Used 2003 Acura CL 3.2 Type-S Review

Edmunds expert review

If you are looking for a luxury coupe for about $30,000, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything better.

What's new for 2003

Acura has made a number of changes on its already highly competent luxury sport coupe. The biggest news is the availability of a six-speed manual transmission on the Type-S trim. If that doesn't interest you, there's certainly more. On the outside, the CL gains new wheels, updated headlights and taillights, a revised grille and new exhaust tips. Inside, Acura has added LATCH child safety seat attachments, a dual-stage and dual-threshold driver's front airbag and an auto-up driver's window. Cars with the optional navigation system also gain OnStar, the vehicle communications service.

Vehicle overview

Introduction: Acura's target market for the 3.2CL is aging baby boomers that are experiencing life without children for the first time in decades. No longer needing that silly SUV or monstrous minivan, these empty-nesters are supposed to rediscover the joys of coupe life... preferably in a CL.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: There are two trim levels to pick from; the base CL and the high-performance CL Type-S. Both CLs offer near-luxury equipment without a hefty price, and you get more than just air conditioning and a smattering of leather on the seats. You snag lots of standard equipment, including a power sunroof, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, heated front seats, two-position memory system for driver seat and mirrors, steering-wheel audio controls, rear heat/air vents, a micron air-filtration system and high-intensity discharge lights. A super-simple DVD-based navigation system with a smudge-free touchscreen is the only option, and this year it also comes with OnStar, the vehicle communications service. In addition to these items, the CL Type-S comes with a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and minor cabin trim upgrades.

Powertrains and Performance: The base CL engine is a peppy 3.2-liter V6 that utilizes VTEC technology to produce 225 horsepower and 216 pound-feet of torque, while still getting 19/29 mpg in city/highway driving. The V6 remains strong in every gear, and it can scoot from 0 to 60 in under 8 seconds. A standard five-speed automatic transmission directs power to the front wheels. It's quite user-friendly, thanks to a shift gate located close to the driver and an intuitive shift pattern for the SportShift sequential-shift manual function. Most people should be satisfied with this configuration, but for those who aren't, there's the Type-S. Thanks to special engine modifications, such as a dual-stage induction system, increased compression and performance-oriented camshafts and valves, the 3.2-liter V6 in the Type-S makes 260 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. While the five-speed automatic is also standard on this car, a six-speed manual is newly available. This close-ratio transmission includes a short-throw shifter and a limited-slip front differential. This piece of hardware is designed to allow a driver to apply throttle sooner through turns, thereby improving handling balance and steering feel.

Safety: The CL is equipped with side airbags; the front passenger seat has a system to prevent the side airbag from deploying if a small child or adult leans into the deployment path. Antilock brakes are standard, and other safety items include traction control and a stability control system. Traction control and stability control are standard except on cars with manual transmissions. Neither NHTSA nor IIHS has crash-tested the CL.

Interior Design and Special Features: Inside, standard leather covers the comfortable front seats. Type-S cars also have deeply bolstered, perforated leather seats; a Type-S shift knob and a metallic face instrument cluster. Though certainly functional, the CL's interior isn't as opulent as other cars in this class. As Acura calls the CL a 2+2, it should come as no surprise that backseat passengers will feel a bit pinched if they are more than average height.

Driving Impressions: Both the CL and CL Type-S are satisfying to drive. The Type-S, in particular, is entertaining thanks to its prodigious horsepower and available six-speed manual. However, being a front-drive car has its disadvantages: The CL's handling isn't as dynamic as that of other rear-drive cars in this class.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.