In the late 1980s, if you wanted something spectacular to drive, you would have gone knocking on the doors of Ferrari, Lamborghini, or maybe Bugatti. The great European brands would have been more than happy to take a large chunk of your money in exchange for some fast and flashy machine you could put in your driveway.
The pedals would’ve been offset to the right, forcing your body to do a kind of contortionist routine on every drive. The view out would’ve been like peering through a mail slot. It would have been hot and cramped, and if you were even slightly taller than the average Italian automotive engineer, your head would’ve probably bounced against the roof over every bump. That is, of course, assuming the car would even start that day.
Then, in 1990, along came Acura with the NSX. It changed the rules for exotic cars — which is exactly what Acura is trying to accomplish again with its new 2018 iteration. To understand the new supercar, you’ve got to understand what came before.
“Historically, some of the other Japanese brands had made sports cars — the Nissan Z cars and Toyota 2000GT — but the Acura NSX was the first one that really got the established exotic brands to take notice,” says Hayato Mori, assistant VP of product planning at Honda Canada. “It really put Acura on the map of the luxury world.”
The thing it had that none of its competitors did was reliability. That sounds boring, but it changed everything; it changed the way people used exotic cars.
“Frankly,” says Mori, “some of the exotic brands had to catch up to us, making their cars more reliable and drivable.”
Instead of just posing beside it on weekends, you could drive the NSX to work downtown, in heavy traffic, and it wouldn’t overheat. You could take it on a cross-country road trip and it wouldn’t leave you stranded. And you got all of this in a car that had been honed by Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest Formula One champion of all time.
In the early 1990s, when the newly formed McLaren Automotive decided to build the ultimate money-no-object supercar, its designer — the legendary Gordon Murray — set about testing every other exotic sports car on the market, and the NSX came out on top.
“The moment I drove the ‘little’ NSX,” Murray later said, “all the benchmark cars — Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini — I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind…The NSX’s ride quality and handling would become our new design target.”
“The harder you push it, the more fun the NSX gets. Make sure the front tires are gripping nicely, and then stomp on the throttle.”
To say the all-new NSX had big shoes to fill is a gross understatement. Opening the door of the new car and sliding into its cockpit, you wouldn’t notice many similarities. It’s compact, like the original, with the car seeming to shrink around the driver. The new car is also powered by a mid-mounted V6 that resides just behind the driver. But this time that gasoline engine is joined by three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack.
Although the first concept was unveiled in 2010, it took four years and a couple false starts to make the new supercar a reality.
“A lot of powertrain and chassis combinations were tried,” says Mori. “I can’t go into details, but halfway through development, certain aspects of the performance weren’t good enough.” The team went back to the drawing board. “We weren’t afraid to throw that design out and start from scratch to make it live up to the NSX name and legend.”
The devilishly complex arrangement of four motors (one gas, three electric) was developed in house. Setting off from a standstill, the car drives with an eerie silence. It’ll go for a couple kilometres on electric power alone. It’s great for when you feel like being a good neighbour.
Put it on a racetrack, however, and the NSX is no eco-warrior. With 573 horsepower going through a nine-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive system, the NSX pulls more Gs than a Porsche 911 Turbo while accelerating from 0–100 km/h in a face-melting 2.7 seconds. That’s very nearly Bugatti-quick, which makes the $200,000 price tag look like a bargain.
Initially, the NSX can feel a bit tame and safe. It steers quickly, accurately, but there’s so much grip it can feel like it’s on rails. However, the harder you push it, the more fun the NSX gets. Make sure the front tires are gripping nicely, and then stomp on the throttle. The car’s many motors co-operate to provide a beautiful, delicate four-wheel drift. It’s almost graceful. You certainly don’t feel the full weight and complexity of the machine — just the thrill of what it can do.
It took decades for the original NSX to get its due respect from enthusiasts and collectors, but the respect (and high prices) did come. And so it is with the new model. The Acura NSX has largely flown under the radar, but we suspect that, in time, collectors will look back on it too as a car that pushed the supercar envelope.