Acura’s near-luxury/performance front-wheel-drive coupe debuted in March 2002 as a reworked 2003 model, and it now features a new manual transmission. The exterior’s styling has adopted a more aggressive tone, the interiors have been enhanced, and General Motors’ OnStar communication system is now available as a result of an agreement between GM and Acura.
The base 3.2 CL coupe still comes equipped with only an automatic transmission, but the performance-oriented Type-S can have a new, close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox instead of the standard five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic unit. Manual-shift models have a short-stroke linkage and large-diameter cable for a more direct shifting feel, and they come with a self-adjusting clutch and a limited-slip differential. The limited-slip unit senses wheel spin and then directs an appropriate amount of torque to the left or right wheels as needed to maintain traction.
In the base coupe, the 3.2-liter VTEC V-6 engine generates 225 horsepower, while the Type-S gets a 260-hp power plant. Developers sought an updated, sleeker appearance to give the coupe a more aggressive look. Honda’s luxury division first launched the CL coupe for the 1997 model year and redesigned it as an early 2001 model. According to Automotive News, 18,993 CL coupes were sold in the United States during 2001 — a decrease from 24,677 in the prior year. The CL coupe is manufactured in Marysville, Ohio, alongside the TL sedan.
The CL’s styling is said to be influenced by classic European Gran Turismo coupes of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the NSX sports car and the bygone two-door Acura Legend. Design elements include a long sculpted hood and a short rear deck, a low roofline, triangular taillights, and long, tapered quarter windows. Wraparound headlights flank a pentagonal grille similar to the one installed on the TL sedan. The CL’s platform is also related to that of the TL sedan and the Honda Accord.
Although the 2003 CL coupe looks essentially the same as its predecessors, several modifications give it a more assertive appearance. The revised grille incorporates a body-colored surround, and new headlights have partially blacked-out reflectors. A more aggressive air intake is installed in the lower bumper. Taillight lenses now have a clear upper portion, and new exhaust finishers have been installed. New six-spoke, 16-inch wheels go on the 3.2 CL, while the Type-S gets fresh 17-inch wheels.
The CL coupe comes with xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights. Body-colored door handles replace the previous chromed units, and a power moonroof is standard. The CL rides a 106.9-inch wheelbase, measures 192 inches long overall and stands 53.3 inches tall.
Seating four occupants on front and rear buckets, the CL coupe is fitted with a leather-trimmed interior. The dashboard instruments are backlit, and the Type-S features sporty metallic-faced gauges. Models with black interiors now have titanium-look trim on the doors and center console rather than the wood-patterned trim used on the base coupes. Perforated-leather door inserts and an automatic-up driver-side window are also new this year. A hand-operated parking brake is used in manual-shift models. Trunk capacity totals 13.6 cubic feet.
Standard equipment includes an Acura/Bose stereo system with an in-dash six-CD player, automatic climate control and heated front seats. The driver gets an eight-way power seat, while the front passenger’s seat is a four-way unit. The OnStar communication system is standard on models equipped with Acura’s DVD-based navigation system, which has a 6-inch LCD display screen. OnStar provides 24-hour in-vehicle communication and assistance services, which include emergency roadside assistance and route guidance.
Under the Hood
Fitted with Acura’s Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system, the base 3.2-liter V-6 engine produces 225 hp and 216 pounds-feet of torque. The Type-S engine delivers 260 hp and 232 pounds-feet of torque, courtesy of an increased compression ratio, dual-stage induction system and low-restriction dual-outlet exhaust.
A five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission that permits manually selected gear changes is standard, but the Type-S can be equipped with a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox instead. Traction control is standard. Type-S models with SportShift add a Vehicle Stability Assist system that manages the throttle and braking systems and is designed to maintain control during acceleration, cornering and sudden collision-avoidance maneuvers.
Dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags have height and position sensors. LATCH child-safety seat anchors and tethers have been added to the outboard rear seats.