I’m ripping around the Thermal Club raceway outside Palm Springs, California, in the new 2017 Acura NSX supercar. The long-delayed machine has been slow approaching the gate, but quite fast leaving it. Its three-motor electric hybrid system — one integrated within the mid-mounted engine, and one powering each of the front wheels — gives not only a nice power boost to its twin-turbo V6, totaling 573 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, but it also permits precise torque-vectoring to help navigate twisties like these tight esses at Thermal. It does this quite effectively, pivoting around turns in a way that’s almost unnaturally accommodating — and a bit unnerving. It’s like watching an owl from behind as it instantly swivels its head 180 degrees to glare straight at you.
Of course it is entirely unnatural because it’s all computers and motors modulating electric-power applications with millisecond timing in order to generate aggressive yaw movements and, ultimately, some crazy cornering. Within a few laps, you start to learn its interventions, and then push them harder and harder to boost your times. Eventually, you see that there’s barely anything you can do to truly upset this car, short of doing nothing at all as you enter a turn. It makes mediocre drivers look great, and great drivers look like Poe stalking Tie Fighters across the sky.
Others might see things differently. Acura has been slagged pretty heavily over the NSX, for two reasons. First, it’s late — or more specifically, it took a long time to reach production. This is true. Honda initially announced it would develop a successor to its wildly popular first-generation NSX (1990-2005) in 2007, but then dropped the project during the recession. It revived it in 2011, but revised the powertrain midway through development, slowing down the process. But the car is here now, commencing production in earnest next month in the new high-tech Performance Manufacturing Center in Ohio. Does it really matter that it’s “late”? Not really. Acura wanted the car to be right, and that simply took longer than expected.
The other reason that Acura has been taking heat over the NSX is that it’s not the same car they introduced 26 years ago. Fans of the first-generation NSX loved its relative affordability: it launched at $60,000, or $108,000 in today’s money. They loved its Japanese-car quality and reliability and its supercar performance, with mid-engine balance, a low, wide stance, world-first all-aluminum construction, and a naturally aspirated, 270 horsepower V6 with variable valve-timing. Early gripes about the new 2016 model are that it lacks that sort of “people’s supercar” vibe and instead aspires to Lamborghini/Ferrari greatness as though that were a bad thing. Yes, there is presently no intermediate stepping stone allowing Honda fans to get their sports-car fix, and the NSX’s $156,000 starting point makes it a supremely challenging discretionary purchase. But, frankly, so is $108,000. Sell some stock, or buy a Porsche — but you’ll be disappointed if you do. This car sits far above any Porsche short of the 918 hypercar.
Besides, the “heritage” argument holds no real water here. Some cars have it, others don’t. The Chevrolet Corvette oozes heritage, and its enthusiasts are entitled to recoil at the mere mention of moving the engine from in front of the seats to behind them. The Porsche 911 also has it, thanks to its half-century of multi-generational tweaks to the same basic concept. But the NSX is different: it has a predecessor, not a heritage. The new NSX is less a continuation of the previous one than it is Honda’s current best-possible sports-car effort. There are similarities, including a mid-engine configuration and its Honda quality, but this car is very much its own thing. If the NSX badging bothers you, I can’t help. (For what it’s worth, the name has actually shifted meaning from “New Sports, eXperimental” to “New Sports eXperience”.)
2017 Acura NSX Specs
Engine: Mid-engine, twin-turbocharged V6; permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor; two permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motors
Transmission: 9-speed dual-clutch automatic, 1-speed direct drive (electric motors); four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 500 horsepower (V6); 50 horsepower (mid-mounted electric motor); 36 horsepower each (two front wheel-mounted electric motors)
Torque: 406 lb-ft; 109 lb-ft (mid-mounted electric motor); 54 lb-ft each (two front-wheel-mounted electric motors)
0-60 mph: 2.9 seconds
MPG: 19/26, city/highway
MSRP: $155,000 (as tested)
What I can tell you is that the dedication to getting it right, which led to those delays, and the disinclination to do the same car all over again have spawned a sports car that punches well above its weight, and which pretty much nails the company’s new “Precision Crafted Performance” mantra. The NSX is by every measure a fully competent track machine with a smart, modern hybrid twist — something only a few other car makers have only introduced in stratospherically priced hypercars — and gobs of design and manufacturing innovation. There’s the ultra-thin A-pillar for improved visibility; ride-smoothing magnetic dampers with the widest range ever and fastest response time in an Acura; brake-by-wire with consistently solid feel whether on track or tooling around the neighborhood; aerodynamics tuned to generate both balanced front/rear downforce and engine and brake cooling in the same airstreams; and a stealthy all-electric quiet mode for sneaking into or out of your driveway on Sunday mornings. All of this engineering comes together in the new Ohio manufacturing center, where a whole other range of innovations have been instituted just for the NSX.
But the NSX is different: it has a predecessor, not a heritage. The new NSX is less a continuation of the previous one than it is Honda’s current best-possible sports-car effort.
I experienced all this on the track at Thermal, but also on the road, where the car remains a thrill to toss around mountain curves and simply to cruise city boulevards. Its low profile and menacing angularity on the outside, crafted by Acura exterior designer Michelle Christensen, gives it a crisp, modern feel that draws gasps from onlookers. The prominent air intakes behind the doors and the vents, the subtly angled “jewel-eye” headlights, and distinctively straight and prominent side mirrors are all great touches, while the driver-centered interior and simple, tunable TFT-screen interface keeps everything prioritized like a precise aircraft cockpit. There are few lapses in the car, but one of them is a complaint that I’m reluctant to register because it’s so… American: There are no cup holders. Not one. You can purchase one that fits into a slot between the seats, but c’mon — we can’t drink coffee in this car on a leisurely cruise to Cars & Coffee on Sunday morning? It’s a frustrating decision.
By the way, those same electric motors that enable quiet getaways and ultra-efficient performance are also engineered to generate maximum oomph from the moment you mash the pedal. Acceleration is perfect. The NSX rockets to 60 mph in just over three seconds with minimal fuss. In launch-control mode, you push the brake to the floor, then the gas, then release the brake, then shoot through the 9-speed dual-clutch transmission. The car won’t let any wheelspin happen. I verified with this the engineers: there’s simply no way you can do a smoky burnout in this car, for better or worse. In my view, it’s better. Burnouts and drifts are cool, but also inherently inefficient. Does that make the NSX a tad boring? Perhaps. But there’s no legit race driver on earth who would trade drama for lap times. The NSX is equal parts muscle and finesse, and in the end, while not as outrageous or dramatic as the nearest Lamborghini, McLaren, or Ferrari, it makes quick work of its closest competitors, including the Audi R8.
It also possesses far more innovation for its time than its predecessor ever had. It’s the car Acura built to set a new standard, not meet an old one.
Acura’s Michelle Christensen shows in the new NSX supercar that great design melds purpose and emotion. We discuss her intentions in design.