Sporty-minded consumers who don't have to haul much more than themselves and a significant other ought to be thrilled. The coupe has enjoyed a mini renaissance in the last year. The 2000 model year has seen a raft of new two-doors, with more to come in 2001. The competition ranges from the stunning Audi TT to the sedate Cadillac Eldorado. Acura's new 3.2CL - completely revamped for the first time since its introduction in 1997 - falls somewhere in between. The original CL, like its successor, was designed and built in North America. Its crisp, distinctive lines didn't please everyone, and its performance was no better than middle-of-the-road. The latest edition displays a bit more adrenaline, particularly the new Type S variant, but the CL's once-idiosyncratic styling has definitely lost a bit of its edge. Anita's view You can forgive a utilitarian minivan or even a sport-utility vehicle for looking boring - but not an image car like the 2001 Acura 3.2CL Type S coupe. If the new CL is designed to set Honda's upscale division further away from the offerings of parent Honda Motor Co., it fails. This really hit home for me when I used our silver CL-S test vehicle as a prop for a local TV news program I did recently on the safety and cell-phone use while driving. I met the young reporter and her crew in front of a coffee shop in trendy, bustling Royal Oak. They mistook the $32,785 CL for a Honda. There seems to be just one word for describing its appearance: Forgettable. That may spell trouble for Acura, since the CL competes against the likes of the sportier BMW 328Ci coupe and the tony Mercedes-Benz CLK320. Our test car was loaded with standard equipment, including a leather interior, power moonroof and six-disc in-dash CD changer. The personality of the car's stark interior matches its disappointing exterior. The CL-S had dark-gray leather seats and faux-marble trim in the doors and dashboard. Conservative at best, although a friend described it as looking like liver-and-onions - a revolting image, we both agreed. On the plus side, the Acura delivers in terms of safety features. Our Type S had front and side air bags, standard antilock brakes and a vehicle stability assist feature that helps prevent skids and fishtailing on slippery pavement. One good feature was the optional DVD satellite navigation system, which dominates the instrument panel and comes with touch-screen controls and voice instructions. It is easier to use than other systems we've tried, but it made all of us wonder: If you're juggling a cell phone and a cup of coffee while playing with the nav system behind the wheel, aren't you asking for trouble? Paul's view Speaking of trouble, Acura's sister division Honda sells two mighty fine coupes - the Accord two-door and the Prelude - that are potential competitors to the 3.2CL. For argument's sake, you can order an awful lot of amenities in a V- 6 Accord coupe and still pay far less than the CL's nearly $33,000 sticker. Because it has borrowed many pieces from the corporate parts bin, the 2001 CL-S should look familiar to Honda owners: Double-wishbone suspension, all-aluminum VTEC engine, variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering. On the Type S, Honda engineers have fine-tuned those pieces, creating a desirable sport coupe with better-than-average performance that somehow still lacks soul. The twin-cam 3.2-liter V-6 has been massaged in the CL-S to deliver 260 horsepower and 232 pounds-feet of torque - quite a boost over the standard CL's 225 horsepower and 216 pounds-feet. That power is delivered to the front wheels through a five-speed Tiptronic-style automatic transmission that can be shifted like a manual without a clutch. The engine revs willingly, but doesn't feel nearly as brawny as the 240-horsepower straight-six that powers the BMW M Coupe. It does feel more refined, and many coupe buyers are looki or exactly that quality. But the Type S also gets some really sporting hardware, including 17-inch Michelin all-season performance tires, stiffer shocks, firmer springs and a larger-diameter rear stabilizer. The ride is not as harsh as that of the Audi TT, but it is definitely not intended for those with more sensitive derrieres. Inside, I found the CL to be generally inviting and comfortable, with two minor annoyances. The in-dash CD changer, like most we've sampled, is slow to operate. And the air conditioning system is unfortunately tied into the touch-screen navigation system, which necessitates taking your eyes off the road to adjust fan speed and air flow. Quirks aside, it's still difficult to recommend the Acura CL-S. If you're looking for more distinctive styling, with even more driving flair, you might want to check out the Honda Prelude Type SH, which is priced well below $30,000.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||December 1, 1999|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||March 2, 2001|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||January 12, 2001|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||November 4, 2000|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||October 15, 2000|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||September 3, 2000|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||June 28, 2000|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||June 11, 2000|
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