turning diameter is a bit high for a compact car. All ELs come with standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake differential to even out front/rear braking forces under hard braking. Traction control and stability control are not offered.

For winter driving, features like heated outside mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, and rear window defroster assist visibility immensely. However, a block heater is optional.


Luxury in a small package, the Acura EL provides the comfort and safety features of a luxury car with the manoeuvrability and fuel economy of a small sedan. It could use a little more power, better selection of interior colours, and cupholders at the rear.

Technical Data: 2004 Acura EL Touring

Base price $22,200
Options $1,000 (4 speed automatic transmission)
Freight $900
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $24,200
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact luxury sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.7 litre 4 cylinder, SOHC, 16-valves, VTEC
Horsepower 127 @ 6300
Torque 114 lb-ft @ 4800
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires 185/65R-15 inch
Curb weight 1205 kg (2657 lb.)
Wheelbase 2620 mm (103.1 in.)
Length 4505 mm (177.4 in.)
Width 1715 mm ( 67.5 in.)
Height 1440 mm ( 56.7 in.)
Trunk capacity 365 litres (12.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 7.9 l/100 km (36 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.0 l/100 km (47 mpg)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Alliston, Ontario

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