Acura NSX Review: Can an Acura be a “full” supercar?

Acura NSX Hybrid 12

Sometimes great things do fall right in your lap. The other day I went to work and was having a pretty normal day. As I went to leave for lunch, I noticed this striking silver Acura NSX parked in front of our building. I had no idea why it was there, but where I work, at AWE Tuning, we get cool cars stopping by all the time. I checked out the NSX with my coworkers, and spoke with the driver, who I found out worked for Acura corporate. I knew my boss was going to take the car for a spin, but as we talked, he told me I could sign a release and drive the car too. Say no more, I signed the papers. It was going to be a fun lunch break…

This was crazy, a supercar drive had fallen in my lap on a random Monday afternoon. I didn’t have my proper camera on me, and the roads near work aren’t the best for testing out handling, but hey, I figured I’d make the absolute most of it. I only had about 10 minutes in the NSX, so it was just a taste, but it gave me a solid impression of what Acura’s new supercar is all about.

Acura NSX Hybrid 10

Let’s start by calling out the elephant in the room: this is an Acura. It’s not a Porsche, it’s not a McLaren, it’s not a Lamborghini, and it’s definitely not a Ferrari. No matter how impressive the NSX is, it won’t be stealing any buyers looking for big brand status. Most people don’t grow up dreaming about one day owning an Acura, so if the NSX is going to impress it will have to be entirely through its own merit.

As you drive the NSX, it’s apparent they’ve put together a very tight, very worthy modern supercar. Acura has done a lot to try and give the NSX a special driving experience, but as in many modern cars, it all feels pretty artificial. That’s not really a bad thing, but a hybrid V6 is a far cry from a classic V12 in terms of feeling inherently “special.” They’ve managed to coax a nice exotic tone out of the 3.5L V6, and it has a nice presence on startup for a few moments before it goes into electric mode. As a hybrid the NSX can whisper or roar at your command, so you can tip toe away from your neighbors before lighting your ass on fire.

Acura NSX Hybrid 2

The NSX is a supercar of the digital age, a technological tour-de-force, but also far cry from the visceral analog driving experience that many of us love. If you’re a purist, this won’t be your car, but neither will most modern supercars, for that matter. Acura made the choice to follow the industry trend here. Easy to drive point-and-shoot-style supercars seem to be what sell these days because most people want to wear a car like this more than actually drive it. They’ve done a great job making that sort of car. It’s like a fast video game you can actually drive on the road.

The steering, for instance, is very sharp and accurate, but almost no feel from the road surface comes through to your fingers. This is much the case across the industry at this point, but when you drive a modern Porsche, you realize electric steering can actually be done well. The dual clutch gearbox, while generally very good, is also not nearly as crisp or responsive as offerings from Porsche or Ferrari (especially during normal driving). Take these criticisms with a grain of salt, though. The NSX is far from bad or frustrating in these areas, but when we’re comparing $200,000 cars, it’s worth noting.

Acura NSX Hybrid 14

Where the Acura triumphs is in its everyday livability. You can tell it was designed to be the proverbial “everyday supercar” because it’s quite friendly, even familiar, to drive on the street. It’s seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced in a supercar, and the interior ergonomics are great for anyone up to around 6 ft tall (my boss is around 6’5” and he said it was a little tight for him). There’s also plenty of elbow and shoulder room in the cabin, which is wonderful because supercar cabins are often quite narrow. If there’s one thing Acuras are known for being good at, it’s being pleasant to drive on the road, and the mighty, slightly insane, NSX is no exception.

Acura NSX Hybrid 16

The other thing I’ve noticed about all Honda / Acura cars I’ve driven is how seamlessly their parts work together. Every different system seems to be in sync with all the other systems in the car. That’s extremely important in an all wheel drive, twin turbocharged hybrid with a dual clutch transmission. There’s a lot that Acura could have gotten wrong here that they didn’t, and their reputation for high quality engineering is displayed prominently in the NSX.

I knew I didn’t have a long drive, so I didn’t waste much time before putting the pedal to the carpet. Flat-out from second and well into third, it became very clear that the NSX is not a pretend supercar like a BMW i8. This is real deal performance, and it’s shit-your-pants fast.

It’s not just the power itself, but more the way it delivers its power. The NSX has what’s called “torque fill,” where its electric motors will give you a little acceleration to chew on while the turbos build up boost. So instead of traditional turbo lag, where you get “nothing… nothing… EVERYTHING,” you get “some jump… a little more jump… ALOT MORE JUMP.” There is a build up of ferocity in the acceleration that is extremely exhilarating because you never know when / if it’s going to end… meanwhile, the horizon has become your surroundings. The NSX is every bit as fast as it should be.

Acura NSX Hybrid 13

A total of 573hp is available, with 73hp coming from the electrics, and 500hp coming from that twin turbo 3.5L V6. Please believe those are sizeable turbos, and without the hybrid torque fill, it would have F40-like turbo lag. The entire system is extremely well executed, and the dual clutch gearbox fires off shifts without hesitation under hard throttle.

Acura has also brought a delicious V6 induction hum into the cabin. I’m not sure if it’s delivered via a sound tube or a microphone, but the NSX delivers a satisfying aural experience as the revs climb. And really, what’s the point of having brutal acceleration without an intoxicating soundtrack to go with it? (i8, Tesla, this has you beat).

I didn’t get to test the handling, or electric torque-vectoring, too much, but in the driving I did the NSX felt as solid and unshakable as a supercar should. It weighs around 3,800lbs but it feels very nimble on the road, thanks to its quick steering and tight chassis.

Acura NSX Hybrid 8

If I have one criticism about the feel of the NSX on the road in normal traffic it’s that it’s almost too familiar, like you might forget you’re driving a supercar when you’re just cruising. That’s great if you’re driving long distance or commuting every day, but it doesn’t have the same “special” feeling at normal speeds that something like a Ferrari has, or even the little Alfa 4C. I guess you could say there’s less sense of occasion than many buyers may want in their supercar for those special sunday drives.

The looks of the NSX are also a give and take for me. On one hand, it has an unmistakably exotic shape, but on the other hand it’s not exactly “elegant,” is it? I mean, it looks cool in it’s own right, but it’s styling isn’t emotionally striking like most of its European rivals. The NSX has a very form-follows-function design, very Japanese. While that that does make sense, I know what my eyes prefer.

Silver is also a very bland color, but the supercar shape usually draws its own attention. On my drive, we turned around in a Wawa parking lot, driving right past people in front of the building, and I didn’t see anyone turn their head. We were driving silent in electric mode, but I expected at least a few glances. Maybe it’d fare better in a louder color.

Acura NSX Hybrid 3

Dollars and Sense

Acura is struggling to sell NSX’s right now, and I see a few reasons. They’ve made a great modern supercar here, no doubt, but as I said before, nobody is going to spend McLaren/Ferrari/Lambo money on a car with an Acura badge. $200,000 is a crazy price for this car with the other options available. Overall, I think the NSX is about $20,000 overpriced.

Having said that, there is some value to be had here. The NSX starts at $157,000, and most of the price-adders are useless carbon fiber styling options. Other than the carbon-ceramic brakes, the performance of the base-spec NSX is the same as a loaded one. That means a smart buyer can get an NSX with only functional options for less than $170,000, and at that price, I think you definitely get your money’s worth.

Acura NSX Hybrid 9

I don’t think the NSX is going to steal any Ferrari, McLaren or Lamborghini buyers, but if we’re talking new cars sub-$170k, those aren’t even an option. The real competition for the NSX is the Audi R8 V10, the Porsche 911 Turbo, and arguably the BMW i8. In a way the NSX is like a mix of all three of those cars. It’s got the exotic curb appeal of the R8, the turbocharged performance of the Porsche Turbo, and the hybrid tech of the i8.

Comparatively, the NSX is faster than the R8 with more impressive technology, and it’s more distinctive than the Porsche with similar performance. Compared to the i8, the NSX totally blows it out of the water. It actually delivers the real supercar performance that its appearance suggests, whereas the i8 struggles to keep up with base Porsche Carrera.

The NSX offers a really nice middle ground in the ~$170k segment, and anyone shopping there would be a fool not to give it a serious look. That said, dealers asking $200k are going to keep on waiting because the car isn’t worth that in the current market.

Acura NSX Hybrid 7

Vedict

After driving the NSX, I find myself considering what it is versus what it could have been. This car took the better part of a decade to bring into production, and Acura hyped it the whole time like it was always coming next year. The final product is very well executed, but the hype was all but dead by the time it actually hit showrooms. Nobody remembers that Tony Stark drove an NSX in ‘The Avengers’, and Jay Leno had long retired from ‘The Tonight Show’ before his car was finally delivered.

I also think the beauty of the original Honda NSX was that it was so simple, just a good, well-tuned driving machine made of otherwise common parts. The new NSX is awesome, but it’s not simple. It’s full of cutting edge technology, which will be noticeably dated in 5 years time. The new NSX will not be a timeless driving experience like the original, and that probably hurts its appeal.

If I’m honest, the whole hybrid thing seems like meaningless fluff to me. Yea, the torque fill is cool, but I can’t help wondering if the car would have been better off without the extra weight. Also, without the added cost of the hybrid system, the NSX could be priced much lower, surely sub-$150k. That’s much more reasonable, targeting a well-optioned 911 Carrera S. Does that sound better? It does to me.

Acura NSX Hybrid 1

Either way, Acura decided to put the NSX on the hybrid bandwagon, and they did a great job of it. The reason NSX’s are sitting in showrooms has nothing to do with the merits of the car itself, that much became clear to me after this drive. It’s a very worthy modern supercar, but Acura and their dealer network are trying to make it something it isn’t: a full exotic. They don’t seem to understand that their angle in the market remains offering a relative value because that they can’t go toe-to-toe with actual exotic brands. Drop a McLaren badge on the NSX, and it’s worth $200k all day, but as an Acura, it’s always less impressive. Keep in mind, these are all six-figure toys we’re talking about here, and most buyers want to feed their egos with a purchase like this. The NSX can do that by being a better car for less money, a smarter purchase. That has always been Acura’s game, and it hasn’t changed here.

Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with the new Acura NSX, and I have faith it can sell if Acura decides to get back in their metaphorical lane. Quality at a value, that’s their brand. Optioned intelligently the NSX delivers on that.

-Nick Walker

MoM Score: Acura NSX
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score:  8/10

Advertisements

Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s