2003 Acura CL

Expert reviews

These reviews are written by independent automotive journalists providing an objective and reliable assessment to help you make a smart buying decision. 2003 Acura CL.

Reviewed By: Jeffrey P. Vettraino
© 2003 NewCarTestDrive.com


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.

Model Lineup

CL ($28,200); Type-S ($30,550)

Walk Around

Acura updated the styling of the CL for 2003. Up front it gets a revised grille with a body-colored surround and revised headlights with black accents. In the rear, are revised taillight lenses with a clear upper portion and new exhaust finishers.

The CL is a sleek, attractive car with clean lines. It's starting to look a bit dated in spite of the styling revisions, however.

Measured by finish quality, the Acura CL is a gem. Panels and seams match flawlessly, and the paint had a deep luster. A sunroof and Xenon headlamps come standard on all models.

The CL and Type-S models are nearly identical in appearance, distinguished by their wheels. CL gets five-spoke, 16-inch wheels, while the Type-S is fitted with six-spoke, 17-inch wheels. 2003 brings new wheel designs to both models.

Interior

The Acura CL is very comfortable for long drives. It's also easy to get in and out when running errands or when dressed up for work or dinner.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive in all circumstances, with fore-aft, height and recline power adjustment for the driver, fore-aft and recline for the passenger. There's enough side-bolster to keep people of small physical stature firmly ensconced during a spirited drive, and enough space to accommodate those of larger stature. 2003 models get an Auto-up feature added to the driver's window switch, nice for grand prix starts from toll booths. Both front seats feature seat-position memory; the mirrors are linked to this system as well. All CLs have heated front seats.

The interior still looks sleek and contemporary. 2003 CL Type-S models with black interiors get titanium-colored trim on the doors and center console. Silver trim is a trend in automotive interiors at the moment and much of it is poorly executed, but this looks good.

The instrument panel is clean in appearance and efficient in design, with high-grade switches that work with a soft, satisfying click. The six-disc in-dash CD changer is handy and easy to use.

Standard safety features include dual-stage front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash, and a position-detection system for the passenger-side airbag. Six sensors determine the stature and position of whoever is sitting in the passenger seat; so the airbag won't fire if a child happens to be leaning against the door.

While the focus in the CL falls toward the front of the cabin, there's a surprising amount of space in back. The two-place back seat leaves enough room for medium-sized adults, and it's easy to climb into. The electric sliding mechanism on the front passenger seat works more quickly than any we've encountered, yet the seat stops sliding back with any hint of obstruction for improved safety. As mentioned, the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system has been added to the rear outboard seats for attaching child safety seats.

The trunk is impressively roomy. With 13.9 cubic feet of space it's one of the largest among similarly sized coupes. Acura engineers claim the CL's trunk will hold four golf bags. We can't vouch for that, but we can tell you that the CL will handle more suitcases than two people will need for a one-week trip, with room left for most of a professional photographer's shooting gear.

The NAVI navigation system uses Global Positioning Satellites and a DVD disc to plot course and provide instructions. A brightly lit touch-screen monitor displays a map or an alpine-type route instruction. The system works well and can provide a lot of help in unfamiliar territory. The verbal instructions can help you avoid missing an exit and the map can help you figure out your location. It's great when you spontaneously decide to go to a hot restaurant while on the far side of town and it quickly finds it for you. Like all these systems, however, it's about 95 percent there in terms of development. It will occasionally send you the wrong way, and operating the controls can, at times, be confusing and frustrating. Our 2003 NAVI system was slow recalculating routes. Also, there's no obvious way to quickly shut the thing off, like when you're trying to talk on your cell phone and it keeps telling you to turn around. If possible, spend some time trying the system out before deciding whether to order it. And avoid programming it while driving because it is extremely distracting and, therefore, very dangerous.

OnStar is an excellent complement to the navigation system. Its battery of operators can direct you to the best Italian restaurant in the area and provide assistance when lost. They can unlock your car when you lock the keys in. They can shut the car off if it's been stolen. And they will send emergency crews out to get you if an airbag is set off and no one responds.

Driving Impressions

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.

While we don't currently have any Acura CL vehicles in stock, we do have 46,335 other cars to choose from. at carmax.com

While we don't currently have any Acura CL vehicles in stock, we do have 46,335 other cars to choose from.