Long-Term Reliability: Acura CL

The most anonymous Acura since the Vigor has a reliability record that will continue to make it the Pete Best of the used car world

bySteven Lang|
Acura News photo

Quick! Name the car that ranks first in the automotive alphabet!

If you guessed the Acura CL, well, thanks for reading the title of this article. It is indeed #1 in one thing, and one thing only. 

As for the long-term reliability of the CL (click here), it dovetails very well with the Acura TL because it's basically the same car underneath.

There are two generations of the CL. The first generation you see on the left lasted from 1997 thru 1999. It didn't set the sales charts on fire because there was nothing in the CL that you couldn't get in a loaded Honda Accord Coupe for thousands less.  

The inside beauty that you see here in the second generation didn't exactly exude outward with the exterior design. The loaded Premium models, with the rear spoiler and well-chosen alloy wheels, manage to make a far better case for ownership than most other entry-level luxury coupes from the Y2K era.  Even in today's world, that interior can still more than hold its own. 

The Acura CL basically survived because Acura had a stunning success with the first two generations of the Acura Legend coupe.  Unfortunately for the team that put the CL together, a few village idiots at Acura cared more about the Acura brand than the Legend name, and decided that folks would be wiling to plunk down over $30,000 for a car that was named after a pointless acronym.

It didn't work. The CL sat on dealer lots for so long that Acura didn't even offer a 2000 model. Skipping that year entirely for the CLs quick and final run of 2001 thru 2003. 

The long-term reliability of these cars comes right down to the automatic transmission which had a nasty habit of self-imploding before the rest of the car. If you plan on buying one at this point in the CL's life cycle, make extra sure that you either get the five-speed manual or one that had its transmission recently replaced. 

The rest of the vehicle is far better than the transmission that usually guides it to an early grave. If the Acura name means a lot to you for reasons beyond my comprehension, go look at this Acura. It will pretty much be the most affordable Acura that was manufactured in the 21st century. Nobody knows what a CL is. So if you manage to find one with a five-speed, you can generally get a durable powertrain for less than $3500. 

The Long-Term Quality Index is a collaborative project between Steve Lang and Nick Lariviere, designed to give the average car buyer a picture of what the long-term reliability of different makes and models are based on real-world used vehicle data. Our goal is to provide used car buyers accurate reliability information that will be available for free, forever. For right now, here's a compilation of how each Acura model has performed. Want to look at other brands and market segments? Feel free to click away. By the end of 2017, we will have nearly two million data samples to help consumers find those used cars that are worth keeping.