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2001 ACURA 1.7 EL

1 septembre 2000

par Alex Law ,

Your appreciation for the Acura 1.7 EL will depend almost totally on your choice between the two primary ways of looking at this Canada-only car, which is essentially an off-the-rack Honda Civic in an upscale suit.

The choices are: 1) Badge engineering, and 2) A Holt-Renfrew label.

The former applies to the practise of taking a vehicle that was designed to be one brand and trying to turn it into another brand by sticking a different name badge on it. This is generally done with the addition of some features and the intention of charging more for the second brand.

The latter applies to the practise of buying the least expensive thing with an upscale label on it (you could substitute any stylish brand name for Holt-Renfrew) and feeling good about the fact that your blouse (watch, suit, fridge, car, whatever) has that widely-envied label.

My personal sense is that the Acura 1.7 EL is more of the former, but I don't feel particularly badly toward people who favor the latter. Gracious of me, huh?

Anyway, the 1.7 EL is not a bad product by any stretch of the imagination, since you are starting with a Honda Civic, and when it comes to inexpensive compact sedans that's about the top of the heap.

In the first incarnation, Honda Canada took minor steps to distance the EL from its more prosaic sibling, but they've gone even farther this time around.

But it seems to me that it is maybe unfair to keep harping about how the Acura is different from the Honda, since the Holt-Renfrew buyer doesn't much care how that blouse is different to a simlar one that's sold by Sears. So let's just concentrate on the EL on its own terms, or in relation to its differences from the 1.6 EL it replaces.

According to Jerry Chenke of Honda Canada, the 1.7 EL's exterior design is "notably more aggressive while upholding Acura's high standards of sleek yet classic sophistication. Headlamps are brighter in appearance, the grille unmistakably registers the Acura family identification, the hood is steeper in profile and wears sharper creases. Purposeful low-profile radial tires on seven-spoke, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels visually communicate this car's passion for energetic driving. A ducktail shape is neatly integrated into the high deck lid to help trim the aerodynamic drag coefficient to 0.30 Cd."

If you like the shape, all of that will make sense. If you don't, it will look like smoke over glass.

What's undeniable is that the new EL has the same length and wheelbase but provides slightly more interior space-2574 litres instead of 2546-and 25 more mm of distance between the front and rear passengers. These are not huge advances (and they did not happen without cost in other areas), but they will make things more usable and comfortable, and that's a good thing for a lot of people.

Also on the comfort front, the seats were raised to make it easier to climb in and out of the 2001 EL, the back of the rear seat is angled back an extra degree, and the floor has been smoothed out. More good things.

The down side here, at least in many people's eyes, is that Honda changed the design of the rear suspension of the Civic and the EL to accomplish some of these interior upgrades. This is no small issue in a car that has a major street rep for its ride and handling characteristics.

There was no chance to toss the EL enough to see how it behaved when it got closer to that mythical edge, but I can report that it behaved with exemplary skill and precision when used in legal to slight-beyond-legal methods.

And since there's a luxury edge to the Acura name, it's not likely a lot of people will go out looking for-as racers like to say-a 10/10ths situation.

What they probably will be looking for is a place to go for some peace and quiet and general all-purpose cossetting on the way to work and back. Here, the EL does a decent job for a reasonable amount of money.

It'll hold any virtually and two people on the plant and four people if they're not all tall. The seats have been upgraded for the new model and, with that extra room, it's an okay place to spend some time.

My test car had one of the most annoying window squeaks in the history of window squeaks, but the Acura-ites I told about that all blanched with shock and dismay and probably took the car apart overnight to fix it. It bears mentioning that Honda has a tremendous reputation for building quality products, and deservedly so.

The number of people you put inside an EL will also have direct consequences to performance, since the 16-valve, SOHC, 1.7-litre inline-4 is responsive with a light load but probably gets caught out occasionally when the EL is packed.

At 127, the horsepower level is unchanged, but Honda went to some trouble to boost the torque that is so important for launching the car and getting it around other vehicles on a two-lane road. Maximum torque goes from 106 to 114 pound-feet and gets to its peak sooner-at 4800 rather than 5500 rpm. As well, the torque's operating band is broader and flatter so that 90 percent of peak torque is available from 2600 through 6300 rpm. This makes the car more responsive more of the time.

The 1.7 EL should also be less expensive to operate, since it uses slightly less fuel and requires less scheduled maintenance over its lifetime.

I have some ergonomic issues with the 1.7 EL (badly placed switches, no lights in the vanity mirrors and things like that), but on balance I don't think the people who buy one of these models rather than a comparably-equipped but less expensive Honda Civic.

So the 2001 1.7 EL is a well executed example of brand engineering and a pretty nice Holt-Renfrew sweater.