Ask any import car enthusiast what the rarest Acura vehicle ever produced was and they will probably answer, “The Integra Type R.” And rightfully so, as that model was only produced in limited numbers and for a limited amount of time. However, if you look a little deeper in the Acura production timeline, you’ll find a car that never got much attention as that Integra pocket rocket. In fact, we wouldn’t be too surprised if you never even knew it existed.
It was only produced for one year
Most consumers might not remember the Acura CL at all, however, it did exist from 1997 to 2003. When it debuted, it was based on the Honda Accord chassis at the time, and, contrary to popular belief, the CL was basically a two-door version of its Acura TL stablemate, as opposed to being a replacement for the Legend Coupe.
In either case, the CL saw some mild success it was offered with the same 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine as the Accord, and later with a 3.0-liter V6 option. In essence, it was a sporty coupe that offered more luxury than an Integra and a better brand image than an Accord. As the years went on, so did production, as the CL lived to see a second generation, which started in the 2001 model year.
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The new generation brought about a new redesign that included a longer, wider body and sleeker aesthetics both inside and out as well as a larger 3.2-liter V6, the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission option were dropped in favor of a more-power Type-S variant. However, the CL only came with an automatic transmission.
The automatic transmission later proved to be an issue, as was the case for other Honda and Acura models with the same transmission at that time. However, a manual transmission option was later added for the 2003 model year. As such, the rarest Acura that we could find was the Acura CL Type-S, but more specifically, the one with the manual transmission that was only in production for the 2003 model year.
What makes this model so special?
If you look up “Acura transmission problems” as a Google search, you will be inundated with stories about how the Acura TL from 2003 and earlier was plagued with automatic transmission issues that included problems ranging from the torque converter failing to other complete transmission failures. These issues carried over to other models like the CL, but luckily, these problems weren’t an issue on the 2003 CL with the manual transmission.
Additionally, the 2003 Acura CL Type-S was rated at 260 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, which according to Car and Driver, equates to 0 to 60 times in the low six-second range and quarter-mile times in the high 14-second range, which means it’s on par with the BMW 3 Series of the same vintage. Sure, the power was sent to the front wheels, but a limited-slip differential kept it all on track.
Aside from being an avid performer, the Acura CL was also a comfortable cruiser as it was adorned with plush leather seats, a sunroof, and a premium Bose Audio system. Rear seat room was roomy enough for two adults and the cargo area could fit plenty of luggage, it was modeled after the TL, after all. For those keeping count, the Acura CL Type-S was practically a more luxurious and comfortable version of the Integra Type R but with the same level of performance.
It is easy to find one now?
For the 2003 model year, only about 6,500 Acura CL models were sold, and most of those were probably automatics. As you can imagine, only a small percentage of those were manual-transmission cars, so finding one now (17 years later) can be tough, but it is possible. A search on Cargurus reveals that there are currently two Acura CL Type-S models with manual transmissions currently for sale nationwide.
And while there might be more for sale than those listed, you can clearly see how hard it is to find one, especially a really clean example. However, if you do happen to buy one, you’ll have one of Acura’s hidden gems, and luckily, you probably won’t have to worry about it getting stolen like an Integra Type R.