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2003 Acura 3.2 CL and Type-S

MSRP Range: $28,200 - $32,700

Invoice Range: $25,996 - $30,140
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $32,550

Vehicle Category: Sports Coupes/Sedans/Convertibles

Enigne Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 3.2-liter, V6 with VTEC, 260-horsepower

Transmission As Tested: 6-Speed Manual

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 19/28

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front and side airbags, 4-wheel, antilock disc brakes

Competition: BMW-3, Toyota Camry Solara, Infiniti G35 Coupe

Until now, Acura's 3.2 CL was missing one goodie that should be available on any sports coupe.

Let's run down the list: it had precise steering, a taut suspension, awe-inspiring handling, big disc brakes and a peppy V6 engine. It was the perfect recipe for a world class car that aims for pure driving pleasure... almost.

Notice anything missing from Acura's mix?

Glaringly absent was a stick-shift transmission, a must-have for any car that seeks serious performance and driving fun. Shame, shame.

Lucky for us car lovers, Acura added a snazzy six-speed transmission to its sporty CL Type-S for 2003. It showcases Acura's hallmark precision with short throws and a tight, mechanical feel -- just what we were hoping for. It's not quite as heavenly as the six-speed in the smaller and cheaper RSX Type-S, but it's a great gearbox nonetheless.

For good measure, Acura also gave the CL a handbrake this year. Its only real advantage, as opposed to the foot-operated variety, is for skidding the car in a sideways sweep like in those really cool car commercials -- not that we would want to do something so juvenile. Of course not!

Other than the new transmission, Acura didn't mess with the CL's winning formula. It has the same 3.2-liter V6 with VTEC, a potent powerplant that can make 260-horsepower when you mash on the gas, along with great brakes, suspension and steering.

What's not to like? Even the price tag is attractive, with the Type-S starting at $31,050. That includes virtually every luxury except a navigation system, which will set you back another $1,500.

If you want the base version, which isn't available with the manual transmission, plan to spend around $28,000. It also comes with plenty of posh features like an automatic climate control system, leather seats and a high-class stereo.

If you don't do much spirited driving, the CL still makes a good grand tourer in its base model. With comfortable seats, perfect driver-oriented controls, a smooth ride and quiet interior, long road trips are a pleasure.

The car is also a beauty to look at. Acura's typical understated, elegant style exudes sportiness with just a hint of luxury. A feline front end, classy roofline and simple rear make the CL an example of timeless automotive design.

With the addition of the shift-it-yourself gearbox, there's only one weakness that keeps the CL out of the most elite realm of sports coupes -- power goes to the wrong wheels. While front-wheel drive cars are safer on icy or wet roads, power must be sent to the rear wheels to get the very best performance.

Because the CL is still a blasphemous front-wheel driver, getting good acceleration can be tricky. If you're not careful under hard acceleration, the car's weight shifts to the rear wheels while the front ones spin aimlessly. That's no good.

Perhaps the next generation CL will fix this only real weakness on an already-excellent sports coupe.