The Acura CL is designed for drivers who want the comfort and quality of a luxury car but the handling, power, and sporty image of a coupe. The CL achieves all of this with a cabin that's comfortable, convenient and luxurious, a smooth, quiet ride, agile handling, and plenty of power. Though it won't draw stares from kids on skateboards, it is attractive and sporty.
The CL Type-S adds power to this picture and backs it up with a sports suspension and anti-skid control.
A coupe is supposed to look sexy, or at least a bit racy compared to the typical sedan. The CL may not be avant-garde in its styling, but it's clean and attractive. Sexy? We'll let the buyer decide.
The CL shares mechanical components with Acura's mid-size TL near-luxury sedan, but none of the TL's body panels. The coupe is lower, with a longer hood and shorter rear deck than the sedan.
Measured by finish quality, the 3.2 CL is a gem. Panels and seams on our test car matched flawlessly, and the paint had a deep luster.
The CL follows Acura's proven chassis layout: front-wheel drive with wishbone-type fully independent strut suspension and disc brakes at all four wheels.
Structural enhancements inside the CL's body shell are designed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. There's a fiberglass liner under the hood, asphalt sheeting in strategic areas around the cabin and electrically controlled hydraulic engine mounts that vary dampening rates at different engine speeds. Even the new glass in the moonroof contributes to a quieter interior. Acura's engineers claim the 3.2 CL is quieter than the Volvo C70, Mercedes-Benz CLK.
Type-S gets larger 17-inch aluminum wheels with Michelin all-season tires. Its springs and shock absorbers are stiffer than the standard CL's. Acura's Vehicle Stability Assist system, exclusive to the Type S, automatically applies the brake at one corner to tighten the trajectory of either the front or rear end in skid-inducing driving conditions.
Both CLs feature a five-speed automatic transmission with a sequential shift slot that allows a driver to manually click through the gears. A manual transmission will be available on 2003 models.
Every CL comes with features that aren't always expected below the $40,000 barrier. Both front seats feature seat-position memory; the mirrors are linked to this system as well. All CLs have heated front seats, a sunroof, Xenon headlamps and a six-disc, no-magazine in-dash CD changer.
By design, coupes put an emphasis on front passengers. The CL's front seats are comfortable and supportive in all circumstances, with fore-aft, height and recline power adjustment for the driver, fore-aft and recline for the passenger. There's enough side-bolster to keep people of small physical stature firmly ensconced during a spirited drive, and enough space to accommodate those of larger stature.
The CL's instrument panel is identical to the TL sedan's. It is clean in appearance and efficient in design, with high-grade switches that work with a soft, satisfying click. The no-magazine CD changer is handy: simply load up to six discs, one at a time, into the slot.
Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash, and a position-detection system for the passenger side airbag, borrowed from Acura's big RL sedan. Six sensors determine the stature and position of whoever is sitting in the passenger seat; so the airbag won't fire if a child happens to be leaning against the door.
While the focus in the CL falls toward the front of the cabin, there's a surprising amount of space in back. All interior dimensions are larger than those in Acura's 2000 3.0 CL (and among the largest in the class), for an overall increase of 4.6 cubic feet in cabin space. The two-place back seat leaves enough room for medium-sized adults, and it's easy to climb into. The electric sliding mechanism on the front passenger seat works more quickly than any we've encountered, yet the seat stops sliding back with any hint of obstruction for improved safety.
The CL's trunk is impressively roomy, too; with 13.9 cubic feet of space it's one of the largest among similarly sized coupes (the C70 has 13.1 cubic feet, the CLK 11.0). Acura's engineers claim the CL's trunk will hold four golf bags. We can't vouch for that, but we can tell you that the CL will handle more suitcases than two people will need for a one-week trip, with room left for most of a professional photographer's shooting gear.
The 2002 Acura CL is smooth and tight, with a single-billet feel to the unibody. The ride is firm, and well-suited to a driving enthusiast's tastes. The CL delivers better brake pedal response than most Acuras we've tested, and it stops in short order, without jitters or swagger in full-on, panic-type braking.
At least in the Type-S, there's minimal understeer (a front-end push that puts an element of safety into a car's handling, but can become excessive with the typical front-drive layout). Driven aggressively, the Type-S bears up well, and its tail tucks in nicely when the driver lifts from the throttle.
There's plenty of acceleration-producing grunt in the engine, although it is biased toward higher rpm. You might never know how quick the Type-S actually is if you don't keep your foot on the gas pedal. The sequential shifter works well, even if it's more conservatively programmed than some from other manufacturers. It won't allow the driver to repeatedly bump the rev limiter in low gears without shifting up on its own.
The standard VTEC V6 revs freely with dual-overhead cams and multi-valves. It is rated at 225 horsepower. The Type-S delivers 260 horsepower. It gets its extra power from a higher volume intake system, less restrictive exhaust pipes, higher compression (10.5:1 vs. 9.8:1) and a higher redline (6900 rpm vs. 6300 rpm).
The Acura CL is built like a fine watch and is very pleasant to drive. It offers a good value among luxury coupes. Similarly equipped, the CL costs several thousand dollars less than the least expensive car among the competitors named above.
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