2003 Acura CL Type-S
Click image to enlarge

by Haney Louka

Home of possibly the best stir stick on the planet

Acura must be listening.
Lo and behold, a new six-speed manual transmission is now offered on the 2003 edition of Acura’s thoroughly competent CL Type S sport coupe.

The Lineup

Acura has added a new version of the CL each year since its 2001 introduction. New last year was an entry-level model, without the Type S moniker, that adopted the 225 horsepower V6 from its TL sedan sibling.

The price of entry for the 2003 CL is $37,800 and includes most of the features available on the Type S: four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, traction control, independent suspension, automatic climate control, glass moonroof, leather seats, and 6-CD player to name just a few.

2003 Acura CL Type-S
Click image to enlarge

Affixing the Type S badge to the car (assuming this was done at the factory and not in someone’s driveway) adds a more powerful V6, quicker steering, larger 17-inch wheels and tires, perforated leather, and titanium-finish interior trim. The Type S is also enhanced with vehicle stability assist (VSA), a slick active safety feature that detects an impending spin and corrects for it with the use of the anti-lock brakes and throttle control.

Standard on both CL models is a five-speed automatic transmission with “Sequential SportShift,” affording the driver manual control over gear selection. While the manumatic feature is enough to satisfy many, the big news for this year is that a new, close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox is available as a no-charge option on the Type S. Check this box on the order form, though, and you will opt out of the traction control and VSA systems in favour of a limited-slip differential.

As tested, my six-speed Type S carried a retail price of $41,800.


2003 Acura CL Type-S

2003 Acura CL Type-S
Click image to enlarge

One thing Acura’s designers didn’t change since my last CL drive is the conservative styling of this sporty coupe. Sure, they added blacked-out headlights and new rims, but the overall look remains essentially unchanged. It’s not offensive, to be sure, but neither does it appeal to the emotions when gazed upon. The exterior shape combined with what resides under the hood makes this CL a modern day sleeper, slyly carrying out its business without attracting too much attention from the Mounties.

The CL’s cockpit is one of the nicest in the biz though, thanks to an ergonomically designed control layout and an intimate feeling that appeals to those in the coupe market. The theme here is black-on the seats, dash, and carpets-with a few tasteful accents to brighten up the mood. Gauge faces are silver as is the titanium-look trim that adorns the centre stack, shifter surround, and doors. My only complaint here is that there are numerous Honda parts bin pieces scattered around the interior, reducing the classiness quotient by a small amount.

Driver and front passenger are coddled in perforated leather buckets that are built for the corners with aggressive side bolstering, but are also comfortable enough for a cross-country jaunt. Nicely done.

Nuts and Bolts

2003 Acura CL Type-S, 3.2 Litre
Click image to enlarge

I mentioned earlier that Type S CLs are better endowed under the hood than is the entry-level model. While both CL engines benefit from Honda’s famous VTEC variable valve timing technology, the Type S cam lobes allow the intake valves to lift higher and for a longer duration than in the 225 horsepower engine. According to Acura though, most of the credit for the increase in power goes to the dual stage induction system that the Type S employs. In a nutshell, a butterfly valve in the intake plenum opens at 3,800 rpm and allows more air at a higher pressure to enter the intake manifold, improving combustion in the cylinders. On top of that, modifications have been made at both intake and exhaust ends to reduce airflow restrictions through the whole process.

These enhancements to the Type S powerplant result in dramatically improved power output numbers: 260 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 232 lb-ft of torque between 3,500 and 5,500 rpm. Power is routed through the aforementioned six-speed gearbox to the front wheels with the help of a “helical gear” limited-slip differential to reduce torque steer, or the left-to-right pulling on the wheel that is experienced during hard acceleration in powerful front-drivers.

Keeping the CL planted to the pavement is a fully independent suspension, with double wishbones and stabilizer bars fore and aft. The front springs of the manual-equipped model are slightly shorter than those on slushbox CLs to compensate for the six-speed’s lighter snout. And Type Ss benefit from stiffer springs and firmer damping to slide the ride-handling balance one notch toward the latter.

The Driving Experience

2003 Acura CL Type-S
Click image to enlarge

All I have to say (aside from all the other stuff in this review) is that the CL six-speed’s shifter is quite possibly the best stir stick on the planet. While Honda has always been known for its slick-shifting manual transmissions, this one raises the bar even higher and will surely send a competitor or two back to the drawing board.

That shifter is just one link in a very strong chain that includes the engine, which is powerful, smooth, and flexible; the clutch, also smooth and confidence inspiring; the steering, brakes, and � you get the idea.

Forward thrust is never a problem, thanks to the engine’s broad torque curve and its eagerness to claw toward the 6,900-rpm redline. And the effect is not muddied by excessive torque steer (thanks to that limited-slip differential), resulting in a clean, unadulterated acceleration experience.

Criticisms are few: road noise is prevalent, more so than I would expect in this class. And the deletion of vehicle stability assist in this car is something I take issue with. The technology’s there, why not use it? Finally, even though Acura’s engineers did away with most of the disadvantages related to front wheel drive handling, I would still prefer that the ponies did their galloping at the rear wheels.

Summing it Up

2003 Acura CL Type-S
Click image to enlarge

This is a vehicle that would happily perform the daily commute at one tenth of its performance potential, but at the same time is designed around its driver. If that driver decides that fun is the order of the day, the cockpit of the Type S is exactly where that driver wants to be.

Shopping Around

The high-end coupe market is seeing somewhat of a resurgence, but still remains a relatively exclusive club. Here are the models that the CL must do battle with:

  • BMW 325Ci

  • Honda Accord Coupe
  • Infiniti G35 Coupe
  • Mercedes-Benz CLK 320
  • Toyota Camry Solara

Technical Data: 2003 Acura CL Type S

Base price $41,800
Price as tested $41,800
Type 2-door, 4-passenger sport coupe
Layout front-mounted V-6, front wheel drive
Engine 3,210-cc V6, DOHC, 24 valves, variable intake valve timing and lift
Horsepower 260 @ 6,100 rpm
Torque 232 lb-ft between 3,500 and 5,500 rpm
Fuel Premium recommended
Transmission Six-speed manual
Curb weight 1,563 kg (3446 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,715 mm (106.9 in.)
Length 4,877 mm (192.0 in.)
Width 1,409 mm (55.5 in.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.3 L/100 km (23 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.7 L/100 km (37 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca