Rare Rides Review: A Brand New 2003 Acura CL Type-S

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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rare rides review a brand new 2003 acura cl type s

Today’s vehicle represents a couple of firsts for the Rare Rides series. It’s the first time a Rare Rides has featured an old car that’s still new, and it’s also the first time your author actually drove the Rare Ride in question.

An Aegean Blue luxury coupe awaits.

This still-new 3.2 CL was featured at Acura’s full-line drive event, which included the first drive of the 2019 ILX. For the occasion, Acura brought the CL out of storage, along with an Integra and an NSX — all three cars being part of their heritage collection. The CL was introduced for the 1996 model year as the not-quite replacement for the discontinued Legend coupe. That year, Legend became RL, and the smaller TL provided the chassis for the CL coupe. Still following along?

Featuring awkward styling, the first generation lasted through 1999. At that point, CL production stopped for a year as Acura readied its new model, with the second-generation CL going on sale for 2001.

All second-generation CLs were powered by the 3.2-liter J-Series VTEC V6, which sent horses to the front wheels via a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Said manual was only available for 2003, and only on Type-S trims.

Debuting with 2002 models, the Type-S designation was the first time Acura used a performance trim that would spread across multiple models (the Integra was the only model to wear Type-R badging). Type S meant more power: 260 horses versus the regular version’s 225.

The model provided for testing was one of the last CLs produced. 2003 was the final year for the CL, and the slow-selling coupe finished life without a replacement. Unusually, the CL experienced some cosmetic refreshing for its final year. Door handles became body colored, and headlamps had a smoked background. Fog lamps up front went away, replaced by vent blanks. At the rear, the full red tail lamps were revised to feature a clear space for reverse and turning indicators. There was also a new 12-spoke wheel design for Type-S vehicles only. 2002’s sales of 12,072 dropped to just 6,593 in the coupe’s final year. Time to hop behind the wheel.

It felt unusual to step into a car from 2003 that still smelled new, a byproduct of the 340 miles displayed on the odometer — surely the lowest mileage example in existence. This CL was never delivered to a dealer, nor any owner; it went straight into the hands of Acura. There were new tires on the heritage models, and the fluids were changed to moisten the internals after so many years of slumber.

The most noticeable thing in the CL’s cabin was the sheer simplicity of it all. Just a few buttons here and there, and a smallish navigation and climate screen with a hilarious resolution. Seats were very comfortable and supportive, feeling nicer than those in other Acuras I drove that day. Surfaces and materials felt well made and very well put together. There’s room for four adults in the interior, and all sit in ruched leather comfort.

As I looked around, the other thing I noticed was how much glass there was — visibility in all directions was substantially better than in cars of 2018.

Out on the road, putting a foot down brought the V6 to life. The pleasant burble was accompanied by a noted (but undramatic) increase in speed. Steering was slightly on the artificially heavy side for extra sporty-ness, and the brake pedal was softer than in modern cars. While the cabin was mainly quiet, some wind noise appeared from the pillars and around the window seals. I also noted a slight ticking coming from the engine under throttle, so perhaps a valve adjustment was needed. I suspect age and extended slumber was a factor in both these items. The suspension was a great balance of nice damping and enough give over bumps to retain comfort. Throwing it into a sharp bend at speed, there was just a bit of controlled body roll as six cylinders powered me out the other side. I was totally pleased at the end of the test route, and wondered if I could find a clean CL Type-S somewhere.

They don’t make em like they used to.

[Images: Corey Lewis / TTAC]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.

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  • Sandro_cl_type_s Sandro_cl_type_s on Nov 02, 2018

    "Throwing it into a sharp bend at speed, there was just a bit of controlled body roll as six cylinders powered me out the other side. I was totally pleased at the end of the test route, and wondered if I could find a clean CL Type-S somewhere." You can find one, because I own one :-) 126K miles on the tach, no accidents, no rust. Aegean Blue Pearl Type-S with six speed manual. The car was my Dad's, which he bought new in 2003. He sold it to me in 2010, and I drove it for many years in California. Then I sold it to a friend, and a year later, begged him to buy it back. He relented and sold it back to me, and I've owned it since then. The engine is just a jewel, and makes a wonderful mechanical symphony when winding out the revs, especially in 2nd and 3rd. The VTEC still kicks in reliably around 5,000 RPM even in this 15 year old car! Like many Hondas, my car did suffer from a short-circuit in the PFI main fuel relay, and I replaced the unit myself. I've also had the coolant, manual trans fluid, and brake/power steering fluid flushed and/or replaced. I've replaced the lower ball joints and front/rear shocks with KYBs (note: don't use KYBs on this car. Use the Acura OEMs or use Bilstein). I'm going to pull the KYBs soon and put the Acura OEMs (new) back in. I finally gave in and had my shop replace the head unit with a bluetooth compatible one, but I didn't have to replace the speakers, because the Bose system still sounds pretty good these many years later! All in all, for a daily driver, this car is really fun and engaging. It's not breathtakingly fast at all... it's more about the experience of winding out that JA32 and hearing the VTEC kick in while snicking through the smooth close-ratio gear box. It's just a very mechanical, simple car that directly engages you as a driver and does it's job reliably every day. I still see these cars on the road, but the Type-S manual is getting extremely rare.

  • Aajax Aajax on Nov 03, 2018

    CL Type-S with 6-speed has been on my bucket list for the last decade.

  • Jeff_M It's either a three on the tree OR it's an automatic. It ain't both.
  • Lorenzo I'm all in favor of using software and automation to BUILD cars, but keep that junk off my instrument panel, especially the software enabled interactive junk. Just give me the knobs and switches so I can control the vehicle, with no interconnectivity of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts Modern cars detach people from their speed too much. The combination of tall ride height, super-effective sound insulation, massive power, and electronic aids makes people quite unaware of just how much kinetic energy is nominally under their control while they watch a movie on their phone with one hand and eat a Quarter Pounder with the other. I think that is the primary reason we are seeing an uptick in speed-related fatalities, especially among people NOT in cars.With that said, I don't think Americans have proven responsible enough to have unlimited speed in cars. Although I'd hate it, I still would support limiters that kick in at 10 over in the city and 20 over on the freeway, because I think they would save more than enough lives to be worth the pain.
  • Wjtinfwb Maybe Grandpa Joe should dust off the "Cash for Clunkers" paybook and use more of our tax money to help people who cannot afford a new car get into a new EV? One less efficient and useful Corolla, Impala or Ranger on the road replaced by an EV that can only go 200 miles before you hunt for a charging post that works and spend a few hours filling up. That'll teach those leaches who sponge off Government handouts to expect something for nothing.
  • 28-Cars-Later I wonder if Michael Hastings can shed any light on what happened here?