To Generation X, the letters “NSX” meant something. Maybe to the men and women of Minato, they meant “New Sports eXperimental,” but to us, they represented the dreams of our adolescence. Even in the 1990s, an elegant era of Japanese car design that brought us the best versions of the Mazda RX-7 and the Toyota Supra, the NSX stood alone as a paragon of technology and fascination. Talk about a tough act to follow for this new 2017 Acura NSX.
To those of us old enough to remember, yet young enough to wonder, the original NSX represented more than any marketing materials, any aspirational branding or any numbers on a spreadsheet ever could. The exotic from Acura, and not the offerings from the European, Paleozoic brands of Ferrari and Porsche, was the car that many people my age pictured ourselves owning someday as the sign that we had made it.
Thus, when it was announced in 2007 that Honda would be bringing the NSX nameplate back to life before the end of the decade, anticipation was palpable. So was skepticism. It had so much to live up to. One thing that helped was the exciting revelation that Honda would be using a new V10 engine to power its reincarnated supercar.
So we waited. And we waited.
Rarely has there been so much hype, buildup, and anticipation for a car as there was during the not quite decade of time that we’ve waited for this new NSX. Promises were made, broken, and then made again. A global recession and then a devastating Japanese earthquake sent Honda back to the drawing board more than once.
2010 came and went, and with it, the idea of the V10, making way for a twin-turbo V6 hybrid. Maybe we wouldn’t be getting a big, thumping, brute force-powered supercar after all, but rather a refined, technological, marvelous scalpel? Then when it finally seemed within our grasp, Acura completely re-engineered the entire thing.
Well, it’s now 2016, and Acura has at very long last, delivered on a new NSX. But have they possibly delivered on the promise of the NSX as well as the name?
(Full disclosure: Acura needed me to drive the new NSX so badly they provided airfare to Palm Springs, three nights at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, and enough food and wine to feed a small village, and also make said village drunk-dial neighboring small village and tell them how much it misses them.)
The Specs That Matter
The new NSX is powered by a system that’s truly unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a car that stays south of the $200,000 mark. The Sport Hybrid SH-AWD power unit is made up of an all-new, NSX-exclusive, twin-turbocharged, mid-mounted 3.0-liter V6 engine paired with an all-new nine-speed dual clutch transmission and an electric Direct Drive Motor which not only provides instant torque, but also charges the hybrid batteries.
Supplementing this are two electric motors at the front of the car, which Acura calls a “Twin Motor Unit”, that provide power independently to the front wheels, meaning that it that is capable of providing real torque vectoring to all four wheels whenever a driver needs it.
So what does all that techspeak really mean? I’m sure that there’s some ecologically responsible reason for all of this hybridness, but what I suspect you really care about is that the power comes on, like, now, with literal neck-snapping acceleration forces of over 1G. And it also provides a very non-supercar-like combined 21 MPG.
The complete package comes in at 3,803 pounds, which, quite frankly, sounds more Mustang than NSX. The heft does nothing to slow it down in a sprint, however, thanks to a combined 573 horsepower and 476 lb-ft of torque from the SH-AWD system.
Aided by a wickedly good launch control and, of course, all-wheel drive, the NSX will thump out a0-60 MPH jaunt in exactly three seconds flat.
Visually, Acura has created a captivating car. The exterior manages to be appropriately exotic while still cutting a silhouette that recalls the Japanese supercars of yesteryear—there’s no mistaking it for almost anything from the Continent.
If you want to turn heads, the NSX will undoubtedly make waves, even in a desert town like Palm Springs. Every time I parked the NSX out in public, camera phones started clicking like Beyoncé had just arrived. (For everyone who saw that I was not, in fact, Beyoncé, sorry to disappoint.)
The seats are also exquisitely designed. There’s enough lateral support for the most spirited of driving, yet comfort isn’t sacrificed at the altar of performance. Cross country drives aren’t just possible in the NSX, they’ve been done.
Acura engineers drove from the Ohio factory to Utah and back in order to do some testing at the former Miller Motorsports Park. In leather-trim, this is an interior that’s cool enough for pretending to be Johnny Tran, but sophisticated enough for listening to Johnny Mathis.
If you want your own NSX, well, it’s not just as simple as going down to the Acura dealer and picking one off the lot. Each NSX will be a special order, with much of the car being handmade in Ohio to its new owner’s specifications. Sticker price will start at $156,000, but to get the brakes, carbon fiber, and audio that you really want, be prepared to pony up closer to $200,000.
My New Sports eXperience was to begin bright and early at the Thermal Club, a private, country-club track nestled in a jarring juxtaposition between fields tilled by immigrant workers who begin their workday before the break of dawn, avoiding the sweltering heat of a town bold enough to call itself “Thermal.”
Acura arranged for Pirelli World Challenge RealTime Acura Drivers Ryan Eversley and Peter Cunningham to conduct the lead/follow session. Each of us was given three 15-minute sessions on track, as Eversley and Cunningham took it in turn to cut a virtual set of ski tracks through the asphalt of the South Palm Circuit for three drivers at a time to follow.
The track is an exercise in patience, with plenty of run off in every tight, slow corner, giving very little chance for any journalist to mangle a six-figure, pre-production car.
As is often the case at press drives, the on-track experience of those in attendance ranged from “never on track before” to “Indy 500 top-five finisher Alex Lloyd.” As such, I wasn’t able to gain much perspective about the driving performance of the NSX on track until my third and final attempt, when I was situated directly behind Eversley, who was taking recently minted Acura VP and GM Jon Ikeda around in the passenger seat of his new baby.
“Game on, sucker,“ I said as I situated myself in the driver’s seat of the NSX for what would be my final track session.
“I’m sorry?” said one of the chief designers of the NSX, from my passenger seat.
“Um, nothing.” Damn. Kinda forgot you were sitting there, bro.
I used the large dial in the center stack of the NSX’s console to select Track Mode (the most aggressive and certainly the loudest of the four NSX drive modes), turned the VSA traction and stability control to “OFF,” and followed Eversley out onto the track. Game on, indeed.
Although the Thermal Club’s layout wasn’t necessarily conducive to an all-out track battle, Eversley didn’t let that stop him from going all out, daring me to stick as close to him as possible.
“Bark, I’m going to ask you to back off his bumper just a bit,” my passenger shouted over the shrieking twin-turbo V6 slung low behind us. “We’ve lost some windscreens this way.”
I saw what he meant—the massive 305 series Pirelli track tires of Eversley’s red Barchetta hurled rocks from the less-than-spotless surface of the circuit as we transitioned back through the esses into the straightaway.
My attempts to continue to carry on any sort of conversation with my passenger became hopeless as soon as the chase began. The sound of the twin-turbo V6 isn’t as awe-inspiring as the V10 of Audi’s R8 or as guttural as the Corvette Z06’s LT4, but, in Track Mode, it is assuredly as loud as you’d want it to be.
It creates a tone that reminds one of a car from the Jetsons-ish future that never was—well mannered, scientific, and methodical.
Better, Smarter, Faster... Than You Are
The SH-AWD system pulled me through corners with the merest application of throttle, allowing the torque vectoring to urgently direct power to the front wheel that needed it most. It’s almost never wrong to put the power down in the NSX on track. The car only gave me as much power as the traction could handle. Earlier was nearly always better.
In a few turns, our fellow NSX drivers had become mere blips in my mirror, and by the end of the first lap, they were gone. And Eversley, had he been so inclined, could have made me a blip, too.
What I realized in my futile attempt to chase down a World Challenge driver was this: on track the NSX does everything better than you, the driver, can.
Acura took aim squarely at Porsche’s PDK with their bespoke nine-speed transmission and it doesn’t disappoint. It downshifts and matches revs far better than any mortal. While the NSX tends toward a less hairy understeer in the turns, give it just a little trail braking into any corner and watch the oversteer come on slowly, but surely, and more importantly, predictably.
It even brakes better than you can, taking your inputs as little more than powerful suggestions as it applies the proper amount of pressure for you. It sloughs aside your sloppy throttle inputs at apex and dials in the throttle just so, positioning the car on exit exactly where it should be.
But even though I had a smile on my face as I returned to the pit road, I couldn’t help but feeling that it was all a bit Paint-By-Numbers. On track, the NSX drives like the fastest Japanese sedan you’ve ever driven—ever careful to mind its manners and provide a comfortable driving experience, even at the 140+ MPH the NSX effortlessly nosed past going into Turn Seven.
The engineers told me that they had benchmarked it against the 911 Turbo S and the 458 Speciale, and it’s entirely possible that the NSX could be just as fast as those supercars on the course—maybe even faster.
But the visceral experience just wasn’t there. The sound wasn’t quite raucous enough. The grip wasn’t loose enough. The visibility was—well, I could see out of this supercar! That just isn’t right, you know?
Driving a car this fast and this expensive is supposed to be somewhat of a chore, the kind of chore that you humblebrag about to your friends (“Oh, that first-class flight to Milan was just murder.”)
And then I realized why I was pouting. The NSX was just too easy to drive on that track. I was genuinely pissed off by the fact that the electronic nannies were making me a better driver, that all my track time and laps behind the wheel of cars costing less than one tenth of the NSX were rendered somewhat irrelevant by the NSX’s superior intelligence.
It’s not a 991 GT3, ready to whip its tail out at a moment’s notice to punish its driver for his sins. It’s not a Shelby GT350R, wailing at pitches previously only known to banshees. It’s a perfectly composed, neatly packaged, dare I say… luxurious track car.
And when you understand the purpose of the NSX, you begin to understand that Acura got it exactly right.
It Wins On The Street
The NSX wasn’t designed to be purely a track car. While the typical NSX owner may track his car anywhere from three to four times per year, the rest of the time, the NSX is intended to be a real, viable street car that owners can comfortably and easily daily drive, while still obtaining the feeling of maximum performance. So it was time to leave the track and test the NSX in the environment for which it was truly engineered—the road.
As I exited the Thermal Club, I was given a route through the San Jacinto Mountains to return to the hotel. Since we had left the track, I switched the NSX into “Sport Plus” mode, plugged my iPhone into the USB port, activated Apple CarPlay, and let the combined sound of the Christian McBride Big Band blasting through the 580-watt ELS Surround Sound System and the motor wash over me as the NSX and I became symbiotically one through the undulations of the mountain roads.
The true greatness of the NSX lies here. Not on the track, but in the real, dirty, non-antiseptic world. The magnetorheological suspension digests every bump, every divot, every patch of gravel with not only ease, but indifference.
While the 991 and the 458 might be the more organic way to make one’s way around a circuit, it’s hard to believe that the NSX couldn’t show its rather attractive hindquarters to either in the hills and canyons of southern California.
The confidence that it inspires is intoxicating. No matter the turn, no matter the camber, no matter the debris strewn across the road, the NSX simply sticks. The speeds that the Acura makes possible on public roads are not just illegal, they’re felonious. But if one simply must have a felony on one’s record, this would be the way to get it.
So is this NSX a fitting descendant of the older car that I loved so much growing up? Yes. Well, maybe.
After the road drive was completed Acura was kind enough, or perhaps foolish enough, to toss me the keys to a company-owned 2005 NSX. It was not a museum piece. It was a 47,000-mile example. The seats weren’t perfect. The steering wheel had faded over the years by the California sun.
And while the original NSX may have been a technical marvel in its day, to drive it now serves as reminder of a time when the best cars communicated in analog fashion. They reacted to your inputs. They had a dialogue with you. They became one with you, the driver.
This new NSX asks you to become one with it. To envelop yourself in its comfort, its luxury, its technology, to become as much of a hybrid as it is.
What Acura has done with this new NSX is to take a driving experience that was previously only accessible to the gifted and allow the ordinary (if rather wealthy) man to fly just close enough to the sun to revel in its power and beauty. And if, in order to fly that close, one has to wear a suit of technological armor, is that a price that they should be willing to pay?
That’s up to you. Me? I say it, quickly and easily, without hesitation: hell yes.
Mark “Bark M.” Baruth has multiple endurance racing and SCCA National Solo and Pro Solo trophies to his credit, and has tracked everything from a Fiesta ST to a 991 GT3 on dozens of circuits across America. His writing can be found at The Truth About Cars, Road & Track and Jalopnik. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.