By on January 29, 2016

2003 Acura CL Type S

Yes, dear readers, I do read the comments. I try and chime in when I can, but I have a day job that doesn’t always allow me to monitor, refute, or verbally flog every remark, even when warranted.

Wednesday, prolific commenter CoreyDL noticed a blurple Acura CL lurking behind my beloved Gallic pile of rust. Somehow, I’d forgotten about these, even though a former neighbor had a beautiful metallic orange CL Type S that always caught my eye.

In other words, I’m running out of ideas. Keep up the comments and suggestions!

As was mentioned further down the comment thread, Honda’s automatic transmissions had an unfortunate habit of self-destruction, making the six-speed manual even more important to locate. This 2003 Acura CL Type S for sale in Tennessee is so equipped, and even tempting with its likely-to-fade-to-pink red paint.

Its 260 horsepower in a front-wheel-drive coupe is plenty quick, especially as Honda decided to fit a real limited-slip differential. Heck, this could make a fun weekend track toy that still looks classy on the soul-sucking Monday morning commute. I’d prefer the factory radio were still present, as I’ve had too many aftermarket head units stolen to count — including from my own Honda coupe when I was 17 — but that’s a minor complaint for an otherwise-pristine car.

But is its $7,500 sticker a fair price for this? I’d be more comfortable if two grand were knocked off, and I’d pay more for one in a color such as orange or purple, but those examples seem to be hard to track down with three pedals.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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58 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 2003 Acura CL Type S...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    $7,500 is definitely a fair price. 100K on a Honda is just getting started. Lot of cool details too… those are some sexy seats, for example. LSD is key with all that power. It’s a nice car. My only gripe is its looks… lot of overhang. Looks like an Acura Monte Carlo. I would much rather do the TL that followed, which is not much more expensive, while being much easier to find with the 6MT and is available with the big daddy 3.5 which I think has an LSD.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      “Looks like an Acura Monte Carlo”

      Unfortunately does. Might have to rethink $7,5K, but I’d still drive the s*** out of it. Love that six speed.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      This is a nice car. Not too sure about $7,500, and regardless of the conscientious owner and benign Nashville-area weather that have kept the exterior in such nice shape, it’s still a 13-year-old car with almost 107,000 miles on it and quite a few power doohickeys to go bad.

      But yes…it’s a REALLY nice car.

    • 0 avatar
      MarionCobretti

      You know what makes me think this thing might be a good deal? Photos 5-8 on Page 3. A 100K mile Honda *can* go for another 150K without trouble, if it’s been maintained. The fact that the previous owner replaced the tires with Michelins instead of LingLongs makes me suspect this was a very well cared for vehicle.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I always loved this model, esp in that metallic orange with a manual. this one looks to be in great shape, but I don’t like the red.

  • avatar
    18726543

    I was wrenching for Acura from 2001 until about 2004 and over that time frame I replaced 103 transmissions in TL and CL models. It really was a shame because the 2nd gen vehicles were pretty solid and nice to drive otherwise! When these started rolling off the the car carriers in 2002 it was a very welcomed sight! Finally there was way to own one of these without the incredibly tragic 5-speed auto! I always enjoyed PDI’ing these when they came in, but the clutch was pretty difficult to learn. It would catch right off the floor, and even though I’d been driving a manual vehicle for years at that point, I’d always stall the damn thing on that first attempt to hit 1st gear.

    The metallic orange color (we’d refer to it as “Electric Pumpkin”) would’ve been a great combo with the 6-speed manual, but sadly it was only available in the ’01 model year, I guess as a sort of Launch Color.

    As Sportyaccordy said above, much as I wanted to own one of these at the time, it has been since struck from the list and replaced by an ’07 or ’08 TL Type-S 6-speed in blue with the 2-tone interior. If I can find the right one, I’m hoping to make that purchase this summer.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      2009 was the first appearance of “beak-zilla,” correct?

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      Yep, that’s right, which is why my pick of the lot is the ’07/’08 model years. I believe in some of the 4th generation years there was an option to order the car with a body-colored grille which lessened the “beak effect” somewhat, but the styling of the 3rd gen was over-all so my cleaner in my opinion.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    These are engine & transmission donors particularly those with manual transmissions with the limited slip differential.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    I had an 02 TL-S with the “glass tranny” that I traded pretty quickly once I learned to fear repeated broke transmissions. I have a neighbor with the same car that they’ve run up 196K miles on…. I know they’ve been through 2-3 boxes, but they’ve been good for close to 100K miles on their current one.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    One of these with a stick and in that lovely burnt orange color and bold five spoke wheels is a bucket list car for me. What I really love is how elegant these look, despite having a surprising amount of ground clearance (6.2 inches, just .5 inches less than a 2015 CRV). It just somehow highlights the lithe body rather than making it look like some weird lifted pseudo-Subaru SUS. The styling of these is the pinnacle of Acura IMO. Just opening up the exhaust with a set of headers really lets the genie out of the bottle with these J series gems.

    My cousin in Moscow runs a TL sedan of this generation as his cab, definitely a pretty harsh operating environment and yes I’m pretty sure he’s replaced the transmission in it (automatic). My brother here in the US has helped him source replacement KYB struts on rockauto and made shipping arrangements, I guess all that stuff is that much more expensive over there.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Bahaha, I do comment too much here.

    Given the rarity (quite) and the condition (excellent, save for warped leather on center arm rest – even the wheels are without flaws), I think if you got it for $6,000 you’d be doing pretty well. It’s a nice car with rather timeless lines. Always have liked these, especially the later ones like we have here.

  • avatar
    I_Like_Pie

    Has HMC admitted at all that the auto transmissions in practically every V6 vehicle they made in this time period has broken before 100K?

    Heck – 15 years later I am still weary on Honda autos because of them sweeping the problem under the rug.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I think the major transmission issue in those 1999-2003 TL’s and other Honda V6 products that used the same autobox design was as much a secret as who’s buried in Grants Tomb. The 2004> TL’s were a completely different and better design. True, you could eliminate the periodic return visits to your dealer by picking the CL-S 6SPD. I brought home a new leftover 2003 CL-S to show a customer in my neighborhood, but for me, I didn’t care for it for two reasons. One it felt to me like what a 60’s Eldorado would be like with a manual transmission, not sporty at all. And the popular large size of the navigation screen was super distracting to this driver. But at $7500 or less, I’d find it a lot more appealing and might put up with my two complaints.Mileage of 100K is nothing if the car was regularly maintained.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        For whatever it’s worth, the bones of the CL-S are excellent and the wallowy feelings are easily fixable (springs + shocks + brake pads + lines + rear sway bar). Problem is then you are still stuck with a weird looking ~3500lb coupe. Acura was wise to just make the TL look better and kill it off.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    These are neat. When I bought one of the first 04 TLs in Onctober 2003, the dealer was really trying to sell me a leftover one of these with a 6MT instead. The interior of the CL already looked dated at the time (especially with the mouse fur headliner on a formerly $30K car), but I still like them on the outside.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I don’t know why they went back to the mouse fur for that generation. My ’95 Legend has a fake-leather headliner that really feels quality, while my ’04 TSX had a nice textured cloth. Either one seems much more appropriate for an Acura than ’82 Accord mouse fur.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    An idea for a future installment of DC-

    1997/1998 Eagle Talon TSi. This exact car (http://www.allpar.com/photos/eagle/talon.jpg) is my muse. Every time I get the opportunity (read: wife’s approval) to cash in on the aspirations of my youth, something else with my house needs attention. First, the entire multi-zone air condition system. Next, the roof.

    Relatively low production numbers in the more desirable turbo AWD trim (only 4,308 in 1998), few of them remain in great shape, unabused and unmolested by pimply faced, flat brimmed hat wearing teens.

    These were potent cars back in the day (210hp) and with less than $1000 in modifications- should you choose to molest it if you find a prestine one (DONT DO IT!!!), they’ll put out over 400hp and be embarrassing new Mustangs and Camaro’s with ease. They’re nothing to scoff at in stock form even now.

    This particular car has the SUPER rare rear quarter glass windows that were a limited run of only 500 or so cars, on the Talon exclusively, on late 97’s/ early 98’s, applied for no apparent reason, and never to be remade even in the aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      A friend of mine had one of these from 01 through 05. The late years of many of these sports cars had really low production numbers, especially the top end versions. His was a ’98 TSi AWD and you can tell the 98 as the badges were silver not blue like the earlier years. I don’t think we ever saw another 98 TSi AWD. Interesting about those quarter windows, I see they are a different shape in that pic than other ’98s if you Google around. They all did have rear quarter windows though, so not sure what is so special there.

      The reality of the car is usually something less than the fantasy, from my perspective it was nice and fairly quick, but lacked the grunt and excitement of the first gen. As well from a modding perspective the changes in lesser hardware and a smaller turbo vs. the first gen make it a bit more work to bring it up to snuff.

      In my mind I later thought as the Evo came in 2003, that it would be a great idea to basically bring one of these up to Evo powertrain levels since it is the same 4G63 motor. Then you realize another quirk about this car…the old 4G63 in the DSM was a counter-clockwise rotating motor (like an old Honda), and when the USDM Evo got here its 4G63 was a clockwise rotating motor. So bolting in an Evo motor or swapping parts is not so simple, it is a bit of an orphan. This is the only case I am aware of where a manufacturer has made two opposite rotating version of the same motor!

      My buddy replaced the Talon with a Legacy GT which on the whole was more fun to drive, but not as cool to look at as that Talon.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        It’s been a long time since I was under the hood of a running ’90s Mitsu, but I don’t recall them being reverse-rotation. They did have the transmission on the right side of the car, so the belts did run “backward” since the entire engine was facing the opposite direction.

      • 0 avatar
        scrubnick

        The V6’s Mitsubishi used spun the right direction as I recall, they just had an extra shaft in the transmission to get the car to go in the right direction. Hondas spin backward.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          My bad i didnt realize they used an intermediate shaft and the engine did spin clockwise. Wonder what the logic was and why they later abandoned it. The internet says weight distribution but the Evo seems to do just fine the conventional way.

      • 0 avatar
        CoastieLenn

        @power6

        Compare this image that I linked with just about any other Talon photo. The rear quarter glass on this one has a flared trim edge to it that just about all others didn’t. It’s a small detail that most wouldn’t recognize or care about but once seen, you can tell.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Did the CL come with the “A-spec” add-on? I know the TL did, complete with a special edition leather jacket with trim to match the car’s colour.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Don’t believe there was an A-spec CL.

    • 0 avatar
      18726543

      The A-spec TL didn’t come about until the 3rd generation. The CL never made it to a 3rd generation so this is about the best you can do in the CL line.

    • 0 avatar
      Car Ramrod

      A-spec was a delayed option in the TL starting in 2Q 2004, the first appearance of A-spec. The original 3rd gen TL marketing materials made no mention of it. I eventually added the A-Spec wheels to mine, they looked great.

      Not sure why they didn’t do more to create A-spec packages across the model range and adequately promote them

  • avatar
    VW16v

    Now, that is when Acura built distinctive cars. Durable, advanced cars ahead of their times. Currently, they re-badge a civic and morons think it’s a different car.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Wow, you must be high on MKIV crayon fumes. Acura’s oldest and arguably most successful model was a rebadged Civic. This CL is a 6th gen Accord coupe. Lexus top selling models (ES & RX) are fancy Avalons and Highlanders.

      Are you ready for the burn though?

      The car that saved Audi (and possibly VWAG), the B5 A4, was just a SWB Passat. Same engines and everything. Half of VWAG’s lineup is a redone Golf. So maybe next time do a little more research.

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        The Passat was more like a LWB B5 A4, if you follow that the longitudinal drivetrain and Torsen Quattro was fairly exclusive to Audi. Now when we get to Haldex Audis you have a solid case…

        My Mom always drove Audis and to her a Lexus or Acura will always be a Fancy Honda/Toyota. Technical details really never enter into it. But Audi has escaped that perception probably simply due to history, it wasn’t created out of thin air to sell more expensive Volkswagens in most people’s minds.

      • 0 avatar
        VW16v

        Sorry, for your confusion. That re-badged civic is the ilx. The ilx/civic is pathetic as was your burn.

  • avatar
    mtnardi

    ahh my first stick shift. Loved this car, and I seriously have no idea why I got rid of it (other than my fiance couldn’t and still can’t drive a stick). Had an 03 black on black. What a fun car, it actually had a bit of rear leg room too for normal sized adults. I wish Acura would come out with a proper replacement for this. Something along the lines of an Accord coupe w/ SH-AWD & a 6speed. I look for these every once and a while on autotrader just for grins. $7.5K for a 13 year old car is a bit pricey though. Maybe $5K..

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    IF and only IF the timing belt/water pump have been done (100K miles) then it’s worth that price range. Otherwise get an estimate on that required maintenance and demand an appropriate discount.

    • 0 avatar
      chrishs2000

      This is like the 5th time I’ve seen you make the same comment in a thread with a Honda J-series mention.

      It’s roughly $120 in parts, and it takes about 6 hours for any backyard mechanic that knows how to remove a Honda crank bolt to do. It’s not some big cataclysmic job.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        It’s cataclysmic if it fails.

        I wasn’t calling it a deal breaker, only making a reminder that at 100k miles a prospective buyer needs to ensure it has been done.

        And if we were all mechanics, there wouldn’t be a need for mechanics. 6 hours of my time on a Saturday is worth a heck of a lot more than 120 bucks.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “But is its $7,500 sticker a fair price for this? I’d be more comfortable if two grand were knocked off, and I’d pay more for one in a color such as orange or purple, but those examples seem to be hard to track down with three pedals.”

    I agree, but the stick is rare and the automatics are mostly gone due to the glass transmission, which means all post 99 CLs are indeed rare at this point. I’d pay no more than 5,5 for this 106K example, 6,5 if it had under 75. But let’s go to the tape:

    MY03 Acura CL Type-S

    01/14/16 MISS Lease $3,000 89,231 Above BLACK 6G A Yes
    01/26/16 ARENA IL Regular $3,100 124,436 Above CHARCOAL 6G A Yes
    01/20/16 SAN DIEG Regular $2,100 152,625 Avg DRKGRAY 6G A Yes
    01/20/16 NJ Regular $1,400 154,128 Below BLACK 6G A Yes
    01/27/16 PITTSBGH Regular $2,500 156,552 Avg GRAY 6G 6 Yes
    01/19/16 NYMETSKY Regular $2,000 159,452 Avg BLACK 6G M Yes
    01/20/16 CALIFORN Regular $1,900 184,676 Avg RED 6G 6 Yes

    MY02 Acura CL Type-S

    11/04/15 CALIFORN Regular $3,800 84,419 Above SILVER 6G A Yes
    01/14/16 EL PASO Regular $2,800 114,861 Avg SILVER 6G A Yes
    01/22/16 DALLAS Regular $1,100 134,582 Avg SILVER 6G A Yes
    01/21/16 SO CAL Regular $2,700 153,570 Avg SILVER 6G A Yes
    11/12/15 CHICAGO Regular $600 199,346 Below SILVER 6G A Yes
    12/15/15 STATESVL Regular $1,400 212,182 Avg BLACK 6G A Yes

    MY01 Acura CL Type-S

    01/07/16 PALM BCH Regular $6,600 36,419 Above RED 6G A No
    01/07/16 CHICAGO Regular $2,300 107,603 Above WHITE 6G A Yes
    01/27/16 LAKELAND Lease $1,200 132,542 Avg RED 6G A Yes
    01/13/16 DTNA BCH Regular $2,000 136,623 Avg SILVER 6G A Yes
    01/07/16 CHICAGO Regular $850 146,222 Avg SILVER 6G A Yes
    01/06/16 SF BAY Regular $1,900 168,088 Avg RED 6G A Yes
    01/07/16 EL PASO Regular $1,000 196,516 Avg BLACK 6G A Yes
    01/07/16 DFW Regular $1,100 202,848 Avg BLUE 6G A Yes
    01/06/16 SF BAY Regular $350 300,208 Below SILVER 6G A Yes

    Ooooooooo so 28 wuz wrong and overpaid! [gasps]

    So kids what have we learned?

    -Despite rarity, depreciation is most likely still present.
    -New car dealers are amoral scum who put over double what the car is worth on the sticker so lowball accordingly.
    -Even seasoned veterans can overpay.

    from the link

    “THIS VEHICLE IS AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC BEFORE WHOLESALE. In order to cater to all our customer’s needs, we offer these special vehicles for a limited time. They do not meet our traditional requirements for sale.”

    Translation: This car will sit until one of you suckers bite.

    *Before we send them to auction, we give our customers the opportunity to buy them without third party mark-up*”

    Translation: We can’t take it to Manheim because we will either break even or lose money on what we have in it, so we’re offering YOU the chance for a rip off before we shop it at local auctions trying to make some money.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I had a MY01 V6 Accord coupe – only available in automatic. The transmission – even working – was junk. It was lethargic and would occasionally “slip” during hard acceleration, but then return to normal for long stretches of time. From a standstill the car was quite slow but would really start to accelerate quite well – once you got over 60mph. Some of the weakest 200hp I’ve ever experienced, considering my next car, a MY04 BMW 325i had a smaller engine and less horsepower.

    That Accord, along with a Element with a screeching wheel problem that my mechanic couldn’t diagnose, has taken me out of the Honda camp for the time being.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    These cars do not hold up well at all. The interiors fall apart, the paint easily oxidizes and the transmissions are made of glass.

    They looked like a lot of car for the money when they came out, but the cheapness eventually shined through.

    The 2000’s were a bad era for Honda/Acura, lots of problems.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Most of what you just said is complete crap, save for the transmission issue.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        The paint issues are well established, all sorts of class action lawsuits have been brought against Honda/Acura of that era. Go though some CraigsList listing for Acura of that era and most will look like they no clearcoat on the paint.

        But a defective transmission alone is enough to make consumers run in the other direction even if you want to pretend there’s no other issues with the car.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Sad to say you are right. I have to take my 09 Civic in for a paint recall. They still haven’t figured it out.

      For the money the same year Maxima was a much better buy. For the time, that 3.5L was downright scary in a midsize sedan with the 6 speed. VLSD too and it weighed less.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Unpossible. Everyone on TTAC knows nothing has ever failed on a Honda.

        Out of curiosity I did a search for these in Canada. There’s a grand total of 3 for sale and none within 2000 miles of me.

        A combination of rust and glass transmissions has left few of these surviving.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    This car looks like it was painted.

    Also, the 6 speed manual trans on these isn’t perfect either.

    I had a 2006 Accord sedan with the same transmission and it had issues with 3rd gear, not going into gear, and popping out of gear.

    A quick look on Google showed I wasn’t the only one.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I had a co-worker that owned one of these and she babied it. It was in that stunning orange with black leather – it was always just perfect.

    Gorgeous car.

    Former wife and I ALMOST bought one back in the day — it was used (03) and we were looking in 07. She picked a new 4.6L V8 T-Bird instead.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I was always impressed with this car and gave it serious consideration before I bought my BMW. This was the one car that Car & Driver actually said had handling that equaled an e46 3 series (I think it was a 330i in that test). My question is for Jack Baruth if he’s reading, which is how does this compare to his brand new Accord, a car that is basically this one’s direct descendant?

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    The CL Type-S is an interesting car, but in 2003 you could get a brand new 7th gen Accord Coupe V6 6MT for less money and a vastly superior interior. Those are thankfully not hard to find, and becoming extremely cheap.

  • avatar
    tyrade

    I worked as for a supplier that had Acura as a client when this CL launched. I remember how pleased with themselves they were that they had successfully created an oval fuel door with compound curves and the skinniest fender lips known to man. They had already started losing their way even way back then.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    Keep in mind all Honda Accords and Acuras of this era ate ring gears requiring transmission replacements. The less powerful Accords are good for 100-150K. Some Acura S’s have eaten their trans in as low as 60K. Otherwise a great car. I owned the non-S version.

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