NSX-ceptional: An In-Depth Look at Acura's New NSX

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Jun 16, 2016 | Acura | Posted in Features | From the June 2016 issue | Never miss an article

When JFK committed America to landing a man on the moon, he made the point that there are some things you have to do because they are hard, not because they represent the path of least resistance.

Welcome to Acura’s moonshot.

With the 2017 NSX, Acura shows us not only an amazing automobile but also, perhaps even more important, how it wants to be perceived as a company. Talk to the NSX’s engineers–and even some of the “everything is awesome all the time” PR folks–and they’ll admit that for the last several years, Acura hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire with excitement.

Sure, the RSX was fun, and the brand’s sedans are sporty and competent. Its SUVs are good driving vehicles, too, and not just soccer team haulers. But since the days of the original NSX and the Integra Type R, Acura has kind of dialed up the “competence” knob while sort of neglecting the “thrill” switch.

Thrill Switch Engage

For 2017, though, the legendary NSX nameplate returns–and with big shoes to fill. When the original debuted in the early 1990s, it was a breath of Japanese fresh air in a sports car scene largely defined by German and Italian machinery.

Although some dismissed that first NSX as antiseptic and lacking soul compared to its more finicky European competitors, it gradually became appreciated for its own stellar performance–especially in light of the fact that it brought Honda-grade reliability to the supercar ranks. The same qualities that critics originally used to pan the car came to define it and solidify its place in the sports car pantheon.

As with most legends, though, a cloud of mythos and emotion formed around what was already a competent, capable machine. The current design and engineering team knew that by reintroducing the NSX name, they would be evoking comparisons to an icon, not just a car.

So naturally their target went more hardcore. Whereas the original NSX was designed as a foil for the Porsche 911 and perhaps a used Ferrari 308, the 2017 version has its sights set squarely on cars like the latest Audi R8 V10, Ferrari 458 and Porsche 911 Turbo. With such lofty goals comes a lofty price tag: Prices start in the mid-$150K range and quickly run into the $180,000s for a well-equipped version. But oh, the joy.

Ones and Zeros

The new NSX is a technological powerhouse. A twin-turbo V6 is just the beginning of the motivational force, as a connected electric motor at the engine and separate electric drive motors for each front wheel can all provide power when needed. With everything at full song, no fewer than 573 horsepower and 476 ft.-lbs. of torque drive the 3800-pound car.

Controlling all this thrust is enough processing power to not only guide and monitor that first moon landing, but video-record it, edit the footage, broadcast the film, and distribute the video game based on it as well. And that technology is integrated so seamlessly into the experience that the result is more reminiscent of the elemental original NSX than you might imagine.

In its most aggressive driving mode–Track mode–the car’s electronic assistants aren’t so much nannies as they are coaches. They reward skilled driving by helping you inch toward the edge of traction rather than punitively dragging you back from it if you get too close.

The result is a driving experience that feels for all the world natural and not digitally enhanced. The impression is that the NSX’s digital assistants are there to help the driver take advantage of an already stellar chassis, not to make up for any mechanical shortcomings. Indeed, the only shortcomings in this car’s operating chain will likely be meat-based.

Behind the Wheel

We’ve been alluding to the fact that the new NSX is some sort of dream come true from behind the wheel. Actually, it’s pretty close.

We got to sample the new sportster both on track and in the mountains of Southern California, and not once did we feel like we put a wheel wrong. The additional motors, electronic controls and digital wondery made us feel like heroes, not like we were having our hands held.

Inside, the cabin is spacious and refreshingly understated. The materials all feel lovely. There are appropriate amounts of gee and whiz in the design, but the overall look and feel is more homey and businesslike than you’d expect in a statement supercar. That’s fine, though: The statement comes from the fact that everything just makes sense and appears right where your hand expects it to.

Possibly the most impressive aspect of the interior is how well it allows you to see out of it. Unlike so many modern cars with their high windowsills, thigh-thick A-pillars and tiny windshields, the NSX was designed with outward vision as a priority, and it completely shows. The front fenders are in view just enough to be helpful in placing the car, and its overall visibility helps maintain an intuitive knowledge of the car’s boundaries.

Handling is expectably impressive. Since this is a mid-engine car, an experienced driver will anticipate some of the physics at play and drive accordingly–adding that bit of countersteer when throttling out of a slow corner, or pausing briefly to settle the rear end after a hard transition. But you quickly realize that these little compensations are no longer necessary. In fact, you can almost use the FWD trick of simply mashing the throttle and letting the electric motors on the front wheels stabilize the chassis when you feel things getting funky.

In Track mode, you can outdrive the assists, but it won’t help you any. You can also switch them all off, but get ready for your lap times to go up a bit–or at least become far more inconsistent.

The other modes available–Quiet, Sport and Sport+–are rather self-explanatory. Quiet mode is your cross-country touring mode. You could easily do several-hour stretches in this car without getting worn out. The throttle application is sporty but not abrupt, the chassis tuning is mild but not floaty, and the stainless-steel exhaust is softened by some extra sound abatement.

Sport and Sport+ both up the ante in rather predictable ways: holding each gear a bit longer, shifting a bit harder, increasing the edge in the suspension, and making more and more slip angle available from the tires.

Particularly impressive in all these modes is the dual-clutch transmission. Engagement and shifts in Quiet mode are practically automatic-smooth. In Sport+ or Track mode, it selects the proper gear for any situation or point on the track or street. It’s almost spooky.

In Track mode, but with the nine-speed gearbox in its automatic setting, the NSX stages downshifts and matches revs on the way into a corner, lets you throttle your way through that corner, and bangs the upshifts even when there are some lateral g-loads involved, all without upsetting the balance of the chassis. It’s truly uncanny. Even when we tried to fool it, we couldn’t.

What’s Next?

Here’s the good news for those of us who aren’t one-percenters: The new NSX is merely the first step in the re-excitening of Acura–at least the NSX engineers hope so.

The NSX is as much a trial balloon as an automobile, and if it takes off and is held in equal esteem to the original, there’s every chance we could see more intriguing Acura models. And those could be very relevant to a much broader segment of our market.

“Will there ever be another Integra Type R?” In response to this frequent question, NSX engineers simply smile and take the diplomatic way out. But they are very diligent in letting you know that everyone on their team is unapologetically hardcore. The head of development is a New England Hillclimb Association record-holder, and others are regular autocrossers, club racers, LeMons and ChumpCar competitors, and all-around greasy-fingernail types.

They’re also, with a couple of key exceptions, Americans. The NSX was developed and will be constructed in Marysville, Ohio–hardly a place associated with worldclass supercars prior to the 2017 model year. Its chassis was tuned heavily on the Nürburgring, but it also owes just as much of its composure to endless laps at VIR.

Developers are hoping that this is Acura’s highly visible first salvo in its return to a brand more associated with excitement than responsibility. They practically started from scratch for this design a couple of years ago, when delays in the development of the original variant threatened to keep it out of true supercar territory by the time it hit production. The team did a moonshot’s worth of work getting this amazing machine to production status.

As one engineer put it, with a sly smile, “It would be a shame to waste all this development and technology on a single variant, or even a single model.” That sounds like exceptional news for all of us.

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Comments
dropstep
dropstep Dork
6/16/16 10:22 a.m.

My father in law took us too honda's open house at there anna plant when they were showing this car too the employees. Not usually a honda guy but that car and some of the tech involved is awesome.

Trackmouse
Trackmouse Dork
6/16/16 10:25 a.m.

Meh. I'll wait for the type-r model...

nderwater
nderwater PowerDork
6/16/16 10:31 a.m.

Whenever I spend time around an original NSX I fall in love all over again with those cars. But for some reason, nothing about this new NSX moves me one iota. Perhaps I'll have to spend some time with it in person?

jstein77
jstein77 UltraDork
6/16/16 11:01 a.m.

Wow, jaded people.

gearheadE30
gearheadE30 Reader
6/16/16 11:03 a.m.

Yeah, I'm also in the boat of cosmetic meh-ness.

Interesting that many of the early reviews also said it wasn't that great to drive, and certainly not as a performance car. When I read the article in the magazine, I couldn't help but wonder why it was so different from what I had read elsewhere. Maybe there's an option or different tires that is just that critical to have?

Flight Service
Flight Service MegaDork
6/16/16 11:53 a.m.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
6/16/16 12:00 p.m.
gearheadE30 wrote: Yeah, I'm also in the boat of cosmetic meh-ness. Interesting that many of the early reviews also said it wasn't that great to drive, and certainly not as a performance car. When I read the article in the magazine, I couldn't help but wonder why it was so different from what I had read elsewhere. Maybe there's an option or different tires that is just that critical to have?

I just don't get it, either. The capabilities and composure of the NSX are beyond reproach, but for some reason it gets a bad rap from some reviewers as "sterile" or even boring. But a refuse to believe that you have to sacrifice some great comfort or functionality in the name of "character" for a supercar to be super. In today's modern world there's no reason a supercar can't be, well... a Honda.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/16/16 2:34 p.m.

I wouldn't say it's a competitor to the 458 but I would say it's a competitor to the i8.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
6/16/16 2:50 p.m.

I was just kind of surprised at the weight!

Bobzilla
Bobzilla UltimaDork
6/16/16 2:56 p.m.

Wait... did hte article say it was 3800lbs? 573hp and 3800lbs? Sounds like a Camaro ZL1 only 5 times as much. I don't get it. At the price point of the old NSX ($80k), that would be impressive-ish. But at $180k? It sounds just like the old NSX. Too much money, not enough performance. What's the new Z06? 3400lbs with 650hp for $80k? For that extra $100k you could have a FLEET of hybrids for the daily commute/crosscountry trek.

Once again, Honda has jumped the shark IMO.

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