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article details
Author Shawn Church
Categories TOV Road Test, CL
Create Date September 23, 2002 03:32
Last Update April 28, 2003 13:26
CL-S 6-speed - Where self-stirred Vitamin H cures all

Foot goes down, head goes back. Foot goes down, head goes back. That was the basic modus operandi for the first few minutes I spent in the CL-S 6-speed. Jeff and Tuan picked me up at the airport in the car when I arrived in Atlanta. As we pulled out into traffic, Jeff nailed the gas and planted me into the comfortable seats. Wow! Even with 3 people in the car and luggage, the J32A2 pulls hard everywhere. And the revised soundtrack is serious ear candy for enthusiasts. Even if you got accustomed to the thrust, you'd still want to hit the throttle to hear the symphony from under the hood.

It only got better when I finally sat down behind the wheel. This car is fast! Get into the gas and keep the pedal down and it racks up speed quick enough to get you into a lot of trouble. During my time behind the wheel I could simply not believe how good this powertrain is. Want to embarrass the kid in the new Mustang GT in the next lane? Go ahead. If he isn't ready, he's going to get a big surprise. Want to cruise in quiet comfort on the freeway without downshifting? No problem, put it in 6th, no need to downshift above 50-60 mph. The J32A2, when equipped with a manual transmission, is simply a gem, and a very high quality gem at that. I will draw some flack for this, but all things considered, the J32A2/6-spd combo is simply the best V6 engine on the market today. It is inexpensive, powerful, fuel efficient, flexible, sounds great, and is compact and light for its displacement class. I think it's better than Nissan's award winning VQ35, better than anything from Ford/Jag, GM/Caddy and Toyota/Lexus. In fact, the only production 6-cylinders that I think might be better are the BMW M3's straight-6 and the flat-6 from the Porsche 911. But you can't get those motors for less than a $45k-$50k price of admission. And something else to consider - the J32A2 has a ton of HP upside. It has been well proven that with simple intake and exhaust mods (totaling around $2000), another 30 hp and 15 lbs-ft of torque can be liberated while remaining emissions legal. Scary? Only if you try to race one.

In some ways, it's almost a shame for Acura that they put such a great drivetrain into this car. The J32A2 overshadows how nice the total CL-S package really is. The cockpit is very comfortable (even the back seat). It's relaxing, quiet and has all the amenities I could ever want for $30k. The materials are all of high quality, the controls have a slick, damped, luxury feel, the radio sounds good - there really isn't much to complain about when it comes to features, fit and finish and overall quality/refinement.

So, what about handling? That's a tough one. As a GT car, or a luxury sports coupe, the CL-S does just fine. The steering has good feel and nice weighting and the suspension tuning embodies a good ride/handling compromise. But, that sweet drivetrain makes you want to flog the car harder and harder. And when you push past about 8/10ths, things begin to get a little sketchy. It isn't that the car is FWD. The chassis is surprisingly neutral and the helical LSD really helps corner exit traction. The problem is all the weight. You can really feel the heft when you sweep into a quick turn, especially if it's bumpy. The mass of the car masks feedback about what the road is like underneath you, and how the car is responding to it. Push further and the good ride/handling compromise begins to feel a little on the soft side. The chassis rolls over a little too much, making the mediocre tires beg for mercy. Under hard use the brakes feel a little inadequate for the task of stopping a 3450 lbs car with this much power. I'm not saying I don't like the handling, or that it's bad. In fact, for 99% of all driving that owners of this car will do, the chassis is exceptional. It's just that the wonderful engine egging you on that it shows up the chassis' shortcomings. Put some better tires on the car (yes, the Michelin's on this car, once again, are subpar), upgrade the brake pads and throw on some stiffer anti-sway bars and you'd go a long way towards alleviating the issues I've described.

At the end of our test, I was addicted to the J32 and the CL-S 6-spd. I was ready to call this drivetrain the best in Honda/Acura's stable when you consider all the variables (power, cost, flexibility, efficiency, etc.) - NSX and S2000 included. When I got home and drove my S2000 again, I recanted a little, but the J32 is certainly right up there and worthy of consideration for this honor. So, can the CL-S 6-spd serve as an all in one sports car and luxury tourer? Almost, but not quite. The weight and chassis just aren't sporty enough. But if you have a weekend race car, this car an outstanding daily driver and long distance touring coupe. And for the money, it's a real bargain. If I wasn't so set on a 4-dr as my next car, I'd probably have a CL-S6 in my garage right now. It really is that good in its niche. But all is not well, for on the horizon lurks the Infiniti G35 coupe. Similarly equipped, it will be a bit more expensive than the CL-S and have a little more HP, but the biggest attraction will be RWD. Hey Acura, how about throwing this engine package into a RWD coupe and shaving off a couple hundred lbs? Put me on the waiting list right now if so.

Video Title


File Download (Right Click and Select Save As)

CL Type-S6 on Deal's Gap - Part 1

We see how the CL handles the twisty roads of US 129, Deal's Gap (aka the Dragon's Tail). It is mostly in-car footage with commentary. The low end torque and LSD helped the CL-S6 do admirably on Deal's Gap. Part 1.

MPEG1- 29.7MB 320x240

CL Type-S6 on Deal's Gap - Part 2

We see how the CL handles the twisty roads of US 129, Deal's Gap aka the Dragon's Tail. It is mostly in-car footage with commentary. The low end torque and LSD helped the CL-S6 do admirably on Deal's Gap. Part 1.

MPEG1 - 20.7MB 320x240

Montgomery, Alabama Drag Strip

The CL-S6 and RSX-S battle at the drag strip. I wanted to have fun with this, so I made a Hollywood (aka tongue in cheek, Fast and Furious style) version of our time at the drag strip with these two cars. We only had a max of 3 cameras rolling at any given time, so some of the scenes are from different runs obviously. Hopefully you'll enjoy the different camera angles we provided. As noted before, we filled up the RSX-S right before the drag strip at a local gas station and got a really bad batch of gas. The RSX-S was running very poorly and so the CL-S6 had no problem pulling away from it.

MPEG1 - 9.3MB 320x240

Highway US 129, Deal's Gap is also referred to as the "Tail of the Dragon", or the "Dragon's Tail". It's a fantastically curvy, smooth road located in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina and features 318 curves over an 11 mile stretch. More information about Deal's Gap can be found at: http://www.tailofthedragon.com/

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Subject Thread Originator Replies Last Post
  Almost, but not quite...
quadlamp 9
pongkai 7
  I have a 2001 CL-S and mods can do wonders!
Nashua CLS 0
  i have to disagree
schwett 3
floundericiousMI 1
  good write-up
Anthonywenzel 4
  great videos but ...
danielgr 5
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