Acura's 3.2CL was a well-rounded machine: impressive on paper, enjoyable on the road, and a solid performer at the test track. It was roomier and more powerful than the car it replaced, and, in optional trim, it stepped up to match performance wits with the BMW 3 Series coupe but undercut that rival's sticker by thousands. Yet buyers stayed away. The 3.2CL inherited a front-drive luxury/sport-coupe sales decline it couldn't shake, and Acura hasn't offered a similar car since.
The final-generation CL bowed in two models: base 3.2CL at about $28,000 and higher-performance CL Type-S for just under $31,000. Each came loaded with luxury amenities like heated power-adjustable leather seats, moonroof, Bose in-dash CD changer, auto climate control, SportShift five-speed automatic, and Xenon lamps. The only option for either model was a DVD navigation system. For enthusiast drivers, the $2350 premium for a Type-S was a bargain. It bought an additional 35 horsepower, a step up to 17-inch performance tires, firmer shocks/springs/anti-roll bars, and the VSA stability-control system. Interior spiffs included perforated leather seats and steering wheel, metallic-faced instruments, and a Type-S leather shift knob.
Minor changes for 2002 included three new exterior colors and thicker moonroof glass (to reduce wind noise). A freshening in 2003 included slight revisions to the grille and headlamps, rear taillights and exhaust finishers, and titanium-look interior trim on cars with black interiors. OnStar was newly included with the optional satellite navigation system. The big news for what would be the CL's last year was the availability of a close-ratio six-speed manual on the Type-S. That option also included a limited-slip differential in place of the VSA stability control.
There was one recall, and a fairly major one, at that. A cooling problem in the automatic transmissions could lead to gear breakage and lockup. The fix was simple if caught in time, or, if related premature wear was detected, transmissions were replaced under warranty. A few other service bulletins exist--some concerning the transmission issue--but nothing to indicate the CL fell below Acura's reputation for reliability.
The 260-hp. V6 is smooth, powerful, and refined. The engine note under either acceleration or deceleration is sporty but unobtrusive. Ear plugs will never be needed in the CL, yet the driver and passengers nonetheless are able to enjoy the sound this engine makes. Mileage is rated at 19 city/28 highway, numbers that are easily matched in everyday use. The Bose stereo has an in-dash CD unit that can handle six CDs at a time, six speakers, and steering wheel mounted audio controls. As if this wasn’t enough, items like Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps, heated seats and outside mirrors, speed-sensing intermittent windshield wipers, automatic climate control, a power tilt/slide sunroof, leather seating surfaces, and one year of On Star are all standard. On the Navi model tested – which comes with a standard DVD-based navigation system – the MSRP, including the $480 destination charge, is a reasonable $33,180. That’s several thousand dollars less than many competitors when similarly equipped, and one good reason Acura is coming off its best sales year to date.
Like their Honda kin, Acuras appeal to buyers looking for unassailable durability, quality, and reliability packaged in an inoffensively sporting wrapper, and endowed with standard equipment levels that make the competition blush. To them the compromises mentioned are minor annoyances in what is otherwise a nearly painless ownership experience. Yet, with just a bit more forethought and effort, the CL could do all this, and stir the soul.