If You Think The New NSX Isn't Worthy Of The Name, You Don't Understand What NSX Means

Photo: Mack Hogan

After a long lead time and controversial early reviews, the NSX is now accepted as a fast, capable and fun performance car that’s well-suited for daily driving. It looks good, too. There’s just one major sticking point: a lot of people don’t think it should be called NSX. They say it’s an affront to the old car, a misguided bastardization or a misapplication for hype alone. They’re wrong.

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To be sure, the new NSX is nothing like the old NSX. The new one is computerized, electrified and self-shifting. It’s a budget 918, not a stripped-down, analog sports car like the OG NSX. On the surface, critics are right to say that it’s not a true continuation of the marque.

But let’s remember what the original NSX was and what it did. The primary goal was not to provide the perfect analog driving experience. The goal was to take the existing performance, experience and fun of supercars and add the reliability and daily comfort of an Acura.

In making a sports car that you could drive every day and not go bankrupt, Acura delivered on the primary goal: to provide a New Sports eXperience. Though there are sources that say NSX stands for New Sports (Unknown Variable) or New Sports eXperimental, Acura itself says that the production car was named after the New Sports eXperience it provided.

Ferraris of the day required pricey engine-out services and Lamborghinis were ergonomic nightmares, but an NSX worked for you every day. That’s why, decades later, there are multiple NSXs with over 300,000 miles on them. Sure, the NSX was fast and fun, but the reason it changed the game is that it proved that you could have those things without giving up all hope of having a working, usable car.

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But there’s a problem with the philosophy of providing a New Sports eXperience. It’s not exactly something that you can do every few years. If you want to change the game, you need some sort of paradigm shift or new technology that allows you to do something new. So until 2005, the NSX stayed the same. When they couldn’t reinvent it, they scrapped it all together for the time being.

By that point, the idea of a reliable and usable supercar wasn’t nearly as novel. Ford was building the GT. Lamborghini was now building cars with Audi know-how. In the years after, Audi would launch its own supercar. And when Lexus—god almighty of quality—announced its own supercar, the LFA, it became extraordinarily clear that a new, simple, reliable supercar wouldn’t be enough.

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Perhaps that’s why the lead time on the NSX was so long. It was originally going to be a V10 front-engined Japanese supercar, but since Lexus was going to beat them to the punch, why bother? Not much of a New Experience if your biggest direct rival is already doing it.

And so they did something completely new. They decided to make the first high-performance, entry-level hybrid supercar. While Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren had brought electrification to the very top end of the market with their hybrids, nobody was doing something a tier below. Unless you count the BMW i8, which you absolutely shouldn’t.

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The true genius of the NSX isn’t the technology, it’s how it’s implemented. Despite a trick torque-vectoring motor setup on the front axle and a full brake-by-wire system, the NSX feels planted and predictable. It doesn’t have the video-game feel of a GT-R, but it still has that same confidence in corners.

It’s not only bringing key future technology downmarket but it’s making its advantages accessible to the driver. The complex powertrain doesn’t limit you or scare you, but gives you the confidence to keep pushing harder. It’s electrification done for fun, performance and capability. That’s a new experience.

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Not a perfect experience, mind you. For all of its technology and computerization, the NSX isn’t actually much quicker than conventionally powered supercars. And with no front trunk, it gives up some practicality.

Sure, they could have given it a high-revving, naturally aspirated VTEC motor and a manual transmission. It would have been brilliant. I would have loved it. But it wouldn’t have been an NSX. Love it or hate it, the new one moves the needle. If nothing else, it’s undoubtedly an NSX.

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About the author

Mack Hogan

Mack Hogan is Jalopnik's Weekend Editor, but you may know him from his role as CNBC's car critic or his brave (and maligned) takes on Twitter. Most people agree that you shouldn't listen to him.