NSX and ZR1: Made in the USA supercars

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Pontiac — I drove two future classics along Woodward last week, a red Corvette ZR-1 and blue Acura NSX. The odd couple — one an old-school ground-pounding Chevy V-8, the other a luxury hybrid-cyborg from the future — turned heads wherever I went. And they effortlessly negotiated laps around M1 Concourse’s test track.

With 755-horsepower, the Chevy Corvette ZR1 is handy for quick trips to Woodward to get ice cream.

Yet, the pair share more than first meets the eye.

They are the only supercars made in America by major brands. They are the top-of-the-line prestige cars of automakers that produce hundreds of thousands of vehicles. And they represent the alpha and omega of the gas-powered supercar.

In one year, the two vehicles — for all their apparent differences — will become more alike in the form of a mid-engine Corvette built on an Acura-like lightweight chassis. It will pack the potential of megabuck hypercars in a sub-$200,000 package.

Dodge’s cessation of Viper production at Connor Assembly late last year (we Viper fanatics held a wake at the 2017 Dream Cruise) left Bowling Green, Kentucky (Corvette) and Marysville, Ohio (NSX) as the only outposts of American-built supercars against a foreign onslaught of speed weapons.

Even the remarkable Ferrari-slaying, LeMans-winning Ford GT is produced out of the U.S., outsourced to Multimatic in Markham, Ontario.

The 2017 Acura NSX is the second generation of the Acura supercar. With an AWD, electric-hybrid, turbo-V6 powertrain and dual-clutch, nine-speed transmission, it is the most sophisticated car that Honda Motor Company has built.

The NSX is assembled on the Marysville campus that also churns out Honda Accords to 100 countries and employs more than 4,000. It’s part of a Midwest manufacturing empire that extends from East Liberty, Ohio, home of Americas’ best-selling CR-V, and west to Indiana, home of the popular Honda Civic compact.

The NSX is the crown jewel in Acura’s crown, a representation of where Honda Motor Co. thinks cars are headed. It has a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 and a 1.3 kWh battery powering three electric motors for a total system of 573 horsepower. A lightning-quick, 9-speed electronic transmission mated to all-wheel drive. This being a supercar, the battery isn’t just for fuel economy: turbos + electric motors = zero turbo-lag.

At a stoplight, I turn the mode dial to Track I and floor the brake and accelerator. Revs level at 2,500 rpms and I dump the brake.

It takes just 3.1 seconds to hit 60 mph. You might have to do a U-turn to pick up your stomach.

But around a parking lot, it’s silent, the battery shouldering the load. I sneak up on a couple of shoppers pushing a grocery cart. Startled, they want to have their pictures taken with the cyborg from the future.

Cyborgs are expensive and the NSX is no exception: My carbon fiber-trimmed beauty stickered north of $160,000. It’s rare air for Acura, which has to compete with brands like the McLaren 570GT and Porsche 911 Turbo at that price. Only 1,000 have sold here in two years. But the technology is trickling down: electric motor-driven, all-wheel drive MDX SUVs ... electronic transmissions in RDXs. Cool stuff.

If the Nouvelle Blue Pearl NSX is cool, my Torch Red ZR1 tester is scorching.

The $120,000 ZR1 is the ultimate application of Chevy’s prehistoric front-engine, push-rod V-8 might. It’s Hulk bursting from his shirt. A supercharger sticks through the hood. Fenders are engorged with huge black wheels. A giant, inverted rear wing keeps the monster grounded.

On M1, it annihilates the Acura NSX with 755 horsepower, 1,000-pound feet of downforce and gummy tires that would be slicks save the two vague grooves down the middle. I swear other cars dropped to their knees when I roll by. All hail King Cruise.

But Chevy also thinks NSX is the future.

A mid-engine Corvette C8 will soon be born. Because for all the ‘Vette’s muscle, the Kentucky supercar desperately needs NSX’s architecture so it can explore the frontiers of handling and electrification.

Plant the V-8 behind the driver’s ear, and the next-generation ‘Vette will be able to dance around the track like Acura Astaire, not just pound it into submission. Put an electric motor in the front where the engine used to be, and rumors are the next-gen ZR1 will be able to channel 1,000-horsepower from a twin-turbo V-8 through all four wheels.

King Cruise? King Universe.

A mid-engine Corvette will make life hard for Ferraris and Ford GTs in world sports car racing’s GTLM class. Just as the Acura NSX has been hard to beat in the GTD class this year. Yet, when these future classics get their historic license plates in 26 years, cruisers will marvel at how effortless they are daily-drivers.

Not bad for a couple of home boys.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.