____ Americans have always had a place in their hearts — and garages — for a stylish, comfortable and sporty two-door coupe. Since the average driver spends nearly seven years behind the wheel during a lifetime, why not add a little pizzazz to that daily commute?
_____Acura has clearly targeted its CL coupe line to meet that need, and it does so remarkably well, for a price that won't break the bank.
_____ The CL turned out to be a big success during the 1997 model year, its first year of production. New upgrades for 1998 include body-colored bumper skirts, grille design, restyled alloy wheels, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a new security system and enhanced interior trim.
_____ The front-wheel drive CL is available in two models, which differ primarily by the number of cylinders. The 2.3CL features a new 150-horsepower, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder that replaces last year's 2.2-liter engine. The 3.0CL comes with a 24-valve, 3.0-liter V-6 producing 200 horsepower. Both engines use Honda's innovative Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system to produce above-par throttle response and excellent fuel efficiency.
_____ Standard on the 2.3CL is a 5-speed manual transmission. Optional on the 2.3 and standard with the 3.0 is an electronic 4-speed automatic.
_____ We spent a week behind the wheel of the 2.3CL equipped with the standard 5-speed transmission and found it an outstanding package. The Acura's profile is dramatic, understated. The striking back end of the car incorporates a softly chopped deck lid bordered by angular taillights that wrap around the sides of the quarter panels. The look is clean, yet elegant.
_____ A tall roofline supported by thin pillars parallels the CL's forward wedge profile, and 16-inch, 6-spoke alloy wheels give an added look of performance. A contoured rear deck spoiler is available, but the CL's stubby tail looks just fine without it. The CL's overall design will age gracefully.
_____ Step inside to find all the comfort and convenience trappings of many higher-priced luxury cars. Included as standard equipment on the 2.3CL are power windows, door locks and side mirrors, an automatic climate control system, 6-way power driver's seat and a power sliding moonroof.
_____ The test car came with the Premium Package, which included leather seats and door panels, driver's seatback pocket and Homelink garage door system. Front seat elbow and leg room is abundant, but some adults may find the rear seating space marginal. The problem lies in the fact that the rear seat cushion is low, which means those over six feet tall find themselves staring at their knees. A lockable pass-through in the rear seat allows the already large capacity trunk to accommodate extra-long cargo.
_____ Acura installed extensive sound insulation in the CL, helping turn highway road noise into a whisper. The 2.3CL features an Acura Music System with an AM/FM tuner with an in-dash CD player, plus an 80-watt amplifier and six speakers.
_____ The CL's 4-wheel independent, double-wishbone suspension provides near-sports car-like handling and road manners. The power steering grows progressively stronger as speed increases, so a lighter feel for in-town maneuvering falls off nicely once you get out on the highway. Both CL models feature disc brakes all around, with 4-wheel ABS.
_____ While the CL certainly doesn't have the look or feel of an economy car, it is nearly as thrifty to operate. Our 250-mile mix of city and highway driving recorded a notable 24.3 mpg — and that was with a car with barely 500 miles on the odometer.
_____ The price on the 2.3CL test drive car totaled a reasonable $23,795, with destination charges. The CL features a 4-year/50,000 mile limited warranty along with roadside assistance during the same period of time.