Supercar ownership is akin to self-imposed imprisonment. Everyone stares, especially law enforcement, and especially if your supercar is a 2018 Acura NSX, a real rarity anywhere, including Los Angeles.
Therefore, if you value retention of your driver’s license, you loaf along in the right lane of the freeway, cruise control set to 70 mph. You signal all turns and lane changes in an effort to pre-empt issuance of a ticket of any kind. And you switch to the NSX’s Quiet driving mode, so as not to create an attention-generating ruckus even when you’re adhering to the limit.
What? That’s just me, you say? The whole point of buying a supercar is to show off, make some noise, and drive fast?
I would agree that lots of people choose cars like this one for those purposes, and that might be one reason the Acura NSX is a unicorn among unicorns. Especially when painted Source Silver metallic, it just isn’t flashy enough in spite of its massive drilled carbon ceramic rotors and bright red Brembo brake calipers (just $10,600 extra).
And at $184,200 as tested, the NSX is a relative bargain compared to any Ferrari, Lamborghini, or McLaren. Most supercar owners don’t want to talk about value, though. Usually, they humble brag about how much they paid.
Supercars nevertheless impose limitations. Steep driveway aprons, big potholes, and oversized speed bumps set off alarm bells. Hard to get into and out of, these low-slung machines spark regular concern about expensive damage.
And then there’s the relentless allure of ridiculous amounts of power and speed that, when combined with bad judgment and poor driving skills, is a threat to your very existence.
Perhaps I’m missing the point, eh? Supercars are, after all, about emotion, passion, and the ability to obtain and experience the best performing vehicles on the road. They’re about image, power, seduction, and social stratification. They’re about pushing limits, forecasting the future, engineering expertise, and purposeful yet captivating design.
For a specific type of customer, one who is perhaps outside the norm among these types of buyers, the 2018 Acura NSX meets and even exceeds the supercar mandate.
I’m an introvert. I prefer to keep to myself, and I don’t like to be the center of attention let alone draw any of it. At the same time, I love to drive, and I love to drive fast. Naturally, then, I am simultaneously repulsed by and desirous of supercars like the Acura NSX.
Case in point: an industry friend recently had the keys to a Ventura Orange McLaren 570S Spyder. I asked for a ride, but cringed getting into it. We sat in the parking lot of a local shopping center as he gave me the rundown on the car’s engineering, as inconspicuous as a couple of Russian oligarchs in the lobby of Trump Tower. The glare of the attention directed our way was blinding, especially while the dihedral doors were raised like the wings of a wasp.
Comparatively speaking, my Acura NSX test car was a wallflower. People noticed, of course, because in L.A. when you’ve got around $185,000 to spend on a new set of wheels the evidence suggests that you’re not choosing the engineering magnum opus that is the Acura NSX. Around here, Ferraris, Lambos, and high-end Porsche 911s are the preferred supercar expressions of wealth, so that makes the rare NSX sighting something of a phenomenon.
Also, when the NSX is in Sport, Sport+, or Track mode, its twin-turbocharged V6 isn’t shy about announcing the car’s presence, even when idling. The times that I forgot to switch back to Quiet mode produced even more unwanted attention.
Frankly, I like that the NSX isn’t among the wildest looking of its breed. And it’s a terrific looking car, too, clean, balanced, purposeful, and smaller in person than it appears to be in pictures. My sole critique relates to the vestige of the old Acura shield grille, which gives the car an unbecomingly cetacean smile.
Forget about grace and dignity when it comes to plopping yourself into and hoisting yourself out of any supercar, let alone the Acura NSX. And if you happen to park the Acura in close quarters, you’ll quickly wish designers had used the same dihedral door hinges that are employed on the aforementioned McLaren.
Once I got my right leg crammed under and around to the other side of the steering wheel, the NSX proved exceptionally comfortable. The cabin is black with aluminum trim, and you can opt for a white (Orchid), brown (Saddle), or red contrast color for the seat bolsters, center console, and lower door panels.
If you’re familiar with Acura products, you’ll feel right at home inside the NSX. From the steering wheel controls to the transmission switches, the car is second nature. If you’re new to Acura, it takes a little bit of time to acclimate, but compared to many competitors the NSX is easy and intuitive to use.
The exception, of course, is the touchscreen infotainment system. This one is identical to many models built by Acura’s parent company, Honda, and lacks physical knobs and buttons of any kind. On the one hand, it lends the NSX a high-tech look. On the other hand, it is distracting to use in any vehicle, let alone one that demands intent focus on driving.
Once you’ve got your favorite radio stations saved, though, you’ll find that using the steering wheel controls to switch stations and adjust volume is much easier than fiddling around with the screen. Acura also provides voice control for the navigation and Bluetooth connections, but it forces you down a specific command path and isn’t as easy to use as the natural language technology that is rapidly proliferating.
Thoughtfully, Acura pads the places where you’re likely to brace your legs while driving the NSX in the manner for which it is intended. Furthermore, the steering wheel is nothing short of spectacular. Flat on the top and bottom, and fat in the spots where you’re likely to grip the wheel, this oblong tiller is an absolute joy to hold.
Wherever you’re going, don’t plan to bring much stuff with you. I had a sunglasses case and house keys with me for runs to shoot photography and perform testing, and aside from sparse space in the glove box, a tiny bin against the rear cabin wall, and a couple of shallow trays, there just wasn’t anywhere to put anything. A clip-on cup holder accommodates those who must drink and drive.
Under the rear hatch, a small trunk with a lumpy, misshapen floor holds 4.4 cubic feet of luggage. That’s tiny. And because of the electric motors up front, there isn’t a “frunk” like you’ll find with a Porsche 911.
Also under the rear hatch, and visible through the back window glass, a bespoke twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine is mounted directly behind the cabin and forward of the NSX’s rear axle. Up front, dual electric motors are juiced by a lithium-ion battery pack. When braking, this Twin Motor Unit recovers energy in order to recharge the battery.
The V6, which makes its peak torque or peak horsepower nearly continuously from 2,000 rpm to 7,500 rpm, powers the rear wheels through a direct-drive electric motor, a 9-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, and a limited slip differential with a wet multi-plate clutch. Long, slender paddle shifters make it easy to enjoy the car when it is placed in its manual mode.
Combined, the resulting Sport Hybrid drivetrain supplies 573 horsepower and 476 lb.-ft. of torque. Thanks to the three electric motor design, the NSX effectively has an evolved Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that boasts direct yaw control torque vectoring to improve cornering.
The driver selects between four Integrated Dynamics Management drive mode settings: Quiet, Sport, Sport+, and Track. Each is distinctly different, adjusting all dynamic components including the drivetrain, braking, steering, suspension, stability control, exhaust, and Intake Sound Control systems. A Launch Control system is available in the Track setting.
Weight is distributed 42% over the front wheels and 58% over the rear wheels, and total curb weight is just over 3,800 pounds. The NSX rides on an aluminum suspension, double wishbones in front and a multi-link design in back, with active magnetorheological dampers all around.
Steering is electric, a variable ratio rack-and-pinion design specifically engineered for exceptional feel and feedback. Staggered width Y-spoke forged aluminum wheels are standard, measuring 19 inches in diameter up front and 20 inches in back. They’re wrapped in high-performance summer tires sized 245/35R19 up front and 305/30R20 in back.
Regenerative electro-mechanical high-performance brakes employ 2-piece floating and vented iron discs front and rear, unless you opt for the available cross-drilled carbon ceramic rotors, which shave 52 pounds from the NSX’s weight. Either way, Brembo 6-piston front and 4-piston rear aluminum mono-block calipers ensure rapid stops.
Put it all together, and you’ve got a 2-seat hybrid supercar that accelerates to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds, achieves a top speed of 191 mph, and gets 21 mpg in combined driving, according to Acura.
The Acura NSX’s blessing is also its curse: this is a high-performance supercar that you can easily drive every single day.
Call me old school, but something with this much firepower and capability really ought to require some driver skill to operate, and some compromise in terms of comfort and convenience. The reward? A smug sense of satisfaction for having sacrificed and achieved in a vehicle others cannot.
With the NSX, anyone with a driver’s license can get in, go, and drive it like a hero. That the car employs more electronic wizardry than a Gran Turismo racing simulator doesn’t help. From the piped-in engine note to the active suspension, digital artifice characterizes this NSX*.
At the same time, though, wow.
The trick, as it is for any high-performance vehicle, is to get it out of the city and off of the freeway.
Thanks to a ride-along with a pro driver on a closed track shortly after the NSX debuted, I had an inkling of the car’s capabilities. That particular ride on the Streets of Willow course at California’s Willow Springs Raceway shall forever hold a special place in my memory banks.
But driving on public roads is not like driving on a track. For example, there is oncoming traffic. And cyclists. And pedestrians. And debris. And wildlife with suicidal tendencies. That’s why I rose with the sun and headed out on my standard test loop, a road I know better than the deepening lines on my face.
Driven in Quiet mode, I crept out of my subdivision for the 20-minute slog of city driving that opens my loop. At 6 a.m., though, traffic is non-existent, and the lights were definitely in my favor, leading to an indicated 25.3-mpg city driving fuel economy return (I wrapped the loop up with 19.8 mpg).
Aside from this unexpected efficiency result, what’s striking about driving the NSX in a suburban environment is how easy and comfortable the car is to pilot. Even when driven over sharper bumps, it remains calm, cool, and collected. The driver is isolated from the holes and heaves of the pavement, yet the NSX is communicating everything about the surface and the car’s reactions to it.
Mainly, you need to be mindful that the NSX offers no more than 3.7 inches of ground clearance, and its approach angle is a shallow 9.2 degrees. Every time, regardless of the angle I took, the bottom of the car’s nose scraped on my driveway apron.
Switching to Sport mode for the climb into the Santa Monica Mountains, the NSX’s pulse quickens a bit. The car is louder, and more responsive to throttle inputs. Given a posted speed limit of 55 mph, I set the cruise control to 60 and easily ascend to nearly 2,000 feet of elevation, climbing above a low layer of fog in the process.
Without slowing for the 45-degree angle turn onto Mulholland Highway, the Acura faces a stretch of undulating and curving 2-lane highway. I step the speed up to 65 mph, 10 over the limit, in order to observe the car’s body motions when traversing the mid-curve whoops and dips at speed. Not surprisingly, it remains unfazed, ready for the next portion of the loop.
Further west, Mulholland gets trickier to drive. Tight curves, blind decreasing radius corners, and a rapid descent in elevation lay ahead. Switching now to Sport+ mode, and pushing the transmission button to select manual shifting, the steering quickens, the suspension stiffens, the accelerator produces immediate response, transmission shifts occur instantaneously, and the intake and exhaust notes bellow.
The Acura NSX might be a digital replacement for the delightfully analog original, but I can state this much with certainty: I’ve never driven a faster, more capable, or more confidence inspiring automobile on my test loop.
Yes, electronics are clearly at work here, managing weight, ensuring stability, requiring less input at the helm, and tucking the NSX expertly into corners, but I’m nevertheless blown away.
Like every great driver’s car, the NSX feels hardwired to your nervous system, processing inputs almost before the impulses have left your brain and traveled to your hands or feet. Too serious to inspire glee or giggles, like a Mazda MX-5 Miata or a Volkswagen GTI do on this same stretch of road, the NSX thrills without sparking fear, its sheer competence engendering a level of trust in both the hardware and software that I’ve never experienced before.
Later, after my descent to the coast, and after switching back into Quiet mode for the cruise home, I’m sitting at a red light at a wide spot on a deserted, arrow-straight farm road. Nobody is around.
Grabbing the Integrated Dynamics System control knob, I twist it to the right twice, and then hold it to engage Track mode. Once that’s done, I stand on the brake pedal with my left foot and floor the accelerator pedal with my right foot in order to initiate Launch Control, raising the engine note to a aggravated growl.
A moment later, I release the brake, and the NSX explodes forward, emitting a wail and producing g-forces I’ve never experienced in my life. Triple-digit speed literally arrives in seconds, so I stand on the brakes, the carbon ceramic discs effortlessly halving my velocity, dragging the NSX to a comparative crawl also known as the speed limit.
Acura (and its parent company, Honda) had to build this car. It had to prove to itself and to its loyal owners that it still possessed the engineering mojo that produced the original NSX, which today is a mighty desirable classic.
Nearly 20 years ago, I drove that first-generation NSX in a multi-car comparison test, and on many of the same roads I covered in the latest version for this review. The original NSX was a spectacular machine, an engineering marvel that was balanced, beautiful, and brilliant to drive.
Those same attributes define the latest Acura NSX. Today, however, we live in a digital rather than an analog world. And due to electronics and other engineering advances, it is impossible to explore the true capabilities of a modern supercar on public roads. Two decades ago, you didn’t necessarily need a track for this purpose. Now, you do.
As a result, unless you’re taking your new supercar to the track, its ultimate capabilities don’t matter. What matters to most people shopping for a car like this is how it looks, the statement it makes, and the numbers that support (humble) bragging rights.
Somehow, though, the more restrained Acura NSX is different.
In a world where supercar makers are announcing plans to electrify their lineups in the coming decade, Acura is already there.
In a world where supercar builders pay little attention to the user experience and struggle to perfect refinement, Acura has simplified and refined the NSX to the point that it’s just as easy to drive as a Honda Accord.
In a world where high-end electric car manufacturers brag about Ludicrous modes, Acura delivers genuinely ludicrous electrically assisted acceleration through its Track mode and Launch Control system.
When you’ve got $185,000 to drop on a new ride, you can choose an obvious supercar wearing a legendary European brand name. Or you can choose the Ohio-sourced, technological tour de force that is the Acura NSX.
* To be entirely fair to Acura, this is true of most modern, high-end performance cars.
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