This CL was very mixed bag, in my view. It was more costly to maintain, and less bullet-proof than other Honda/Acura products I have owned. The issues mentioned above obviously ranged from the annoying to the serious. Interestingly, this was the first Honda/Acura product I owned that was assembled in the US, although it is not possible for me to determine if the issues had anything to do with assembly, or were more related to design and component quality.
The overall performance was mixed as well. The V-6 VTEC engine was smooth and reasonably powerful, but Acura saw fit to limit top speed. The car would accelerate strongly to 100 MPH, but then the speed limiting logic would start to kick in, causing the car to act like it didn’t want to hear about 110 MPH or higher (even though the vehicle and driveline could easily have achieved 140 if not inhibited).
The car was a fantastic highway machine, with incredibly comfortable seats, a fuss-free climate control system that did a great job of temperature regulation, effective cruise control, a good stereo, and reasonable fuel mileage. It was notably quiet and relaxed, but with good power available whenever you needed it.
Off the highway, it was a different story. First off, the only transmission available for the V-6 was the automatic box, the control logic of which was garbage. The box could never be trusted to be sure of the correct gear unless it was cruising. For example, while slowly rolling in traffic, a moderate accelerator depression resulted in the car effectively saying “huh?” with an awkward pause that seemed to last for ages. This was especially bad in some situations, e.g. having a little forward motion while waiting for a gap in opposing traffic to make a cross-traffic turn. When your gap appeared, the tranny wanted to stay in 2nd gear (if you had any forward motion at all, even just a few MPH) rather than kick down to 1st to get you through without getting killed. Of course, you could mash the throttle to the floor, and it would at last kick-down; you would then scream across like you were insane! The box often was confused like that, and in stop-and go traffic, it was often best to try to manually shift between 1st and 2nd, although it wasn’t set-up very well for that. All told, I would have infinitely preferred the manual 5-speed, as offered in the 4 cylinder models.
Fortunately, I turned in the car at the end of the lease before I encountered what became well-known failures of these automatics that plagued Honda products for several years. So although it functioned poorly in many ways, it never failed for me.
The steering of this year CL, while having reasonably good feel and being well-weighted, was far too slow & low-geared for a coupe with some sporting pretensions. The turning circle was poor also. I understand these issues may have been addressed in later years.
I never felt the CL handled noticeably better than any Accord, on which the car was based. The suspension was fairly soft, and thus offered a good ride, and while not seeming to impart too much body roll, still didn’t support especially sporting handling. Normal FWD understeer was more pronounced by the weight of the V-6, and not helped by the slow steering. I thought it was a mediocre handler for a car that was marketed as a sport coupe.
So overall, the package was a bit of a paper tiger, trying to look like a luxo-sport coupe but being little more that an upscale V-6 Accord 2-door in terms of real performance.
What Honda/Acura did do very well with this car is offer a nice, clean, and handsome exterior styling exercise, with a very comfortable and nicely appointed interior. The driving position was excellent, visibility was superior, controls were effective and well-placed, and the quality of materials was very good, especially for the moderate price of the car.
This year and my example may have had some early production issues which were ironed out later, except for the auto transmission. Anyone picking up a used example of this first series CL may be well-advised to get a later year, and if it’s fitted with the automatic, find out if it has been replaced (yet) under warranty. It is my understanding that Honda replaced a large number of these for Accords, CLs and TLs in the late ‘90’s and early 00’s, generally granting an extended warranty for the box. It’s probably best to get an example that has had the tranny replaced.
If you don’t expect it to be a tossable sports machine, and you can live with its limitations, it was a very nice package. But I wouldn’t want mine back.