Was this a car to compete with Corvettes and lower-echelon 911s? Or should it go after bigger game and put fear into Ferraris, like the original NSX from 1991? Eventually, Acura resolved to go big, which meant pretty much starting over. So here we are, four Super Bowls later. Seinfeld’s finally getting his car, and I think he’s going to like it. Remember Jerry Seinfeld’s Super Bowl ad with the Acura NSX? That was 2012. The NSX was imminent, it seemed. But then Acura had a philosophical crisis.
As with the first NSX, the new one is, at heart, a normal car rife with subtle Acura ergonomic touches. There’s the slender A-pillar that allows great forward visibility, and the steering-wheel cover that has no stitching to chafe your fingers. Elsewhere, electronics create a duality of character, from hushed and refined to loud and edgy, spread between four drive modes.
For instance, the sound: turning to Quiet mode reduces intake and exhaust noise by 25 decibels. At first, I thought that sounded like the dumbest idea ever, Silence of the Lame Supercar. But when you’re on the highway, it’s actually nice to cork the exhaust and let the NSX impersonate a luxury sedan. Switch to Sport Plus mode and an exhaust bypass valve unleashes two extra pipes and opens plumbing that brings intake noise through the firewall and into the cabin. You wouldn’t want it this loud all the time. So it’s not.
But when you ask for it, the noise of Sport Plus is quite wonderful. In no way does the NSX attempt to disguise its turbo-ness. Hit the gas and you hear the great jet-turbine intake and breathy exhalations of the turbo’s electric wastegates opening. Meanwhile, the exhaust chatters out this strangely exotic Klaxon drumbeat that sounds like no other V-6. If you roll the window down and get on the throttle, it’s like you’re about to be overtaken by some kind of big-bore scary motorcycle. It’s excellent stuff.
And if you want to mess with bystanders, go straight from Sport Plus to Quiet as you’re creeping along in a parking lot. The exhaust cuts from a raucous burble to dead silence as the car enters electric mode. From the outside, it sounds like you’ve stalled it. But then the car just keeps going, perhaps stopping and backing into a parking spot. What demonry is this?
Ah, yes, electric mode. The NSX has it, because it’s a hybrid—two electric motors on the front axle and one at the rear, the battery riding behind the seats. Total system power is 573 horsepower, with 500 horses from the turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 and the rest from the trio of electric motors. You can probably forget about a plug-in version because there’s no room for a battery with enough range to make that worthwhile. It isn’t about the mileage. I saw about 16 mpg during my street drive, but let’s just say I wasn’t in Quiet very often. In this hybrid, the electrons deploy to the purpose of speed, not fuel economy.
Each front electric motor is 36 horsepower and operates independently, which means that for the first time on an Acura, the torque vectoring—intelligently sending power between the front wheels—happens at the front end rather than the rear. The effect is subtle. It makes the NSX feel like a conventional midengine car driving from the rear wheels, rather than an uncivilized turn-in-hungry track monster.
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The NSX uses a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission with launch control, but the system doesn’t rev up to a high-rpm clutch dump like most other dual-clutch cars. Instead, the NSX uses its electric motors for off-the-line torque. To exploit all of the available electric power, you’ve got to push through a detent in the throttle linkage and really floor it. That fraction of a second is all it takes for the V-6 to come online with max boost and start ripping through the gears. There’s no wheel spin, no wailing engine. The NSX just beams itself on down the road. The car reliably hits 95 mph within about 500 feet, and its claimed sub-three-second zero-to-60 is appropriate exotic territory.
Top speed is electronically limited to 191 mph, which is kind of hilarious. I mean, what happens at 192 mph? Acura is vague on the reasons for the limiter, but representatives said the designers are just being conservative in their consideration of items like tires and rotating assemblies. If you catch 195 mph on a downhill straight on the autobahn, the car’s probably not going to blow up.
Acura says this isn’t a track car, but a few hours at the Thermal Club track in Palm Springs proved that the NSX can turn an impressive lap, especially if you’re running on the optional Pirelli Trofeo R tires, which are nearly race slicks. The carbon brakes are especially formidable, even more so when you learn that the pedal isn’t physically connected—this is a brake-by-wire system, the pedal merely telling the computers what you’d like to do. The advantage to this rarely used system, as with the distinct sound profiles, is the ability to tune the feel for completely different driving scenarios: The brakes can be smooth and easy to modulate when you’re puttering around the city or direct and firm during aggressive driving. Adjustability means no compromises.
Philosophically, I think Acura made the right call, pushing the NSX toward higher performance and higher technology. Now the Acura flagship has the power to back the promise of its looks, which stop traffic. When I pulled over at a turnout on Route 74, high in the hills above Palm Springs, I inadvertently kicked off an impromptu Q&A session. First up, a guy in a Porsche Cayman. Then a guy with an Audi S4. Finally, a Mercedes-Benz S63 Coupe pulled alongside and its driver jumped out to examine the NSX.
“How much is it?” he asked. Ah, the dreaded question. I tell him the price starts at $156,000, expecting a wince or a low whistle of surprise. “That’s all?” he replied. “That over there”—gesturing to his S63—”is 200 grand.” No, the NSX is not anywhere near cheap, but it is nonetheless a no- excuses bargain exotic supercar. Just like the original.
BASE PRICE: $156,000
ZERO-TO-60- MPH (CLAIMED): 2.9 sec
ENGINE: Twin turbo V-6(500hp) with three AC electric motors (73hp)