Acura 3.2CL Type-S 6-Speed Manual: Used Car Reminder

Acura 3.2CL Type-S 6-Speed Manual: Used Car Reminder

Back in the mid-2000s, before Acura went completely off the deep end and teamed up with Angry Birds to promote its cars, there was this thing: the 3.2CL Type-S with a 6-speed manual transmission.

Before I get into detail, a little background. When the CL came out in 1997, it was possibly the dullest (it’s a word) two-door vehicle ever revealed to the automotive buying public. That year, two models were available: the 2.2CL, with 145 horsepower, and the 3.0CL, with 200. Unfortunately, the only way you could get a stick was the 2.2CL, which meant basically everything about the CL was a rather numb, leisurely driving experience.

The CL was redesigned for 2000 with only one engine: a 3.2-liter V6 with 225 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. While that may sound meaty, the CL also gained a ton of weight; it now tipped the scales just shy of 3,500 pounds. That, coupled with the fact that the CL remained automatic only (and that the automatic became known for tremendous reliability issues), meant the CL struggled to find a following. Regular people bought the TL instead. And enthusiasts didn’t want an automatic, or front-wheel drive.

Fortunately, there was a savior: the Type-S model. On sale from the car’s launch in 2000, the CL Type-S boasted 260 horsepower and 232 pound-feet. But it was still automatic only.

That changed in 2003. Acura finally fitted a six-speed manual to the CL Type-S, delivering a model that remains the high point of Acura performance outside the NSX and Integra Type-R. Of course, Acura being Acura, the CL Type-S six-speed only saw that one model year. The car was axed by 2004, never to return again.

18 Responses to “ “Acura 3.2CL Type-S 6-Speed Manual: Used Car Reminder”

  1. JasonR says:

    My cousin has worked for North American Honda for over 20 years. He lives near Torrance, CA and I only see him every few years at family reunions and/or funerals. Last year he came back for our aunt’s funeral and stayed for a whole week, so we hung out together almost every night. We come from a family holy-roller tee-totalers who think drinking is a mortal sin and requires an exorism…and the only way he and I refrain from beating them to death with their own Bibles is to drink..heavily!

    He has always been a tight-lipped “company man” in response to my questions about a few certain Honda reliability issues, especially the V6/automatic transmission faiires. But after spending a few drunken nights hanging out at the local sports bar, I got him to talk! He drinks hard liquor and I’m a beer drinker, so I managed to stay semi-sober enough to get the low-down and actually remember it the next day…

    Accoring to him, the total number of transmissions replaced under warranty on 2001-2005 Honda and Acura vehicles was over 600,000!!! BUT intenrnal estimtes of the actual number of failures prior to 60k miles is about 1.1 million!!! So based on their own data and (conservative) estimates, at least 500,000 failures occured that weren’t warrantied and owners were stuck with the bill!

    The 600,000 warranty replacements covered just over 460,000 vehicle. The 140,000 discrepancy represents multiple failures on the same vehicle. The worst example he knew about personally was a 2002 Acura 3.2TL Type-S that was on it’s 5th transmission when the company finally bought it back. THe owner had magnetic signs for all sides of the car letting the world know about the car’s troubles and had been featured on several tv news stations and newspapers where he lived in Virginia. They tried to sue him to shut him up first, though.

    I drove Hondas from the day I got my license in 1990 until December 2005 when I totaled my ’02 Accord EX (luckily a 4-cylinder 5-speed manual). I participated in several Honda entusiast forums for years and started hearing horror stories in mid-late 2003 about transmission problems. By 2004, it was obvious that there was a major issue and Honda refused to admit it and fought almost every warranty claim possible to avoid paying. I knew on some level that I would never buy another Honda unless I was willing to abandon my deeply held ethical beliefs….and the 2006 Civic was so hideous that it made jumping ship much easier! =)

    Most of the family now considers me as evil as Beelzebub himself. Not only do I drink, but since December 2005 I also have worshipped at the temple of “Zoom-Zoom”…they consider ownership of a Honda or Acura necessary for salvation….I started going to family reunions again just to park my Mazdas front-and-center to piss them off…when I left the last one, I swear there was some Holy Water spotting the windshield of my new CX-9….

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      This is a great post!!! Wild that so many cars were so affected. There isn’t a single person I know with a 99-03 TL who hasn’t had a transmission replacement, whether under warranty or out of pocket. The last one left was a few years ago and I BEGGED him to ditch the car before the trans went. He didn’t and, no joke, the transmission was done three months later. As I recall this happened to a ton of Odysseys, too?

      • JasonR says:

        Yep, the Pilot, Odyssey and TL seemed to the be the worst. But the V6 Accords also had the same fatal flaw. As a percentage of total vehicles, because they sell around 400k Accords each year, it was a lower percentage of all Accords from those years. The fact that the Pilot, Odyssey and TL were $30k-$35k+ made it all the more enraging!

        It may sound crazy to some, but realizing what was happening and ultimately losing my respect and faith in Honda was a very difficult experience for me. I would even liken it to a devoutly religious person having a major crisis of faith. Looking back, I see that I went thru all the stages of grief over a few years (Denial, ANGER, Bargaining [What if or If only...], Depression, and finally Acceptance).

        In hindsight, I realize that having such profound feelings about a company and their products is so ridiculous and very unhealthy. I can see how people who are raised in cults choose to stay in them, even if it’s obvious to the rest of the world how f’ed up they are! I had been brainwashed into the Cult of Honda….

        I’ve bought two Mazdas since then- a 2006 Mazda3 s 5-door (which I still have) and I bought a 2012 CX-9 GT eight months ago (on Black Friday 2012). Sideabar- Black Friday is the best freakin’ day of the year to buy a car. I was the only customer from 1pm until everything wsa finally finished up a few minutes after they closed at 8pm. The redesigned 2013 was already on the lot and they still had 28 of the 2012 CX-9s left. Mine stickered for $38,385, I paid $29,206 plus sales tax and $66 tag/title ($9179 off sticker). They also gave me within $200 of KBB Trade-In value for my ’07 Explorer (calling it a pile of worthless shit would be far too kind) and I paid cash (thanks to Nana’s generosity in her will), so I got a helluva deal, period! =)

        But I bought them because they’re exceptional vehicles (and from the looks of things, I’ll have more Mazdas in my future). I chose them based on their own merits and not because of the brand name. Although I hope Mazda continues in the direction they’re heading (amazing what they could do free from the oppression of Ford!) because there’s nothing else on the market that appeals to me anymore….I’d be forced to go eco-crazy and drive a golf cart (faster and sexier than a Prius) or go totally granola and get an ox-cart…I’d probably just eat the business end of a gun if it came down to that!

        The 2009 Acura “wardrobe malfunction” (as Acura called it at the time, the “Power Plenum” fascia) made it so much easier to hate what they had become. I’m no expert, but I don’t think your new $40k Luxury/Performance sedan (the letters T and L keep coming to mind) is supposed to STARTLE you each and every time you lay eyes on it!? Truly the automotive equivalent of a double, no make it a triple, bagger!!! A car cover with a slit for the driver to peek out should have been standard….

        I honestly do NOT believe that the tranmission failure epidemic would have been ignored and/or denied if Soichiro Honda had still been alive. I still have tremendeous respect for him on many levels. He was a brilliant, innovative engineer who refused to do anything just because it had always been done a certain way. When I read his written statement to all Honda employees in 1966, he became one of my heros and continues to have my respect and admiration to this day. It said-

        “We refuse to depend on anyone else. We will not copy foreign products nor pay royalties for the use of other companies’ patents. We don’t intend to get support from the government, either. I’m making it clear that we will do it our way!”

        Despite my personal convictions, I am glad to see that Honda has finally rediscovered how to build Hondas again! The 2013 Accord is the car that the 2008 Accord should have been. Even though I’m one of the few (and perhaps the ONLY former CR-X owner) I really like the CR-Z. I think it’s trying too hard to be two different things (hybrid fuel sipper and two-seater sports coupe) and only doing an average job on either count. But it has some potential if they’d commit to one path or the other. The 2013 vs 2012 emeergency “do-over” was also impressive. And the Fit has always been true to the Honda spirit and just keeps getting better.

        I hope they continue in the right direction. Acura needs (and deserves) whatever it takes to develop new products right now because they were needed several years ago! It’s the only way the Acura brand can remain viable and it would be a shame for the pioneer of the Japanese luxury segment disappear. If the speed at which they’re correcting the shortcomings of the ILX is any indication, the brand is doomed. While they added a lot of features to the base model which make it a much better value proposition for 2014, they acknowledged (to the automotive media) that the 2.0L 150hp engine standard in all automatic-tranmission models was ‘anemic’ and not what buyers expect from a premium brand, even at $26k. The 201hp 2.4L from the TSX was supposed to be the heart transplant it so desperately needs. All of this was said in December 2012…and not another word has been said and they continue to disappoint would-be ILX buyers by the dozens (per month, if they’re lucky)….

      • Ltd783 says:

        I’ve always heard this, know some people with a multiple replacement transmissioned Odyssey, but I know of at least one good TL, my grandfather has had a 2002 TL since new, and granted it only has about 75K miles currently, and is driven by a grandfather, but he’s never had any issues with it, transmission or otherwise.

        I also have a good friend who bought a 2001 TL with about 90000 miles from a family friend, so he got a good enough deal to risk it. He wanted my advice, I told him it was a good car, if the transmission didn’t explode. It’s been about a year and 10k miles, and fingers crossed, it’s perfectly fine still…

    • BobG says:

      I had an early CL Type-S as well. I felt the transmission do exactly what Honda said it would do and went by the dealer. The tech rode with me and felt it also, but said that since it didn’t “throw a code” they couldn’t do anything about it. I had to drive it for 6 months getting progressively worse until one day every light on the dash started flashing and I heard, for the first and last time, an automatic transmission grinding. They finally fixed it, but that treatment turned me off Hondas/Acuras for good. Their loss. I’m willing to spend money, my next car was a 2005 M3. Better engine, better suspension, better transmission!

  2. CptHaddock says:

    Wow … based on this, I count myself very lucky:

    (1) by insisting on tracking down one of the few new ’00 2 door Accord manuals which dealers said Honda only produced after a late lunch on the 31st day of a month

    (2) by trading the ’03 Pilot at 30k for

    (3) the ’05 MDX my wife clung to until 97k with no transmission problems

    Did the two crossovers have different transmissions by any chance? Yes I too mourn the dawn of the Angry Birds era at Honda (bows head in sadness) as well as the eternal vaporware about an NSX, and updated Ridgeline etc. etc.

  3. Darren says:

    I remember reading about this car in a road test issue of Car and Driver, and in the “Lows” section, they wrote “styling by Sears.” I laughed then, and I laugh now.

    • Dave M. says:

      I gotta disagree with the styling by Sears….this CL is a simple, beautiful design in many ways. It ranks up there with the that-gen TL and the gen I & II Legends as Acura’s design apex.

      To their credit, they’re SLOWLY climbing out of the ugly canyon they created with each redesign.

      The ILX and RDX I rather like; MDX and RDX passable; TL is thankfully near the end of it’s journey.

  4. Adam says:

    After having 2 manual Preludes, I decided I wanted something bigger and purchased a certified-used ’02 Accord sedan, automatic in 2004. The transmission failed at 79K miles, right after my warranty was up! More than angry, I was stunned, and my lifelong love of Honda went out the door. I always liked the last gen CL, but I’ll never drive a Honda again, paying that transmission bill when my car should have just been getting worn in just floored me.

  5. Wade says:

    I’ve never owned an automatic Honda. My current Honda is almost an antique, and it’s currently at 321,094.1 miles. It’s gearbox is original, has never been opened except for Honda MTF changes every once in a while. It still sounds and feels the same now as the day I bought it 10 years ago. 3rd gear vibrates a little under hard throttle (a relative thing in this Honda), but it’s always done that and it’s never gotten better or worse. It sucks that Hondas have gotten huge, complicated, and unreliable.

    • Wade says:

      Too bad there is not an edit button. I meant to add a query regarding newer honda manual gearboxes. Do they suffer from catastrophic failure at low (under 150k) miles?

      • JasonR says:

        The failure rated of manual transmissions in modern automobiles is infinitesimal. Absent of serious abuse or engine mods that overtax the gearbox (especially the use of Nitrous Oxide), manual transmissions will usually outlive the useful life of the vehicle itself. Also, Honda is the best of best when it comes to building the perect manual shifter!

        Changing the transmission fluid/oil is one of the most neglected maintenance items on cars wtih a manual transmission. While most manuals won’t fail due to the lack of fluid changes, they will suffer damage over time and become more difficult to use.

        Failure to perform MTF changes will usually cause synchronizer/synchromesh damage. Quick shifts into certain gears become more difficult and are acoompanied by tuat grainding noise no driver wants to hears! In my experience, engaging Reverse becomes more difficult with age and mileage in all cars, Honda included. My 2006 Mazda3 became very temperaental going into Reverse a few ago with around 72k miles on it. I changed the MTF using Royal Purple 75W90 Synthetic Gear Oil and it made a huge difference! Almost 30k miless later, it still shifts like new!

  6. Morgan biskit says:

    My mom bought a 2001 CL Type S brand new. It has 95k miles, and is on its 4th transmission.
    I bought a 2003 TL Type S brand new. It has 155k miles, and is on its 3rd transmission.
    My dad bought a 2003 TL type S brand new. It has 130k miles and is on it’s 3rd transmission.

    We got them all from the same dealer, and they replaced all 7 of the transmissions free of charge. The itemized repair bill for one of these jobs is $4,300 each. That’s some serious cheese right there, and they just took care of it no questions asked.

    The 3 cars have all been paid off for at least 7 years, and they are fantastic automobiles.

    My next car will be an Acura from the same dealer.

  7. Kevin A says:

    well i do have to say, i have a 03 acura cl type s with the six speed trsnny. its shy of 130k and havent had a single problem. Love that ca. had it for a while. My mom drives a 2000 acura TL with 220k on the miles and hasen’t had a single issue… if u take care or them right they will last forever

  8. Chris M says:

    Hi folks,

    I’ve been interested lately on a TL 99-03. Now, must of us know the critical problems with auto transmission this model has, my question is- Is it possible to fit an “03 CL-Type S 6 speed manual tranny?” And if the case is that you have found a TL that has a good engine, kneet interiors and a good body on a reasonable price, is it worth it?


    Chris M

    • Chris M says:

      Or maybe the 2003 Accord Coupe V6 is a better option and less difficult to find.

      Any feedback on this will be great!


      Chris M

    • JasonR says:

      A 6MT retro-fit would be a rather costly and involved process, I’m afraid to say. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt it, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible (just that I’m lazy).

      I have a friend who bought a ’99 TL new and is still driving it 14 years later! It has well over 200k miles on the ORIGINAL transmission and engine. The ’99 model had a 4-speed automatic and, at least in his car, it has been very reliable. He uses synthetic motor oil, changes the ATF every 30k miles and babies the car in general.

      But it makes me wonder if the problems didn’t really start until the 2000 TL ‘upgraded’ to the 5AT???

      Anyway, the most desirable of these TLs are definitely the ’02-’03 Type-S model. Odds are very good that the transmission has been replaced at least once or twice on the majority of them. Maybe the most recent replacement occured once they actually FIXED the flaw in the transmission design that caused them to fail? I found a gorgeous ’03 TL Type-S, Silver/Black, 85k miles, original owner online (in PA or OH) with an asking price of $8k. KBB values it closer to $6500, but this one looked PERFECT. Maybe after 10 years it’s finally been transformed into a reliable car…

      The Type-S was my dream car back in the day, but I won’t be buying even the most pristine used example. I decided to boycott Honda over the whole transmission failure nightmare from hell and I’m sticking to my guns. But I have modified the rules slightly- it only applies to 1996 and later models. I’ve always wanted a ’94-’95 Legend and if I ever find one in good condition, I’m buying it! I also want another ’90-’91 CRX Si someday.

  9. Nicholas says:

    I have a 2003 CL-S w/ LSD 6spd and it just died at 5 mph! Was rolling up to the speaker at a Taco Bell, and it just began to make this grinding noise as I slowly released the clutch. It grinds more rapidly as one moves through the gears, i.e. it makes more grinding noise in 6th than in 5th etc. I have never experienced anything like this. I do not flog the car, rarely shift rapidly, and never “power shift”–haven’t been over 5500rpm in a year. Always trying to squeak more mileage out, and do full-throttle applications very rarely and briefly.

    I am looking for a repair manual to assist me in a rebuild, and a parts source. Anybody have any ideas? I have a downloaded CL manual, but it does not cover extraction or dis-assembly of the 6 spd. Parts sources are hard to find, too.


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