The Acura NSX is one of the most complex cars ever made, a masterful blending of electric motors, batteries, turbos, servos, clutches, gears, and last but not least, an internal combustion engine. The body structure is state of the art, aluminum and composite panels, with an available carbon-fiber roof. It was designed like a racecar, around aerodynamics, downforce and cooling.
Yet, it’s the easiest supercar we have ever driven. It is very easy to drive fast, smooth and precise in the NSX. It would be perfectly comfortable as a daily commuter.
NSX was all new for 2017, after being away for a generation (and that’s in people years).
The NSX can compete on engineering levels with other supercars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder, though no in terms of performance. Its real-world rivals are more down-to-earth cars like the Ferrari 408GTB, Audi R8, Porsche 911 Turbo, or BMW i8. It can accelerate from zero to sixty in a mind-blowing three seconds flat, and hit a top speed of 191 miles per hour, yet it’s tame around town, smooth, quiet, tractable, easy.
The Acura NSX measures 176 inches long, with a wheelbase of 103.5 inches, shorter than that of a Honda Civic. The NSX sits low, at 47.8 inches in height, and wide, at 87.3 inches. It’s a heavy sports car, at 3803 pounds, despite its lightweight structure, because of the complex equipment that rides along and supplies the juice.
Its twin-turbocharged 75-degree 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 500 horsepower, mated to a 9-speed dual-clutch transmission. The engine uses both direct injection and port injection; the turbos provide 15.2 psi of boost, using electric wastegate control. A 47-horsepower electric motor can add power to the engine or be a generator to charge the lithium-ion battery. The battery is mounted vertically behind the driver, giving the chassis a front/rear weight ratio of 42/58 percent.
There’s another twin motor located front center, between the seats, and it can drive the car on its own at a low speed. It provides 36 horsepower to the front wheels while varying the power between them, which Acura calls Super Handling-All Wheel Drive. The setup helps with turn-in for high-speed corners.
Total output from all the motors and engine is 573 hp.
The V6 is mounted longitudinally in the car’s aluminum spaceframe, over the rear axle. The engine uses a dry sump oil system that prevents oil starvation from centrifugal force in the corners during hard driving on the track.
The suspension is aluminum double-wishbone with active adaptive magnetic-fluid dampers. The electric power steering is variable ratio. Front brakes are six-piston Brembo with 14.5-inch ventilated rotors and two-piece calipers, rears use four-piston monoblock calipers and 14-inch ventilated rotors. The standard tires are Continental Conti-Sport Contact 5P, 245/35R19s front and 305/30R20s rear. Pirelli tires are an option, as are soft Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires for the track.
The Integrated Dynamics System offers four modes: Quiet, Sport, Sport Plus, Track. The driver can set the quickness of the steering, brakes (mechanical and regenerative), stability control, shock absorbers, engine, transmission, and SH-AWD. Quiet mode goes for fuel mileage and allows electric driving at slow speeds while restricting revs to 4000 rpm. It rates 21 miles per gallon, City or Highway, by the EPA.
The NSX is hand-built in the U.S. at Honda’s factory in Ohio.
The 2018 Acura NSX ($156,000) comes standard with just about everything luxury, including LED ambient interior lighting and an infotainment system with seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth audio streaming, two USB ports, HD radio, Siri Eyes Free voice control, Apple Car Play, and Google Android Auto. But not satellite radio. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $1800 destination charge.)
Other equipment includes a multi-angle rearview camera, hill-start assist, front and front side airbags, curtain side airbags with rollover sensors, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and a tire-pressure monitor. High-tech safety features such as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings, or automatic emergency braking aren’t available.
The price can grow to $200,000 with options like carbon-ceramic brakes; carbon-fiber roof, engine cover and rear spoiler; or Alcantara headliner. A Technology Package adds a nine-speaker ELS audio system, navigation, AcuraLink telematics service, and front and rear parking sensors.
The NSX is a sharp, clean wedge with an unfortunate extreme and cartoonish grille that destroys any classic supercar style. It can’t touch the Ferrari for class and immaculate shape. But maybe the grille is appropriate because it serves to announce that this car is nothing if not a huge, successful compromise. It shouts out of a very big mouth, “I’m the hottest and flashiest Acura ever made!”
The massive mesh air intakes at the corners are fine, in that they are powerfully functional; and the framed wing-like LED lights are thin and lovely. But that grille steals your attention while at the same time making you want to turn away, like scary clown lips.
From the side and three-quarter rear it looks fabulous. Especially from the rear, because it has gorgeous clean hips, broad and chiseled fenders that begin the wedge forward. And the side has sharp aerodynamic edges, with cool ducts all over the place.
Air flows over the low roof and down the backlight, guided into the engine bay and to the clutch cooler, through cooling ducts on the rear fenders; the air comes out through large ducts at the rear. Aerodynamic downforce is generated by a conservative spoiler, a diffuser, and telegraphic taillight slots.
Acura interior designers worked hard on cabin ergonomics, so much that Acura came up with a design name for it: human-centric. One example of this human-centrism (we would call it plain old “user friendly”) is that a very tall driver, as tall as six-foot-six, can fit in the car. His head doesn’t hit the roof and his legs fit under the steering wheel and onto the pedals. However, the standard four-way manual seat, with a fixed bottom cushion, isn’t as humanly centric as the optional power leather-and-suede seat with lumbar adjustment.
Somehow the designers missed making the shift lever either human-centric or user friendly. There are paddle shifters, which you’re pretty much forced to use because there’s no lever for the right hand. The transmission is otherwise controlled with pushbuttons, like those in other Acura products.
Another example of human-centrism is the basic arrangement of controls on the center console. Acura calls it Simple Sports Interface. But the 8.0-inch digital display isn’t exactly centered around the human, or even pointed toward him or her; the virtual gauges hang on an odd plane, tilted away from the driver. The screen has a big tach that displays in different colors, based on the driving mode.
The flat-topped and flat-bottomed steering wheel contains controls that function a second screen, for the audio and available navigation. Around that screen there are swaths of metallic trim that also outline the dashboard and the rest of the controls. So is a carbon-fiber trim kit that looks just like similar treatments in other luxury and performance cars. That is to say, relentlessly showy and somewhat inexpensive.
Metallic trim notwithstanding, the cabin is plush, with a lot of leather and Alcantara. Lightly treated leather is available.
With the width of the NSX, there’s good room for occupants, but not so much for luggage or cargo. The trunk is tiny, at 4.4 cubic feet. And while the forward visibility is excellent, with thin windshield pillars and a low dash, the rearward visibility is wretched, with thick rear pillars and the low seating position. The standard multi-angle rearview camera, and parking sensors, are all the driver has to back up. Look at it this way: you never have to turn your head.
The sounds inside the cabin are sweet, including sweet quiet, if that’s what you like, in Quiet mode. There’s also a tube carrying the exhaust into the cabin, if that’s what you like. The irony is that the natural exhaust, heard from the outside, is ordinary, un-supercar-like. It’s enhanced in the cabin. So you’re kind of fooled into thinking your car sounds cool, when it’s really boring to others.
Acura says that their engineers spent years working on algorithms that simulate the truest driving signals, to develop the car that synthesizes those signals. Digging deep into a computer to make reality feel real? It’s not real already? Certainly the original NSX was superbly and spectacularly real; but of course, it merely had an engine, gearbox, chassis suspension, and steering, all of which performed brilliantly.
We know, after driving the new NSX on the track, that the seat-of-the-pants experience feels real enough. So we’re not saying that this paradoxical creativity didn’t work. All we’re saying is it’s weird.
The handling is progressive, which is how the car can be both a tame grocery-getter and scorching supercar. It can be driven in traffic at 30 mph without being difficult, and it can be driven quickly without feeling loose, pushy, or twitchy. It’s seamless between the two places. On the track it likes to driven rhythmically, early turn-in and throttle lift, stable under braking while turning.
Of course, given that there are four modes, there are four driving behaviors.
In Quiet mode, the NSX runs on electric power as much as it can, under 4000 rpm. Sport, the default mode, quickens throttle and shift response, raises the revs, and begins the piping of engine sounds into the cabin.
In Sport Plus, the display around the tach changes from blue and grey to yellow and red, and the car offers up the full 474 foot-pounds of torque, more sound into the cabin, and heavier steering.
In Track mode, the sound pipes open wide, the air conditioning and audio system goes blank, and launch control is enabled. Track mode maintains the battery 60 percent of full charge, to keep the performance the same from lap to lap. The transmission holds the lower gears in corners, and only upshifts on the straights. It’s programmed so well that it’s hard to be quicker by using the paddles. We accept it, but we’re not sure we like it. It reduces the driver to a point-and-steer robot. Well, the driver is still allowed to gas and brake, but with stability control and anti-lock brakes, the car prevents him or her from going too far. Maybe a better word would be that it protects the driver.
The big Brembo brakes impressively combine mechanical and electric power, regenerated from the motors and regulated by the mode. And electric servo combines the motor braking with friction braking to provide predictable and steady braking. Sensors translate the speed and pressure of the driver’s foot to the resistance of the pedal, and it’s nearly perfect.
The all-wheel-drive system covers for unsmooth or over-aggressive driving, trading off some pinpoint precision. A misjudged turn-in point can induce some understeer, but the stability systems quickly catch it. If your rhythm is correct, the car will respond with precision. Lift, brake, steer smoothly, and the front motors cleanly blend torque to the outside wheel.
Coming out of a turn at speed, you roll on the throttle, unwind the steering wheel, and the NSX will race away from the apex feeling totally neutral. The front motors provide torque or limit spin, while the limited-slip rear differential keeps the rears planted. You can choose how sticky you want to get, with the tires; as in Formula 1, you have hard, medium, and soft, with Continental, Pirelli, or Michelin. Well, in F1 it’s soft, medium soft, and super soft, but who’s counting.
The NSX is spectacularly fast, brakes perfectly, and handles impeccably. But for us, we’d like our supercar to be more of a beast. While not being so ugly, the face, not the profile. We don’t love the artificial high-tech instrumentation, and soulless exhaust note.
Sam Moses contributed to this report; with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Monticello, New York; and TCC staff reports.