Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to discuss the new Acura NSX, which is a mythical beast whose existence has been debated since the days when we first learned what a “hanging chad” was.
For those of you who still don’t know about the new NSX, allow me to enlighten you: it is a high-dollar, high-performance, highly stylish sports car designed to remind automotive enthusiasts that Acura isn’t just for people who keep tissue boxes on the rear parcel shelf. But I believe it will fail.
Now, before I get into this, I know what you’re thinking: How could you possibly say the NSX will fail?! It’s not even OUT YET! And it looks so COOL! And the specs are so IMPRESSIVE! And they had that great Super Bowl commercial with Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, right before Joe Montana threw all those touchdown passes to Jerry Rice!
And I admit, it does look pretty cool. The aggressive lights. The angular design. The low-slung, exotic car look. The Ohio manufacturer plates. And I also admit that the specs are pretty impressive. 500-plus horsepower. Twin-turbocharged V6. Dual-clutch automatic transmission. Aluminum construction. But I still think it’s going to fail.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s going to fail as a car. As a car, I think it will do everything Acura expects it to: Drive fast. Corner well. Turn heads. Make people point. Draw a crowd at cars and coffee. Provide a new opportunity for exotic car owners to feign laughter when people at the gas station ask them: “Do ya wanna trade?”
Instead, I think it’s going to fail in the grander sense: it will fail as an idea. No, I don’t think the Acura NSX fail as a car. But I believe it will fail as a halo car.
To explain what I mean, allow me to change gears for a second (Automotive Metaphor! Ten Points!) and bring up a few other recent halo cars debuted by manufacturers who desperately wanted enthusiasts to still remember that they existed.
The prime example is, of course, the Audi R8. I don’t know if many of you remember Audi in the days before the R8, but I do, and it was bad. The lineup primarily consisted of dull cars with dull designs, purchased by people who were tired of fighting with the BMW dealer about whether excessive oil consumption should be considered “normal operation.” Back then, the sportiest model in the Audi lineup was that S4 whose engine blows up all the time.
And then… the R8.
The R8 came out for the 2008 model year, and it immediately changed everyone’s opinions of Audi. What happened was, we saw some R8s on the road, and we saw those cool LED running lights, and we saw its ultra-modern design, and we thought to ourselves: That’s an Audi?
And Audi did its part, too. Within three years of the R8’s debut, every single Audi model was redesigned. They came out with the A5 and S5 to help boost their performance credential. Every Audi wore a new corporate face. And by God, every single new model had those cool LED running lights.
Suddenly, Audi was the king of cool – all thanks to its brand-new halo car.
The opposite happened in the mid-2000s, back when Ford debuted the GT. I still remember when the GT came out, and I still remember the intended goal: to get more people into Ford dealers. And did the GT get more people into Ford dealers? Of course it did! Mr. 27-Year-Old Car Enthusiasts went to the dealer to check out the GT, then he noticed the Taurus was the same football-shaped ovoid it had been for the last decade, so he got back into his Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder and drove off. This was long before Instagram, so later he had to physically tell his friends they saw the Ford GT. Unfortunately, this was 2005, so they were too busy listening to Hoobastank to care.
So was the GT a failure? As a car, of course it wasn’t. It still remains one of the most iconic vehicles of the 2000s, handsome and beautiful, with a powerful engine and a tremendously enjoyable 6-speed manual transmission.
But as a halo car, did it change everyone’s opinions of Ford? Did it bring enthusiasts back to the Blue Oval? Did it remind us of Ford’s excellent engineering prowess? Of course not! We all kept thinking of Ford as a hapless domestic brand, and then a few years later they narrowly missed out on bankruptcy by selling Ford stationery on the Home Shopping Channel.
Unfortunately, I suspect the NSX will be more “Ford GT” than “Audi R8,” and here’s why: Acura doesn’t have any cool products to back up the car’s launch.
When Audi debuted the R8, it designed the entire brand around the car, with new products, and new engines, and new styling, and enough LED lights to power the Chicago metropolitan area for an entire summer. But once Acura hooks enthusiasts with the NSX, what can they offer? The TLX, with its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine? The ILX Hybrid? The mommy-mobile MDX?
Unless Acura can follow up the NSX with a slew of cars designed to capture the enthusiast market, it won’t be a successful halo car. It’ll be an aberration: a unique sports car from a brand otherwise devoted to boring, mainstream luxury cars. And once the NSX is gone, enthusiasts will continue to remember Acura exactly the same way they do now: as the brand who once gave us the mighty Integra.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.