The new Acura NSX is a hybrid, turbo, mid-engine, all-wheel drive, 191-mph jet without wings, with 573 horsepower and (on this particular car at least) a $204,600 price tag. My boss handed me the keys one warm Sunday afternoon with the imperatives “Have fun. Don’t kill anyone.” By the specs alone, I should have been scared.
I’ve driven cars like the NSX before. I’d spent a couple days in the McLaren 570s a year back, which has almost the same price and stats as the new Acura. Both cars have twin-turbo engines mounted behind the driver.
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The Acura has a clean-sheet-design 3.5-liter V6 with an odd 75-degree vee. The McLaren has the company’s steady 3.8-liter V8 distantly derived from Nissan’s ’80s and ’90s Le Mans prototype program. The Acura makes 573 horsepower, the McLaren 562.
Now, I remember that 570S dearly. McLaren pitches it as an everyday sports car that happens to be absurdly fast. To some extent, that’s true. It’s not difficult to drive slowly. It’s very easy to see out of, and it has plenty of frunk space if you happen to find yourself needing to go grocery shopping for a barbecue in the middle of rural Ohio, as I did. (Coincidentally, I drove the McLaren not far from where the NSX was designed and built. Most Ohioans mistook one car for the other.)
But nearly every moment I spent in the McLaren was one of absolute terror. The car is so low, so light (at 3,200 pounds the 570S is 600 pounds lighter than the 3,800-pound NSX) that I alternated between being worried that someone else would crash into me, and convinced that I would light up the rear tires and crash into someone else. The rear-wheel drive 570S is remarkably upfront. It will always remind you that you could fuck up and wreck at any time. Did you see that video today where the 300 Jedi kill 60,000 medieval soldiers? That’s what the 570S is like to drive.
The NSX feels like an Accord.
The first time driving it is a shock. It’s so easy. It’s so helpful. The only letdown is the interior, which isn’t particularly special, or even all that nice. The new Lexus LC, by contrast, a car that costs half of what the NSX does, makes the Acura feel like an economy car. The Lexus is weird and distinct and plush. The Acura is shiny plastic.
Honestly, the strangest part of the NSX is the view you get through the door mirrors. Drive through traffic for a while and you forget you’re in a sports car at all. The ride is nice. The pedal feels normal. The view is clear, like you’re in a well-sighted sedan. Then you look into those door mirrors and see the edges of the NSX’s huge side radiators gulping in air behind you. It flips your brain.
What I would’ve liked to have done in the NSX is run it on a wide, fast race track, where I could’ve let it move around. Or I would’ve liked to have aimed it at the horizon to wind it out. Take it somewhere big. West Texas. The distant corners of British Columbia. I would’ve liked to roll into Atlin, BC, where a six-thousand foot mountain climbs up from the shores of an unending lake, where the Earth is big and wild.
The NSX is a car for these stretches, a technological highpoint, a display of what us small humans can do, its minute precision a match or a foil to the hugeness of nature. If I had a week and five or six hundred dollars for gas (I was getting around 20 mpg), that’s where I’d have gone.
But I only had the NSX for half a day, so I went to the little back roads winding through the dense, green state parks surrounding NYC. The NSX crushed the roads. It drove through them. It didn’t dance or flutter, or bounce or dart along them. The NSX soared, almost like the wheels never touched the ground.
I took the NSX on the same stretch of broken pavement where I once tested an old Peugeot 205 GTI. Where the hot hatchback dipped and weaved and scrabbled, the NSX surged. It’s too fast for roads like this. All that redeemed it was the way it pulled itself into and out of corners, its three levels of sound growing increasingly addictive.
There’s the high-pitched whine of the electric motors. There’s the deep thrum of the V6. There’s the chirping whoosh from the turbochargers.
That’s the thing about the NSX. To me doesn’t feel like a sports car, or even much of a car at all. It’s an abstract work from teams of engineers laboring long hours with big budgets. It doesn’t act like something a car company would make. It acts like something built for the defense department. It’s not designed to thrill. It’s designed to allow its operator to engage the greatest amount of its performance potential with as little difficulty as possible.
I took a break at a roadside diner. How weird it was to even get out of the car. You forget how low the NSX is. You forget how completely insane it looks while you’re driving it. It seems impossible that the easy cruiser you were just lining into its space is the same car as that stealth fighter in blue. It’s hard not to smile while it disappears behind some hulking SUV as you walk away.
I spent all afternoon on those forest roads, winding back and forth across the New York/New Jersey border. Each corner wanted more commitment, more power, more speed. It wasn’t long until the car was asking more than I would provide, more than what was safe or social. The car wanted double the speed limit in the middle of corners, triple it in the straight sections between.
The NSX’s character, at first so helpful and innocent, hides a trickster spirit. The same calm that makes it so approachable and unthreatening urges you deeper into danger and illegality.
I caught myself before I went too far, but I could hear the NSX still whispering into my ear, turbos spooling over my shoulder.