1997 ACURA CL 3.0CL
Used Car - 1997 Acura CL 3.0CL in Camas, Wa
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1997 Acura CL ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Distinctive luxury and sneaky fast.
Folks who favor road rockets like the BMW M3 coupe pooh-pooh the Acura 3.0CL for lack of character. Others have criticized its pricetag, and for a shortage of doors--in other words, for not being a sedan.
After spending a week with a 3.0CL, we find these observations mystifying.
True, the V6-powered version of Acura's mid-size front-drive coupe lacks a manual transmission, optional or otherwise--that sport-driving essential is available only with the four-cylinder 2.2CL--and its on-road persona is serenely quiet, composed and competent.
But for all its posh good manners, the CL can handle a slalom course or series of s-bends in a considerably faster than average hurry, and its all-around dynamics are on a par with most of BMW's superb 3-Series coupes, though the M3 is in a class by itself.
Comments about two doors versus four defy comprehension. Yes, sedans are more versatile. But coupes still have an appeal--sporty, intimate, personal--that sedans don't. We don't think a coupe has to apologize for being a coupe.
As for the price issue--well, let's look at that. With a base price of $25,545, including destination and delivery, the 3.0CL is $3000 higher than the 2.2CL, and at $27,105 the Premium version, our test subject, is in near-luxury territory.
At a glance, that may seem a trifle dear. But check the standard equipment list. This baby is loaded, and the basic 2.2CL is only slightly less so.
Although it's not as radical as the CLX concept car Acura displayed at Detroit's North American International Automobile Show in 1995, the CL is a striking blend of angles and curves, with a rear end treatment that adds a spicey dash of sci-fi to a part of the car that's usually as anonymous as milk.
If this design had come from Ford, it would be called New Edge, and it's pretty daring by recent Acura standards.
The Acura part of the equation may be a prime source of confusion about this car's search for recognition.
We're talking identity crisis.
When Honda's premium division first materialized, it positioned itself as a rival for Germanic luxo-sport manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and, in particular, Audi.
More recently, after wistfully watching Lexus soar to the top of the charts, Honda's tribal elders decided that Acura should be a pure luxury make. This was followed in short order by another about-face, emphasizing performance and sporty character.
Finalized during the waning days of the pure-lux era, the CLs wound up with a personality that's a tad out of synch with the new direction, leaning more toward the luxury side of the ledger.
That's why Acura left a manual transmission out of the mix for the 3.0 edition.
If you check around in this price-performance sector, you won't find many other players. It's been suggested that the Chrysler Sebring LXi offers a comparable car for considerably less, but we don't see it. Pretty though it is, the Sebring is no match for the 3.0's performance or refinement.
And the only other coupes in this realm wear BMW emblems--the 318is and the 328is, which are still style and performance pacesetters. But they're also pricey. The 138-horsepower four-cylinder 318is starts at over $28,000, the 190-horsepower 328is, with its sweet inline six, opens the bidding a bit north of $33,000.
So Acura's CL is swimming around out there pretty much by itself, an uncomfortable situation for a new car. There's not much to compare it to, not directly anyway, and that means it has to achieve recognition on a basis of brand and styling.
We think the styling will speak for itself. As for what's beneath the distinctive sheetmetal, we think that will speak--seductively--to the inner driver.
Like all current Honda designs, the CL has a relatively long wheelbase for its tidy overall size, which pays off in ride quality and more room inside. The track is also proportionately wide, which benefits stability as well as interior volumetrics.
The new coupes ride on Honda's sophisticated double wishbone suspension, with disc brakes at all four corners. The 3.0CL has bigger front brake rotors than the 2.2, and antilock is standard for all models.
Luxury is a word that definitely applies within, even in the basic 2.2CL.
We're not big woodgrain fans, but the CL's burled walnut is tasteful, enhancing a dashboard that is typical of all Honda products--straightforward and handsomely functional.
Typically Honda also applies to the extensive glass area of the CL's greenhouse, which affords excellent driver sightlines all around.
Unlike smaller sport coupes such as the Ford Probe and Mitsubishi Eclipse, the CL's back seat is useable, but this is one area where the Chrysler Sebring takes the prize.
Consistent with its luxury theme, the CL's front seats are a little roomier and offer a little less lateral support than the boy racer buckets
in a BMW.
But they're long on comfort, with a wide range of power adjustability and plenty of legroom. The seat heaters in our test car were welcome, too, during the January doldrums.
Nifty touches: The driver's seat automatically eases forward to make rear seat access easier, and a small trapdoor next to the digital quartz clock shelters easy-to-use reset controls.
Small demerits: Undersize audio controls, spoke-mounted horn buttons (instead of a center switch) and a relatively tight rear seat area.
Fit and finish were flawless, and interior noise levels were hushed.
There are lots of goodies baked into this purchase price--power everything, excellent sound with an in-dash CD player, a power moonroof and plenty of storage for small items. For the extra $1500, the Premium edition adds leather to seats and door panels, plus the seat heaters.
So what you really have here is a superb luxury coupe executed on a relatively small scale for what looks to us like a terrific price.
As noted, the 3.0CL was conceived to deliver luxury rather than all-out performance. But this doesn't mean the it can't haul the old mail.
It's powered by an all-new 3.0-liter single-overhead-cam aluminum V6 that generates 200 horsepower and plenty of go, even though this top-of-the-line model weighs in at a rather hefty 3219 pounds.
With four valves per cylinder and Honda's versatile VTEC variable camshaft timing system, the new V6--manufactured, like the rest of the car at Honda's ultra-modern facilities near Marysville, Ohio--is wonderfully smooth and quiet across its entire operating range.
Mated to a smooth four-speed automatic with Grade Logic computer controls, to limit up-and-down hunting on hills, the 3.0 delivers luxury motoring with more than enough punch to keep boredom at bay.
Like the powertrain, the CL's excellent chassis and suspension are tuned for long haul comfort.
There's enough starch in the springs and shocks to keep body roll within the realm of sporty acceptability, and the crisp rack-and-pinion power steering lends gratifying accuracy to quick changes in direction.
A little more rubber on the handsome 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels would probably knock a few tenths off the CL's slalom time--Honda has always been conservative with its tire specs--but in general this coupe has a surprisingly high fun-to-drive index for a car conceived to appeal to luxury buyers.
This is an outstanding luxury coupe, and an excellent value.
As a matter of personal preference, we'd prefer to shift for ourselves in a car like this, but even at BMW the sales mix is skewed heavily toward automatic transmissions.
And when it comes to doors, America generally prefers four to two. But some of us still like coupes. And this one is a jewel.
Options As Tested
Heated leather seats, leather door panel trim.
3.0 CL Premium.
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