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Sport coupes often demand the driver sacrifice comfort and convenience for sport. The Acura CL minimizes this. It's an easy car to live with. The 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 boasts a more powerful engine, a sports suspension, and anti-skid control. The suspension is a bit stiff and degrades the smooth ride quality of the standard CL. A new six-speed manual gearbox is available for 2003 Type-S models, along with the five-speed automatic with Sequential SportShift. We preferred the automatic for similar reasons. The manual adds unwanted roughness to this smooth, elegant coupe.
Styling revisions distinguish 2003 CL models. Interiors receive some minor revisions, but more important are new safety features: The LATCH system has been added to the outboard rear seats to better secure child safety seats, the driver gets a new dual-stage, dual-threshold front air bag, and OnStar has been added to the optional Navigation system package.
The 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. The standard VTEC V6 revs freely with dual-overhead cams and multi-valves. It is rated at 225 horsepower.
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. The may be a bit too stiff. We found the ride quality to be jouncy on bumpy roads. As a serious sports machine the CL suspension lacks sophistication. We think the suspension is tuned more appropriately in the standard CL. If you want racecar handling, look elsewhere.
We can't recommend the new six-speed manual gearbox that's available for the Type-S. We found it notchy, but the bigger issue was that it eliminated some of the smoothness that makes the CL such a nice luxury coupe. The hydraulic clutch has a short travel, making smooth launches a challenge. Shifts from first to second gear were usually accompanied by some head toss. The six-speed does come with some neat features, though. The close ratios make for quicker acceleration performance and a new limited-slip front differential helps reduce wheelspin by transferring power to the wheel with the best traction, so the driver can apply power earlier in a corner. There is also some weight savings. But this ain't no racecar. If you want the ultimate in performance you might be better served in a Nissan 350Z.
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. This can help you avoid an accident.
Driven aggressively, the Type-S bears up well, and its tail tucks in nicely when the driver lifts from the throttle. 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).
The Type-S delivers 260 horsepower. That's plenty, although the power 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 five-speed automatic with 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. Type-S gets its extra power from a higher volume intake system, less restrictive exhaust, higher compression (10.5:1 vs. 9.8:1) and a higher redline (6900 rpm vs. 6300 rpm).
Acura CL is built like a fine watch and is very pleasant to drive. It offers a good value among luxury coupes. It's a good companion on long trips and keeps annoyance levels to the minimum when driving around town, jumping in and out.
Type-S offers sportier handling, but does not succeed as well as the standard CL. Its ride quality suffers from the stiff suspension. Also, we preferred the five-speed automatic over the new six-speed manual, which seemed a little rough around the edges.