Feb 18, 2014

Week 7: 2003 Acura CL 3.2 Type-S / Honda Accord Coupe EX

"It is the head and not the foot that is instrumental in any one driver's achievement." -Peter Sauber

  Mistakes happen.  From an early age, we're taught that things aren't always going to go as planned.  Milk gets spilled, homework gets forgotten, alarm clocks don't get set, toast gets burned and American Idol is still on the air.  Along with this lesson comes with how to respond to those mistakes. If you're an individual with any sort decency or character, you own up to the mistakes and acknowledge responsibility.  It's called integrity, and if you intend on having any amount of peace and harmony in your life, it's a survival trait.

  When you're on the receiving end of an error, an apology is rightfully expected.  Not having that expectation allows one to be trounced upon, and it also enables the injustice to continue onto the next man.  If you don't hold others accountable, then mistakes become rampant and irreparable.  A prime example of this would be Eric Snowden.  Regardless of how you feel about his decision or the way it was carried out, he was the only American brave enough to not only speak out about an injustice, he also brought along enough evidence to convince foreign leaders and earn political asylum.   By speaking up, he also gave America the precise length of rope required to hang itself when it botched the response, losing the minute amount of credibility they had left.


  Integrity is the ability to admit when you've made a mistake, apologize for it, and work to correct it.  While the concept sounds wonderful, the way in which we as a society demand it isn't the same as who we expect it of.  When an order is wrong at a restaurant, there's absolutely no hesitation in sending it back, yet politicians are allowed to accept gifts and bribes with nothing more than a wink and a handshake.  Soda machines get punched for excess coins swallowed, yet that same person will happily sign a multiple-decade mortgage that will eventually bankrupt them.  Today it's quite rare for someone to stand up and say "wait a minute... this just isn't right!"

  It's the same in automotive journalism.   People depend on us to deliver factual information and opinions, experiences and sensations they haven't yet got.  There's an expectation of credibility, a trust that's freely given, in the hopes that maybe the reader will gain some insight and wisdom when faced with an automotive question.  Your chances of driving a 1957 BMW 507 might be slim, but if you do ever get that chance, having read the article from Week 4 might help give you a realistic expectation.  Yet when you open that latest issue of Automotive Trend & Track and see countless ads for the same manufacturers, you consequently also lend those same manufacturers the same credibility, and any thought of accountability flies right out the window.  Doyle Brunson once quipped "If you can't spot the sucker at the table in the first five minutes, the sucker is you", and you only prove his point exponentially by renewing your subscription.


According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san):
  "The star in Honda's U.S. lineup has always been the Accord.  It has a long history as being one of the best selling vehicles in the country.   But in Japan, our Accord (fourth generation) went by a different name.  The Japanese called this car the Inspire.  The reason for this was that our Accord had grown to become one class size larger than the Japan-market Accord, measuring 187.5 inches, 71.4 inches and 55.7 inches, overall length, width and height, respectively."

  "Powering the U.S. Accord/Japan-market Inspire was a 157 HP 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or a 236 HP 3.0-liter V6.   The EX-grade Accord was the sportiest model, thanks to a 6-speed manual transmission working in concert with the V6.   Although this engine featured single-overhead camshafts instead of the more sophisticated dual-cam, it nonetheless produced a hearty low- and mid-range punch and smooth revving character.   In fact, it was as efficient as any DOHC powerplant from Nissan or Toyota."

  "The interior of the EX was just as sporty as its exterior styling, thanks to a three-spoke sport steering wheel, nicely outfitted carbon-fiber print trim on the dashboard and the same shift knob as the one found on the Honda S2000."

  "The Accord was not an all-out street racer, but a very refined highway cruiser that provided a comfortable ride for its occupants, while allowing the driver to enjoy periodic stints on his/her favorite mountain road."

  For this week, we've been handed two badges from one company, and asked to compare and contrast the them.   Both badges conjure up demographic focus group buzzwords like "quality", "luxury" and "dependable".  For most, the moment anyone says the word Honda in any given room, someone else will smile, completely convinced that "you meet the nicest people on a Honda".  Ever since the oil crisis of the '70s, Honda has managed to cultivate a well-earned reputation for creating machinery that does exactly what it was designed to do, time and time again without failure.  On the freak occurrence of a failure, they've been known to go out of their way to set things right.

  Unlike every other company since the dawn of time, Honda has never shied away from failure.  When a young Soichiro Honda finished with his university studies, the first thing he did was to purchase the equipment needed to manufacture failure repeatedly.   Having left his university studies with only one course passed, his failure wasn't for lack of preparation, it was of divine epiphany.  While the rest of his classmates toiled away reciting useless bits of information, Soichiro was mastering the craft of forging piston rings, each failure embraced and nurtured as if it were a child.  So despite their reputation for quality and reliability, Honda was built on the bedrock of failure.


Performance (as purchased): February 9, 2014, San Marino Red (Red) *'03 Honda Accord EX
Displacement: 2,997 cc
Max. Power: 239 HP @ 6,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 211.9 ft-lb @ 5,000 rpm
Drivetrain: FF
Length: 187.6 in., Height: 55.7 in., Width: 71.3 in., Weight: 1,481 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 421
Mileage: 46.7 mi

  With each failure came insight into the cause, and with that, an insight into preventing it.  By sampling the various forms of failure in all of their glory, Honda was able to produce piston rings that were strong enough to meet and eventually exceed Toyota's expectations.  Masters of trades dedicate their entire lives learning how to do one thing right, but by learning how to do everything wrong Soichiro became an artist and a true craftsman.   Before Toyota, the rings that were made weren't sold, so any mistakes required no apologies.   Once under contract, however, those mistakes became top priority.  Although Soichiro was never accused of being bashful or timid, his integrity and willingness to accept and correct failure is what gave him credibility amongst the influential zaibatsu Mitsubishi, which eventually financed nearly everything Honda is today.

  Despite economic hardships of the past, Honda is almost printing currency these days, and part of that formula for success includes the Accord.   With the help of The Fast and Furious and a wealth of aftermarket accessories, previous generations of Accords can provide countless examples of poor taste when modified, yet are completely stealth when left alone.  Why send an airplane with bombs into a war-torn nation when you can drive in complete obscurity and in plain sight?  Despite their camouflage nature, properly spec'd Accords can deliver a fun drive that challenges their rear-wheel drive counterparts.  Because they're relatively inexpensive, you can find them slightly used with no problem at all, much like ordering a pizza.

  I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of testing the '03 Accord Coupe EX, especially since it was the sportier version available at the time.  Having previously invested in Honda's failed attempt at Formula 1,  I was ecstatic when I learned that our car contained a V-TEC engine, which I assumed would provide a little bit more "oomph" when reaching the top end of the rev counter as in past models.  But when I sat in the driver's seat and noticed the manual transmission sitting next to me, it was as if a choir of angels had delivered the messiah before me... to abuse.

  Then someone said "go".  To be honest, I don't remember who or what, and I didn't really care.   There were a bunch of other things I didn't care about as well, such as everything in the interior.  Nothing felt out of place, fragile or unintelligible, which is the nicest thing I could ask for in an interior.  Honda engineers spend countless hours studying the way people drive so that they could design the seats accordingly.  I didn't care.   Multiple people clocked-in and out day and night to slave over the cup holder design.  I didn't care about that either.   Rear seating?   Probably there.  Glove box?  Who knows, I couldn't be bothered.  The only two things I was concerned about during the lap was the finish line to cross, and the 2:06.715 displayed on the stopwatch at the end.


  When we reviewed the Primera, we mentioned the formation of Infiniti as a direct result of the Plaza Accord (as opposed to the previously tested Honda Accord).   The first to take advantage of the new agreement was Honda, having previously invested an entire decade into researching the concept.  If Infiniti was likened to BMW, it could be argued that Acura was Honda's answer to Mercedes-Benz.  Although new the the American luxury auto market, Honda was familiar with Americans since introducing its motorcycles decades prior on the west coast.   Likewise, having proven their integrity with those same motorcycles, and later with cars during the oil crisis, Americans welcomed Acura with open arms and purchased over 109,000 Acura cars in their first full year of sales.

  To put that into perspective, BMW only sold 64,000, and Mercedes-Benz 78,000 that same year.   Outselling established brands in the first year flipped the industry upside down, forcing Nissan and Toyota to proceed with their own luxury brands while Mazda opted out of its Amati concept.  Even well-established domestic makers Buick and Lincoln took notice, watching potential customers of each drifting across the street to one of the 60 new dealerships across the US.  As Honda had changed the public's perception of motorcyclists, they now offered Honda quality with European luxury, and most importantly, affordability.  To quote one of their earliest commercials, "this may be the best result we've ever had".


According to Polyphony Digital (via Translator-san): 

  Even though a fortune was spent on research and marketing, Acura wasn't just the first Japanese luxury maker in America, they were the first Japanese luxury maker, period.  Okay, so technically that isn't entirely true.   Although owned and operated by Honda, all CLs and Accords for sale in the US were built at the Marysville, OH plant.  Besides providing cost savings by having raw materials close by and not having to pay export tariffs, Acura could also avoid the Japanese connection on that same technicality, should the nationality come into question.  "Japanese? No sir, that's made in Ohio.  By Americans.  Big, fat, robust Americans that are winners.  You want to be a winner, don't you, sir?"

  Perhaps it's around this point that the deception of Acura begins, or at least the perceived deception.  In 1999 the CL's sister, the TL, was redesigned completely.   In March of 2000, only three months into the new year, Acura unveiled the new CL and dubbed it a 2001 model, completely forgetting the remaining months on the calendar.  Theoretically you could purchase a new model and experience nine more months of depreciation before the ball officially dropped for 2001.  It was also in 2001 that Acura introduced the RSX, which was nothing more than a mislabeled Integra, before being dropped five years later because the luxury mark didn't want to be associated with the teenage hooligans snatching them up.


Performance (as purchased): February 9, 2014, Tafetta White (Guess.) *'03 Acura CL 3.2 Type-S Displacement: 3,210 cc
Max. Power: 262 HP @ 6,000 rpm
Max. Torque: 234.4 ft-lb @ 3,500 rpm
Drivetrain: FF Length: 191.9 in., Height: 53.3 in., Width: 70.6 in., Weight: 1,563 kg
Tires: Comfort (Soft)
Performance Points: 419
Mileage: 94.3 mi

  Despite being nearly identical to the Accord, there are noticeable differences between the two that are important.  While the Accord EX received the J30A4 engine, factory rated at 239 HP, the upscale CL got the J32A2 engine making 262 HP, despite adding only 213 cc.   With the added luxury trim and interior, the Acura is 82 lbs heavier.  The Accord that has the better power-to-weight ratio, coming in at 6.20 HP-per-kg vs the CL's 5.97 HP-per-kg.   Although it's 4.3 inches longer, it's 0.7 inches thinner and 2.4 inches lower than the Accord.

  Despite having different engines, both have Honda's patented V-TEC technology, and both are SOHC.  The J32A2 was based on the NSX's C32B, though it lacked the proper layout (the C32B being mid-engined, rear-wheel drive) and exotic materials used in the supercar, to save on production costs.  While that might not mean much to the average luxury buyer, it means everything to Honda enthusiasts, of which there are many.  The uneducated of which will swear that the V-TEC produces more power in the higher rev range compared to traditional SOHC or DOHC (Single or Dual Overhead Cam) engines, but that isn't entirely correct.  Instead, the timing is optimized for either high or low rpm use, creating more efficient power but not exactly a higher number.   While this can save you trips to the pump, explaining it requires a PhD and a few hours of nothing better to do. Mention the CCVC and no one speaks because they don't have a clue.  But when I say "V-TEC", well then everyone loses their minds!

  Another highly praised feature of the CL Type-S was its new helical limited-slip differential, which transfers power between the two front wheels to prevent wheelspin.  By all accounts, this tricky diff should help the front-wheel drive Acura handle more like a rear-wheel drive, but no amount of differential black magic is going to prevent the front tires from being handed the Herculean task of acceleration, deceleration and lateral grip typically distributed evenly in other layouts.   With a front mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, acceleration is applied when the rear tyres reach the apex of a turn, allowing the car to understeer out in a safe manner while utilizing all of the available horsepower.  In a mid-engined rear-wheel drive, the distribution of weight between the front and rear wheels allows for faster yaw adjustment, much like using the rudder on a boat or airplane.  Again, this helps the driver understeer out of the turn in a safe manner, while providing extra time for input correction should something go wrong before the entry of the turn.

  Front-wheel drive, however, is another beast entirely.   Imagine your dog dragging his arse across your lawn, and you'll have an accurate representation of the concept.   While the aforementioned layouts split the acceleration/deceleration and turning between the front and rear tyres, or in the case of the Oullim Spirra, between all four tyres independently, the front-wheel drive is tasked with both.  Go into a turn to fast and you simply won't, instead plowing into whatever is directly ahead as though you've never turned the wheel.  Despite the Accord and CL Type-S having the same handicap of the same layout, and despite the CL winning virtually every statistic on paper, the difference was night and day.  On the Tokyo streets, any power advantage had to be immediately be scrubbed off before going into the next turn.  Despite having the better power-to-weight ratio and being thinner, it felt fatter and lazier, as evidenced by the 2:08.804 on the telltale stopwatch.


  If Mercedes-Benz was the target for Acura upon its introduction, they certainly nailed it with the CL Type-S.   Although I was just as comfortable in the Accord, the Type-S has been praised all over for its level of comfort, ergonomics and finish compared to the much-more-expensive Germans.  From a purely performance perspective however, it's the turn-in... or lack of, that cements the comparison.  However unlike the Acura, with the Benz you can apply more power, freeing the back end from the constraints of physics and place the car where it should've been to begin with.  Conversely, I've compared the turn-in of the rival BMW to a terrier diagnosed with ADHD... on cocaine.  Just as the dog would flinch and instinctively react, so will the BMW the moment it thinks that you're going to throw a stick or ball.

  Then there's Audi, which actively tries to be so different than the other two that it can't decide what it actually does want to be.  While neither Lexus, Infiniti or Acura offer sedans or coupes with all-wheel drive Quattro, Japan doesn't exactly need to because that niche is filled by Subaru.  Although they might not be considered as luxurious as the Audis, Subaru has never lost touch with who they are or how their cars should feel.  Even though the BRZ is RWD and not AWD, it still has that "STi-me" Subaru-ishness that endears it to enthusiasts.  What it may lack in luxury, it makes up for in what it says about you as an owner; fun, energetic, adventurous and nigh invincible on ice.  But if you're ever seen behind the wheel of an Audi, the only thing onlookers will think of you is one word: cock.  Are you really going to spend $40,000 on that kind of image amongst complete strangers?

  Look, I tried, okay?  I wanted to believe again.  I wanted to experience the same fun I had the first time I rode in a third generation Accord, darting around and about as if connected on rails like a roller coaster.  I wanted to believe that because there was a manual transmission, someone actually cared about what enthusiasts thought.   I tried desperately to find the extra time on the track that all those statistical numbers said was available but wasn't.  I was even willing to accept the blame for this whole failure and own up to being a pathetic driver, but when our cameraman nearly drove into a barrier on his third attempt, I realized that the only think keeping me from beating that extra time was the car itself.

  Apparently, I'm not alone in that regard. 2003 was the final year of the CL, and many owners experienced reliability issues.  In 2006 Honda settled a class action lawsuit over their automatic transmissions, despite issuing a recall two years prior.  As a result, warranty coverage was extended, however many more owners experienced problems well after that extension had expired.  Over half of the transmission failures occurred on vehicles with less than 90,000 miles, and one fifth of the transmissions had problems before 70,000 miles.   If this was meant to endear Americans to a Japanese luxury product, it isn't working, as Americans can already get that same quality from any other domestic maker.


  I really would like to tell you that things get better from here.   Having once had a vested (technically) interest, I also wanted to see Jensen Button win in his Honda.   Instead, I'm left to report that Jensen's championship year was the year after Honda quit, and the team became Brawn GP (now Mercedes AMG Petronas).  While I understand that every automotive manufacturer is going to produce the occasional lemon, what I don't understand is why I'm expected to pay for it.  Previous owners with transmission problems didn't get replacement parts and labor free of charge, it was split with the factory, much in the same manner that a drug dealer expects you to share what you've just purchased.  (Editor: What?!?)

  At least there's hope for the future.   The 2012 Honda Civic was released and for the first time ever, failed miserably.  Instead of being the typical darling of the automotive world as in years past, it was panned by both buyers and the media.  In 2011, Wall Street Journal writer Dan Neil said "Still, they do not burn with Honda's once-routine over-achievement, and the ire the company faces reflects the high expectations and great trust consumers have placed with the brand.  In other words, merely decent feels like a betrayal from Honda."   That's fairly accurate, and a little over a year later, their CEO admitted that there was a problem, and that Honda was working to fix it.  Having lasted for nearly 73 years, Honda's credibility is now in doubt.  Do they embrace this failure, as Soichiro did with his rings, and learn from it in order to become artists?  Can Acura survive as a result, and will the new NSX be the renaissance of performance for the brand?  Will they ever actually get Acura in Japan, and will it work? I f they're going to stand a chance, they'll have to win over those they've spurned before, and they'll need to do it utilizing the power of dreams, the same thing that drew us all to them to begin with.

  In the meantime, I believe I'm owed an apology for being subjected to this unnecessary foolishness.

*The views and opinions expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect those of the manufacturer, the publisher, GTPlanet.net or it's members, nor anyone with an IQ above 3.  If you have a history of epilepsy or seizures, consult a doctor before use.   Certain patterns may trigger seizures with no prior history.  Underage sale is strictly prohibited. Before using see the instruction manual included with your system for more details.  For previous reviews, please visit: McClarenDesign's Very Serious SLS AMG Reviews of the Car of the Week N Stuff.   Void where prohibited.  All videos were filmed before a live studio audience.   Car setup monitored by Dark Lion Racing's GT6 Tunes and Tricks app on Android, as administered by Super Best Friends Super Aguri.  Contains wheat and soy ingredients.  No goats were harmed in the making of this review that we are aware of.  This product may cause significant hair loss, headaches, and damage to the immune system.   Best wishes to Michael Schumacher!  To advertise, contact McClarenDesign@gmail.com.  If not completely satisfied, please return the unused portion for a full refund.

-Super Previous Super Reviews-
Insightful... but bollocks: Introduction To Failure (or How I went from a Very Serious SLS AMG to Super Best Friends Super Aguri) 
Week 1: '10 Peugeot RCZ 
Week 2: '88 Volvo 240 GLT Estate 
Week 3: '87 Buick Regal GNX 
Week 4: '57 BMW 507 vs '55 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL  
Week 5: '72 Alpine A110 1600s vs '72 Alpine A110 1600s (15th Anniversary Edition) vs '73 Alpine A110 1600s  
Week 6: '90 Nissan Primera 2.0Te / Infiniti G20