SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide
When Honda's upscale Acura division was launched, its emphasis was on luxury with performance. Cars like the Legend sedans and coupes, and later the entry-level Integra coupes and sedans and NSX exotic sports car gave Acura quite a reputation. Sadly for some fans, in the mid-1990s, Acura's luxury-oriented cars lost their performance focus in an effort to broaden their appeal by going more mainstream.
The original CL luxury coupe was a product of that time. It was a pleasant car with an emphasis on comfort and value. It was a North America-only model, designed in Southern California and built in Ohio. The original CL was offered with a 2.0 (later 2.2) liter four-cylinder or 3.0-liter V6, and fit in the Acura lineup between the smaller, more performance-oriented Integra and the TL sedan. But some critics complained that it was not sufficiently differentiated from its cousin, the Honda Accord coupe.
The critics have been answered. No one will confuse the second-generation CL with an Accord or anything else. The shift in focus back to performance (with comfort and value, of course) that was first apparent with the second-generation 3.2 TL sedan in 1998 goes a step further with the 2001 3.2 CL.
Like its predecessor, the 2001 CL is a North America-only model. It is offered only with the 3.2-liter V6 engine that debuted in the TL. The standard 3.2 CL has the same 225 horsepower engine as is found in the TL, but the Type S adds some trick technology to get 260 horses out of its version.
"Type S" should not be confused with the hardcore performance "Type R" designation used for the quickest Integra. "Type S" is aimed at a more mature audience, with an appreciation for comfort as much as raw power. The CL Type S is no slouch in performance, as it compares very favorably with some well-known European coupes that cost considerably more. After a week with one, I'm impressed. It has a wonderful drivetrain, great handling, and plenty of comfort. It's just the car for someone who might have considered a sports coupe like an Integra GS-R a few years ago, but now wants a little more civilization with the performance.
APPEARANCE: Acura's styling is still conservative. But that is appropriate for the CL's intended place in the automotive marketplace. The gently-rounded semi-fastback profile is balanced by angular fender and character lines and plane surfaces. The pointed prow that was a prominent styling feature of the first- generation CL continues, as does the sharp line from the prow to the base of the windshield. Acura's trademark pentagonal chromed grille and cat's eye-like high-intensity discharge headlights dominate the front. From certain rear quarter angles, the 2001 CL looks uncannily like the original Legend coupe. A crisply-defined oval tail panel and large taillights give it presence from the rear.
COMFORT: The CL's interior design is as conservative as its exterior, but it is well-appointed and comfortable. Fit and finish are very good, and materials are appropriate for its price class. The perforated leather on the seats, steering wheel, and shift knob is real, but the woodgrain trim on the doors and center console isn't. The comfortable, power-adjustable front sport bucket seats are heated, and move forward automatically for rear seat access. Two rear passengers fit in the contoured rear seat, and, while it is less roomy than that of the TL sedan because of the coupe roofline, the CL is hardly a "2+2" design, with rear accommodation an afterthought. Back up front, dark gray-on-white instruments, and a center stack integrated into the console and angled toward the driver hint at the CL's sporty intent. The Type S has special badging on its shift knob. The navigation system is optional, but the AM/FM/cassette sound system with a six-CD in-dash changer is standard equipment, as, of course, are power windows, mirrors, doorlocks, and the power moonroof. An automatic climate control system with micron air filtration keeps the cabin clean and comfortable. Useful storage spaces are found throughout the interior, and the trunk is sedan-sized, not coupe-sized.
SAFETY: Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, front and side air bags, front and rear crumple zones, and side-impact protection beams are standard on all 2001 Acura 3.2 CLs. Vehicle Stability Assist is standard on the Type S as well.
ROADABILITY: The CL is designed to compete with some of the best-known prestige-label sports-luxury coupes. So it has to balance luxury car comfort and refinement with sports car handling. That's a tough challenge, but the CL and especially the Type S meets it. Both share a rigid chassis with fully-independent double wishbone suspension, but the Type S has firmer springs and shocks and a larger rear stabilizer bar, and larger diameter wheels with lower-profile tires. These changes give it a firmer ride, and slightly crisper handling with good compliance over rough roads. The Type S is not Type R hardcore, but is still very capable on any sort of road. Torque steer can be a problem in high-output front-drive cars, but not in the Acura CL. Any steering lightness during acceleration in more an effect of weight transfer than of torque steer.
PERFORMANCE: With the 225 horsepower version of the aluminum alloy 3.2-liter single overhead cam VTEC V6, Honda/Acura first discovered low-rpm torque. The Type S uses a dual stage inertia charge induction system for a passive supercharging effect at higher engine speeds. Allied with the VTEC variable valve timing and lift system, this increases maximum horsepower to 260 at 6,100 rpm and torque to 232 lb-ft between 3500 and 5500 rpm. The Type S, like the regular CL and even TL, has better low-end torque characteristics than some very expensive sports cars. It also adds a satisfying, almost Type R-like top end rush of power when needed. The five-speed "Sequential Sports Shift" manually-shiftable automatic transmission is perfect for the engine. In "Drive" mode around town or on the highway, the plentiful torque means little shifting is required. It works fine on more interesting roads, too, and manual mode allows for more enthusiastic use of the engine's power.
CONCLUSIONS: No more boring Acuras! The 2001 Acura 3.2 CL Type S is an Integra GS-R for grownups.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Acura 3.2 CL Type S Base Price $ 30,330 Price As Tested $ 32,330 Engine Type single overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum V6 with VTEC variable valve timing Engine Size 3.2 liters / 196 cu. in. Horsepower 260 @ 6100 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 232 @ 3500-5500 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with manual mode Wheelbase / Length 106.9 in. / 70.6 in. Curb Weight 3525 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.6 Fuel Capacity 17.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 92 octane Tires P215/50 VR17 Michelin MXM4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs/ independent multilink double wishbone with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 29 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Navigation system $ 2,000