The 2017 Acura NSX is a sports car legend reborn
The 2017 Acura NSX is a sports car legend reborn (Photo: Acura)
Matt Bubbers, Autofocus.ca
Published Wednesday, March 23, 2016 1:10PM EDT
The engineers who built the radical new hybrid-powered Acura NSX sports car knew they could just update the original and call it a day.
The original NSX (1990-2005) was a brilliant car, a shot from Japan across the bow of Ferrari and Porsche. It announced the arrival of Japanese automakers, not just as makers of reliable econo-boxes, but as world-class powerhouses capable of taking on the sports car establishment.
And the old NSX is still brilliant. Driving it in Palm Springs, sun setting, windows down, flattening the throttle in second gear, it makes my spine tingle. All these years later, its V6 engine screams up to 8,000 rpm on a hair trigger. It’s still quick. And the six-speed manual—my god, I’ve never felt a better gearbox. The car’s simple wedge-shaped silhouette is aging beautifully, too. No wonder it’s become a collector’s item.
So, like I said, the engineers could’ve updated the brakes, quickened up the steering, added a few horsepower, and gone off to the bar. But they didn’t.
Instead, Honda took a massive risk and chose to re-invent the NSX as a hybrid sports car in the hope that lightning might strike twice. Will we look back and say this NSX shook up the entire sports car world like its forebear? Does Honda have another icon on its hands?
We’ve waited a long time – over four years since the first new NSX concept in early 2012 – but now we’re finally going to find out.
Walking up to the new NSX, what strikes you is just how compact it is. It’s short and low and wide. But the design is fussier than the original. There are more creases and lines, more vents, more aggression.
It’s a hint there’s more going on underneath the sheet metal than there was before. It’s a beautiful silhouette, with classic mid-engine proportions.
How Acura engineers ever crammed four motors (one gas, three electric) and a battery back into that tiny car is a great mystery.
You’ve got to duck low to get in if you don’t want to bang your head against the low roof. The view out the front is expansive, and it’s once you’re settled into the new NSX you get the first clues as to what it’s all about. It’s not like sitting in other low sports cars (Lamborghini, we’re looking at you). It doesn’t feel like your peering out from a bunker. We drove the NSX in traffic, and weren’t terrified of being blindsided by an unseen semi. It’s meant to be a usable sports car, just like the original.
Downsides? The central panel is a little too plastic-y, and the infotainment setup is out-of-date, not in keeping with the rest of the car’s high-tech ethos.
The story of how the new NSX came to be is a story unto itself: delayed, re-imagined, halted, re-designed, started again. Suffice it to say, it could’ve turned out quite differently. The car you see here was largely designed in America, and will be built not in Japan, but in a new dedicated factory in Ohio.
The dry-sump 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 engine is mounted longitudinally behind the driver. It’s connected to an electric motor that sits between it and a state-of-the-art nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox. All that just powers the rear wheels. At the front axle, there are two more electric motors, one for each wheel. The gas engine alone makes alone makes 500 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, but combined with the electric drive units, the car puts out a maximum of 573 hp and 476 lb-ft.
Electric-only mode is there if you need to sneak out of a driveway in total silence, but it’s only good for a couple kilometres.
The downside of all this technology is that the new NSX weighs a porky 1,725 kg.
This thing pulls more Gs accelerating than a Porsche 911 Turbo. It’s relentless, breathtaking stuff. The NSX uses the electric motors to cover any lag before the huge turbos wallop you forward. If you just get in and put your foot down, you’d never guess there was all that high-tech wizardry under the hood. All motors work together seamlessly.
Engine sound is piped in through a tube behind the driver. It certainly doesn’t scream like the original NSX’s V6. It’s a deeper, less mechanical sound. It’s no Ferrari V8 — or even Audi V10 — but in the higher reaches of the rev range the NSX sounds like a proper sports car.
What’s amazing is that the NSX doesn’t feel as heavy as it is. It’s only in high-speed direction changes you sense you’re sitting on a lot of momentum. The low center-of-gravity certainly helps here.
At first the NSX feels like it’s on rails like its all-wheel drive rivals from Germany, the Porsche Turbo and Audi R8 V10. Initially, there’s no drama. All you feel is the uncanny way the front motors work to kill understeer and zap oversteer, just as you feel it’s about to begin.
But with more confidence — and on a track — the NSX reveals its true playful nature. Roll smartly onto the throttle and the car slides sideways easily, naturally. The on-rails all-wheel-drive feeling disappears. Even in track mode though, traction control cuts in to stop the fun once the tail kicks out. If it was completely off you could ride out some lovely powerslides.
As the original did, the new NSX is competing directly against some of the best sports cars in the world: the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Audi R8 V10, the hybrid BMW i8, the Nissan GT-R—not to mention the carbon-chassis V8-powered McLaren 570S. The latter is by far the toughest competition in terms of pure driving thrill. The Porsche and the Audi both have nicer interiors than the NSX. And the BMW has equally impressive technology, although it’s not as fast.
In Canada, prices for the 2017 NSX will start at $189,000 and climb up around $250,000 if you want all the options, like a carbon-fibre roof, wing, and brakes.
The NSX is the first hybrid sports car (under a million dollars) that’s both seriously fast and fun to drive. For that reason alone, it’s a groundbreaking machine, a minor landmark in sports car history.
That said, I don’t think it can ever achieve the iconic status of the old car simply because we already know Japanese sports cars can compete with the best. It’s not such a shock this time around.
If you’re lucky enough to have $200k to blow on a very fast toy, the NSX will not disappoint. You could drive it happily on your commute, and have fun on a track. You could marvel at its engineering, or simply put pedal to metal. It’s not the obvious choice, but it might just be the most interesting.