The moment I really got the 2017 Acura NSX wasn’t when I launched it to highway speed from a standstill in three seconds, egged on by the 573 horsepower soundtrack of two turbos dumping air into a wailing V6 backed by a screaming electric motor whine. It wasn’t the tenth time a pedestrian gave me the thumbs up and told me how awesome it was to look at, and how awesome I was for owning it. (I didn’t correct them.)
No, the moment I got it was when I realized I had forgotten I was in a $205,000 mid-engined exotic car at all; when I checked around and marveled at how well I could see out of the cabin, or when I drove over Brooklyn’s pockmarked streets unperturbed thanks to a smooth ride that’s almost unnatural for a supercar.
This is what the NSX is. It’s what it was in 1990, and what it is again: a high-end European-style exotic you can live with every day, a race car you can drive to the office, all the fun without a lot of the headaches.
In spite of an eyebrow-raising price tag, an interior that doesn’t feel worth it, and a gearbox I occasionally found questionable, the new NSX is a violently fast speed machine with almost impossibly good handling and driving dynamics. It screams in your ear and infects your brain, makes you dream about it when you aren’t behind the wheel.
The new NSX deserves to be an NSX.
(Full disclosure: Acura needed us to drive the NSX so badly they sent us one for a week with a full tank of gasoline.)
What Is It?
I won’t waste internet ink recounting the story of the original NSX or why it’s loved so much today. You can find that anywhere. I won’t harp on the development of this new car or the lengthy, complicated and troubled path it took to production, either. The 2017 NSX is here now and what matters is how it drives.
This time it’s built in America, Ohio specifically, and this time it is all-wheel drive and brings electricity into the mix.
Don’t scoff at the hybrid setup. It works and it works amazingly well, whether you’re cruising silently on electric power around town or driving in anger on the track. It’s a fire-sale Porsche 918 Spyder, not an expensive Toyota Prius.
And like the original NSX, the new car is a masterpiece of packaging. The original was a showcase of weight-saving aluminum. This one is too; it’s also the first production car to use revolutionary aluminum ablation casting to boost rigidity while cutting down weight.
And it can be had with a smorgasbord of carbon fiber, all of which executes complicated airflow work that’s done without active aerodynamics.
Still, the NSX is a lot heavier now, and a lot bigger. At 3,800 pounds it’s added about half a ton since it debuted. I suspect it’s why there aren’t a lot of side-by-side pictures from Honda of the first car and this one.
Why Does It Matter?
Because if you’re willing to accept that a car doesn’t have to be the same as it was in 1990 to be excellent, the NSX matters because it does new and exciting things with hybrid power at a lower price point than we’ve seen before. Yes, there’s the BMW i8, but in performance and capability, it’s a joke compared to this.
And while the NSX is far from affordable, it rings up well below the million-dollar likes of the 918 Spyder and its hybrid hypercar brethren. Those cars are statement pieces on what can be accomplished if we embrace electricity and couple it with the gasoline engines we love so much. This one is too, and even more so, because on top of behind exhilarating it’s borderline practical.
But to me, the new NSX matters because as I shut it down and walked away from it, all I could think about was when I’d get behind the wheel again. That’s a feeling I rarely get from new cars anymore, no matter how rare or expensive they are.
Embrace The Future
The star of the show is the drivetrain. NSX comes to the fight with a 500 HP 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 that, contrary to popular opinion, is not the same V6 as the one in your Honda Odyssey but is rather a bespoke 75-degree high compression engine with motorsports roots. That’s mated to three electric motors—two up front, one in the back—powered by a small battery pack.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the car’s Drive Modes, adjusted by a big silver knob on the center console, which go from “Quiet” to “Track” and dramatically change the power delivery, torque vectoring, steering, battery management, suspension stiffness and noise.
You can creep silently around in Sport on just electric power up to 20 mph, or move it over to Sport+ or Track and hear the full brunt of the V6 engine behind you, all without any traction control nannies to cut in on your fun. Track Mode even turns the screen off.
On top of all that, you incredibly low CG, 10 heat exchangers, all sorts of vents and intakes on the body for aero goodness. And every NSX is built to order.
Step inside the NSX, and you’re greeted by... well, some stuff that looks a lot like the last RDX or MDX I was in. The interior is severely bland. It’s nice enough, and it has a few premium touches like the squarish steering wheel that features raised grips on the back, or the leather and alcantara on the dashboard, but nothing about the inside of this car screams “exotic.”
It’s nowhere near as premium-feeling or engaging as the 2018 Lexus LC 500 we tested a few weeks before this that costs half (!!!) as much.
Functionally, the infotainment system and center console are the same as the last $20,000 Honda Civic I drove; frustrating menu setup, no volume knob. It’s a bummer, but it’s tradition. If you’re ever having trouble sleeping, look at pictures of the first NSX’s interior.
The other major miss was the gearbox. Even in the more aggressive modes the nine-speed DCT seemed sluggish on manual upshifts and downshifts, though around town it was remarkably smooth. Most of the time I was content to leave it in automatic mode.
“I hadn’t seen the new one yet, but I loved the first one. It’s awesome. ”
“That thing looks amazing.”
“I love that color!”
These were just some of the comments I heard on the road. The last one came from an MTA bus driver. I told him I liked his bus, too.
The NSX turns heads. Maybe it was the $6,000 Nouvelle Blue Pearl paint job. Maybe it was the Acura badge on the hood, signaling something different—do you wave to douchebags in Lamborghinis? I sure don’t, but people loved this thing. Despite having much of a decade spent in development, it looks fresh and hot out on the road.
In traffic you have a choice to make. In Sport Mode the NSX is remarkably quiet, and in Quiet Mode, which uses electricity much of the time for neighborhood cruising, it’s practically silent.
Do you creep through the city streets making no noise, like a good citizen allowing others to go about their day undisturbed, or do you crank it over to Sport+ or Track and dial up the noise and give the people a show? They’re sitting next to an exotic at a red light, after all. Maybe they want the full experience.
Ride quality, steering feel and maneuverability are outstanding in normal driving, which, again, is a quality I’ve always admired in the original NSX. The cabin may be bland but it provides all but unparalleled outward visibility, a rarity with modern cars and their massive pillars. And the seats are remarkable, the perfect blend of bolstering and comfort—also a rare feat in this era of insane Recaro bolstering.
Granted, it’s still a two-seat exotic, so don’t expect to carry more than an overnight bag or some golf clubs in the back. But nobody’s buying this for cargo space.
Driving around town is fine and all, but the NSX will compel you to find some long, winding open roads, preferably the cop-free kind. The car is fast—zero to 60 mph in three seconds, top speed of a hair under 200 mph.
The original car was quick when it came out—less so as time went on and the competition got better—but it tended to prioritize handling over brute speed. You get both this time.
Speed in the NSX is an interesting experience. At full-throttle you get the rev-building force of the twin-turbo V6 with the seamless, linear torque from the electric motors on top of it. If you can, imagine the acceleration of a Ferrari and the acceleration of a Tesla Model S—at the same time and in the same car.
The noise follows this pattern, coupling an electric whine with what sounds like a racing-motor V6—easily mistaken for a low-displacement V8, frankly—with a turbo-whooshing noise. And in the more forceful drive modes, those motors are adjusted so you actually get louder noise inside the cabin. It’s a unique audio experience, at least anything south of the $1 million-ish P1/918/LaFerrari class.
Critics have decried the NSX’s move to Acura’s torque vectoring Super Handling AWD, which moves power different wheels based on which needs the most grip, but I can’t argue with the results.
It’s a remarkably direct and flat-cornering vehicle, one that on twisty roads never feels as big or heavy as it actually is. It’s every bit as agile there as it is on the city streets; the electric steering is tuned for impeccable feel. I can honestly say Acura’s built one of the best-handling vehicles I’ve ever personally sampled with this. (We did have great difficulty getting it do donuts like this, but we may have had some menu or traction control gizmo set the wrong way. We tried.)
The new NSX is like that one really cool friend some of us seem to have, the friend who’s just as apt to show you and your wife a lovely time at a fantastic unknown new restaurant as he is to help you fistfight your way out of a bar in Tijuana. Whether you’re cruising or hooning, the car has got this; it’s got your back, too smooth and too smart to ever really fail.
Who’s It For?
Fans of the original, for one. I’ve read about and talked to a lot of people who own the first NSX, or several, and have opted in on this one.
Beyond that it’s for well-heeled speed freaks and Honda die-hards who probably made their money in tech, and people who are willing to be progressive about the future of very fast cars. The NSX will likely have competition from the Audi R8 and the McLaren 570S, for sure, but I think for its buyers the hybrid system and AWD will be an attracting factor, rather than a deterrent.
I never said all this came cheap. Our car started at $156,000, which even if you adjust for inflation is tens of thousands of dollars more than the original car. And here it packed nearly $50,000 worth of options for a total sticker price of $204,600.
Besides the gorgeous blue paint, this tester was loaded down in carbon fiber options that cost more than the majority of vehicles I’ve personally owned: $9,000 carbon fiber exterior package, $3,600 carbon fiber engine cover, $3,000 carbon fiber decklid spoiler, and so on. If I bought this car—and I’d probably never spend that much money on any car, let alone this one, if I had it, which I don’t—I’d be perfectly content without most of that shit and a price tag around $150,000.
While it is expensive, it brings hybrid hypercar technology to a price point we’ve never seen before, and I’m eager to see that trickle down to cars the rest of us can afford. $150,000 today, $35,000 tomorrow. Or at least... eventually, we hope. That future wouldn’t be terrible.
There’s a lot of people who think the new NSX should have had a high-strung V6 or V8, no hybrid system, weighed under 3,000 pounds, included a manual gearbox and, of course, a starting cost around $30,000. But this would be missing the point of the NSX.
The new car pushes the envelope of technology the same way the original did, just now with the best that 2017 has on tap. If the original NSX had never existed—a scary thought, but stay with me now—and Honda wanted to make a high-tech exotic for the first time in this decade, it probably would have still been this car. Couple that with a driving experience equally suited to the road as it is the track, like the original, and you have a worthy successor.
By now it should be clear I liked this car a lot. I’m eager to see what Honda does with it. As much as I enjoyed the setup and how it drives, I’d love to get a Type R variant with even more power and, who knows, even rear-wheel drive. Given the company’s cool comeback shit as of late, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if it were in the cards.
For now, let’s be glad the NSX is back, and that it’s what it needs to be in 2017.