The experience with the Acura NSX begins about 10 feet away from it. The car and key recognize each other and respond by flicking the driver and passenger door handles out in anticipation of your arrival (their resting place is lying flat against inserts in the door). This move is like a puppy flopping its ears and wagging its tail. It’s time to play.
Fundamentally, the NSX is a plaything; a $204,600 toy with neat buttons, gizmos and doodads to evoke all kinds of different fun. It’s also a car. One that commutes and deals with heavy traffic drudgery with surprising ease. And it’s a hybrid — not plug-in, but one that can and does run electric only, even on the interstate. So, wait: just what is an NSX?
When Acura introduced the first-generation car in 1991, it took on, and largely beat, the contemporary Ferrari 348. With handling influence from Ayrton Senna, that car reset the bar for supercars by adding never before seen durability and reliability with wonderfully precise capability. The last model year for the first NSX was 2005, leaving a world of Ferrari 430s, and still holding its own.
That car, the original, arrived in a much simpler world, with laser-focused purpose: supercar driving pleasure, with Kalashnikov durability. Twelve years later, the second iteration of the icon wants to drive the same emotions of its namesake but also compete against several new entrants, all with new metrics to compare. This is no small task, indeed, which goes a long way to explain the complicated powertrain and myriad computers required to operate it. As before, it starts with a mid-mounted V6, this time displacing 3.5 liters and churning out 500 hp when spun up to 6,500 revs. But the new model diverges sharply from there; attached the gas engine is a 47 hp electric motor, then a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Independent mechanically from the rear, two more electric motors are bolted to the front axle, one at each wheel for all-wheel drive. Either side is also completely separate from each other, allowing for torque distribution that takes torque vectoring to a higher level of control. Total system power hits a 573-hp zenith with all the torque, all the time for epic straight-line acceleration.
Getting in the NSX requires performing a deep-knee squat; luckily the door opens wide and offers ample space. But if you had an extra taco at lunch, you’ll feel it. Settling in, core NSX traits stand out: The view from the windshield is expansive, and it’s easy to gain awareness of the corners of the car. All the controls are centered at intuitive locations, like a preset chessboard.
Push the button and the engine snaps to life with Richard Simmons-like energy. Lots of computer wizardry combine to make this second-generation NSX work, but the soul, the being of the car lies in that rev-ready hum of the V6. Because the NSX has such big, diverse shoes to fill, there’s a big Dynamic Mode Switch near the top of the center console. You choose between quiet, sport, sport+ and track modes. The car wants to start the day in sport.
When dialing between modes, it changes aspects of the powertrain, Super Handling-AWD system (SH-AWD), stability control, suspension and steering. These changes culminate in starkly different driving experiences. In quiet mode, Richard Simmons takes a nap. Everything goes soft and you find yourself in a Honda Insight with a wicked body kit.
2017 Acura NSX first drive: The rebirth of slick
There aren’t many cars more anticipated than the new Acura NSX. Saying the old car had just a cult following would be doing a disservice to its rabid and massive fan base. Fanboys—still …
It’s not fun, but fascinating. Even with a right foot swiftly matted to the floor, the engine kicks on, but shifts at about 4,000 revs in quick succession — like you’re in a hurry, but you don’t want to make a fuss about it. Ironically, when in quiet mode, the NSX is calmer than a Civic Si and chugs down the freeway with little drama and lots of comfort.
Usually a compliment, that’s a bad thing in this instance because you should never ever want to commute in your supercar. Cars with seating for two and an engine in back belong on two-lanes with blind crests, hairpins and sweepers. Frankly, I’d like the car more without peace and quiet. I have a metro park pass for that.
Sport and sport+ is where the NSX belongs and thrives. Here, you feel. Sparks of the original comeback. As your foot goes deeper, the engine sings, reaching its falsetto voice in the upper revs and your view through the windshield gets blurry. Here the electric motors play a complimentary supporting role, funneling torque into areas the V6 simply can’t. You feel pull, real press-into-the-seat acceleration from any part of the rev range, in whatever gear, at most any speed.
We hit the dragstrip in an Acura NSX
Flick the Dynamic Mode dial to the right until you reach “track.” Left foot on the brake, firm, right on the throttle. Revs pop up to 1,500 for a moment, then jump again to 2,300 rpm. …
Hopefully all that speed is heading toward the next amazing canyon corner. Once there, you’ll find turn-in is immediate, with your palms twitching with every little quiver in the pavement that is beautifully delivered to the steering wheel. The response is so much faster than normal you’ll catch yourself turning too early and too much for the first half-mile. But once dialed in, it’s simply an intuitive masterpiece.
There’s one important point to make here. This particular NSX came mounted with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires, which are effectively race rubber and not the Continental ContiSport Contact summer tires we were expecting. Knowing the average affluence of owners, I’ll brush it off as something that many may do anyway. But it would’ve been nice to try the Contis. And, truthfully, the immense grip from the tires and chassis was sometimes a problem. With the Trofeo Rs, the limit was effectively unobtainable on any roads short of mountain switchbacks or the racetrack. Still, what a way to spend the day.
As the sun set, I parked the NSX, got out and walked away. But as I listened to it tick and whir and hiss itself to sleep, I stopped and looked back. Ignoring all the details: the flaps, scoops, swoops, and other functional bits, I just took in the shape. It’s a modern wedge; low, wide, serious. A true visual successor to the original. This, the first new NSX in 12 years, is special. For all the modernity packed in, it still delivers a rare visceral driving pleasure, as its predecessor did before. It’s a machine that pretty much fills some ridiculously large shoes. And it deserves one more look at the end of the day.
On Sale: now
Base Price: $157,800
As Tested Price: $204,600
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, three electric motors, AWD
Output: 573 hp, 476 lb-ft torque
Curb Weight: 3803 lbs
0-60 MPH: 3.0 (est)
Fuel Economy: 21/22/21(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Options: Carbon Fiber (CF) exterior pkg, $9000; CF roof, $6000; CF engine cover, $3600; CF rear decklid and spoiler, $3000; Ceramic brakes, $10,600; ELS audio and tech pkge, $3300; leather seats, $2500; wheels, $1500; Alcantara liner, $1300; cust. paint, $6000
Pros: Delivers the same visceral driving experience as the original
Cons: Adds plenty of tech we’d be happy without