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article details
Author Jeff Palmer
Categories CL
Create Date September 26, 2002 16:56
Last Update March 19, 2003 21:21
Thrust Lust
First of all, let's get this out in the open. I don't care what you say about the rest of the CL-S, it's all about the drivetrain. From the first time I drove a TL Type S, (as competent as it was) with the gap-toothed gear ratios and sometimes frustrating "sportshift" transmission all I could imagine was how much better the car would be with a "row your own" tranny. I hoped, prayed, and waited with baited breath for Acura to finally deliver a J-series V6 with a manual transmission. For 2003, those prayers have been partially answered (still waiting on a 6-speed sedan, however).

While the 260hp motor delivers the goods fair enough through a slushbox, the 6-speed literally transforms the J32A into a silky smooth lustmill. It pulls like a poor man's NSX and sounds nearly as sweet too. Torque is available instantly, and it pulls like a freight train from idle right into the 6900 rpm redline, all the while emitting intoxicating sounds. The helical LSD lays down the power effectively and with relatively little drama, at least once you're rolling. Getting away from a dead stop quickly was a little bit different, however, especially at the drag strip.Relatively few revs are required to light up the underachieving Michelins in first gear, so we found that a launch speed of just above idle is optimal. Considering the obstacles the drivetrain has to overcome (300lbs too much bacon, skinny/greasy tires, and perhaps most importantly, the FF configuration), the performance numbers we were able to coax from it are quite impressive. After (finally) nailing the launch technique we managed to extract back to back 14.5 (14.52, 14.53) 1/4 mile runs at over 96mph. These are uncorrected numbers; we were running in 85+F Alabama temps, and 90+% humidity. Using conservative correction factors (80F, 80% humidity) the numbers correct to 14.2@98mph. Damn!, you say. So say we. And speaking of the launch technique, it basically boils down to a near idle launch. Using more revs simply resulted in wasteful wheelspin and high 14 second (or worse) timeslips. On the streets, traction is much more plentiful than the dragstrip, and I imagine that 14.5 second (and better) 1320 times would be a cinch, so this car should acquit itself quite well in the stoplight grand prix.

So you'd probably (correctly) guess that our favorite pose in the 6-speed CL was "right-foot-to-the-floor", which we struck perpetually. The combination of thrust and aural stimulation proved to be too seductive to ignore. This, of course, came at the expense of fuel economy, which was understandably low (mid-upper teens) in "around-town" driving. As much as we liked this part of the car, we couldn't help but think about how much more we'd like to see this drivetrain in another body style (cough! SEDAN! cough! Sportscar!). Because as good as the drivetrain is, the rest of the car doesn't quite measure up. Well, at least when you put all the pieces in context. If this exact same package of motor, refinement, and handling were available in a sedan, I'd be singing the praises from the hilltops, as well as parking one in my garage. But since we're talking about sport coupes here, I have to raise the bar a bit when it comes to the handling and braking departments.

Let's face it, the CL Type S is a heavy car. As we mentioned, the motor is strong enough to almost make you forget about the weight, at least until you hit that first corner. You also feel the mass under braking, but more on that later. Considering the tire size, the vehicle weight, and the FF layout of the car, Acura's engineers have actually done a pretty good job. The car is commendably athletic when you take all those factors into consideration, but you can't help but imagine how much better it would be if it managed to shed an offensive lineman or so. The 6-speed CL Type S is said to have a stiffer suspension calibration than the automatic-equipped CL and TL Type S, yet to me it felt a tad softer than the TL Type S. And I'm not alone in that sentiment. After driving both cars back to back Shawn agreed that the TL felt a bit more buttoned down. Yes, it's hard to fathom, but true. I queried Acura people about this, and they maintain their stance that both the springs and rollbars are stiffer on this 6MT CL. Perhaps all the extra thrust (about 20 more horsepower is presented to the tarmac vs. the automatic, thanks to the superior efficiency of the manual transmission) just taxes the suspension that much more.

The rate at which this projectile gathers speed also presents a challenge to the brakes, which at 11.8" up front and 11.1" in the rear just aren't quite up to the task of repeatedly impeding forward progress. They do okay in an emergency situation, but if you're working the car through some really intense twisty stuff, or on a racetrack, just be prepared to give the brakes a break periodically. Of course, the Michelins help mitigate that problem, as they tend to lay off soon after the pace picks up, and about the same time the brake pads are entering a semi-plasmatic state. Again, losing 300-400 lbs would work wonders here - the tires and brakes would both be able to perform their tasks remarkably better. Not to mention the effect on the power to weight ratio.

The LSD on this CL-S is tasked with channeling quite possibly the most power ever delivered to the front wheels (we measured around 220 wheel hp on the dyno) of a production vehicle. Not too long ago, conventional wisdom was that trying to put much more than 200 crank hp through the front wheels was a Bad Idea. Acura engineers seem to have taken the challenge to heart, because this CL-S hustles out of tight corners with authority, even in first gear. It's not all perfect, however. The LSD manages to influence the cornering of the CL-S somewhat unexpectedly, especially in heavy throttle situations. It's not anything insurmountable, but it takes a bit of adjustment to get fully used to the feel, especially if you're used to a front-driver tending to understeer on the throttle.

The all-new 6-speed that Acura's engineers have developed is quite a nice unit. The ratios are well suited to the J32A's torque delivery characteristics, the throws are reasonably short, and the action is quite pleasing overall. It's not the best that Honda/Acura have ever done, but it's quite solid nonetheless. The only quibble that I might have with this drivetrain would probably be the clutch action. It's hard to describe, but there seems to be some sort of hitch in the takeup. Not to mention an internal safeguard which completely eliminates the possibility of pulling off a quick shift. Indeed, even with the quickest wrist and foot action imagineable, each shift is sort of blurred into the next one. Shawn hypothesized (correctly, it turns out) that the clutch must be employing some sort of valving to regulate the clutch takeup. In addition, a dual mass flywheel helps sponge off the bite of a quick upshift. This results in consistent, but slow (by RSX-S and S2000 standards) shifting. This was done, no doubt, to minimize/eliminate the tremendous shock that would be the result of so much torque after a hard up or down-shift. The upshot is that this will pay off in terms of greater longevity. It's also more suitable to the level of refinement that defines this car.

It's interesting to note that during the week we had with this car and the RSX-S, the CL-S was the more popular choice when we knew we'd be tooling around in town, potentially sitting in traffic. The sheer thrust, and the ease of access to this thrust pays dividends in stop and go traffic. It is quite happy to lug around in low speed traffic in 3rd or 4th gear, even if you're crawling. It's also capable of embarassing even an S2000 in the stoplight grand prix (unless the S2000 is driven by somebody who doesn't give a hoot about the health of their clutch nor the risk of points on their driver's license). We even ran this scenario (using a street-sane launch for the S2000) and the CL-S easily stepped out front and was able to hold off the S2000 through 70mph. Yes, the S2000 was gaining, but you can't legally exceed 70mph in too many places, so as far as we were concerned, the CL-S was the winner there. On the other hand, when we hit the mountain roads, the CL-S played second fiddle to the RSX-S.

Video Title


File Download (Right Click and Select Save As)

RSX and CL Driving Action on Deal's Gap - Part 1

Using an S2000 as a camera car, we mount a camera to the front bumper and capture the RSX and CL in action on Deal's Gap. This video has two edit cuts since we ran into traffic twice. Since this is a public road, we kept our driving to no more than 8/10ths. Though the S2000 had no problems keeping up, the tire squealing you hear is from the S2000 on the freshly paved road. Part 1.

MPEG1 - 44.4MB 320x240

RSX and CL Driving Action on Deal's Gap - Part 2

Using an S2000 as a camera car, we mount a camera to the front bumper and capture the RSX and CL in action on Deal's Gap. Again, we ran into traffic so I had to combine different sessions here. Since this is a public road, we kept our driving to no more than 8/10ths. Though the S2000 had no problems keeping up, the tire squealing you hear is from the S2000 on the freshly paved road. Part 2.

MPEG1 - 40.7MB 320x240

Back to back 14.52 and 14.53 second 1/4 Mile Runs in the CL-S6

In the day time, it was +90F degrees with at least 90% humidity. As night fell, so did the temperature (~85F), the track got stickier, and our times started falling too. Here are our best two runs. Notice the motorcycle that Jeff beats because of the rider's poor launch and mis-shifts. The same thing happens to the Trans Am GTA in the second run. The great low end torque of CL-S6 makes it an easy car to launch, though the stock Michelins had very little grip at the drag strip. This was a totally bone stock CL-S6 from Acura with only 2100 miles!

MPEG1 - 4.8MB 320x240

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