Payne: Acura NSX, X-cess for under $200k
You want a rear-engine, super sports car for less than $200,000. But all your buddies at the club have Porsche Turbos, so you want something different.
Not Lamborghini Huracan different. You’re a modest Midwest dude after all — not a leather pants-wearing, lemon tart-dating, valet-park-my-supercar-in-front-of-the-Townsend celebrity. But still a car that’s wicked quick so you can take it to local track days. Mid-Ohio, Waterford, Gingerman. But you don’t want a stiff McLaren 570S with a carbon-fiber tub that’ll destroy tracks and then destroy your backside on the trip home.
Oh, and it would be nice if it were manufactured in the Midwest. Let me introduce you to the 2017 Acura NSX.
Four years in the making, the only made-in-America mid-engine supercar will roll out of Marysville’s Performance Manufacturing Center this fall. That’s Marysville, Ohio. Californians love their Silicon Valley-made Teslas. The Corvette Z06 (which will annihilate every mid-engine sports car in existence, but that’s another column) is the pride of Kentucky. Your Acura exotic is made this side of Columbus.
In 1990 Honda’s luxury division wowed the world with the NSX, a Japan-made track carving-knife blessed by Brazilian F1 superstar Ayrton Senna. For more than a decade it went toe-to-toe with European cutlery for a fraction of the price. Then it disappeared.
A generation later and the Acura NSX is reborn. It might have been endorsed by Senna again had he not died tragically in 1994. But now that the NSX is made in the Buckeye State it seems appropriate that Ohio-born IndyCar superstar Graham Rahal is its godfather (along with IndyCar mate Dario Franchitti).
Riding shotgun with Rahal at California’s Thermal Speedway, I got a front row seat to the screaming sequel.
Since NSX went away, the alphanumeric X badge has become shorthand for “crossover” in an American market obsessed with the things. Lincoln MKX, Cadillac SRX, Volvo XC90, BMW X1, X3, X5. Acura has its own popular RDX and MDX.
But NSX is no SUV. It’s back to broaden Acura’s appeal beyond crossovers — putting sizzle back in a lackluster brand. NS-XXX would be more appropriate.
Like its forbear, the NSX (short for New Sportscar Xperimental) takes the hybrid technology of 21st-century, million-dollar, sci-fi cyborgs like the Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari and stuffs it into a sub-$200,000 wrapping. If that lofty price still makes your eyes water (adjusted for inflation, a 1990 NSX would cost just $108,000), I understand.
But if a $45K Acura MDX is a bargain next to a $57K BMW X5, so is NSX a blue-light special next to a 918. Twin-turbo V-6. Lithium-ion battery. 573 combined horsepower. Aluminum-intensive chassis, plastic-composite skin, leather-and-Alcantara interior. That value proposition is key to Acura’s bold assertion that it can compete with the best athletes on the planet.
The $150K-$200K supercar segment has become a boiling piranha tank of competition. Lamborghini and McLaren, searching for more volume, have joined 911 and Audi R8 (and Nissan’s GTR Nismo and Aston Martin Vantage if we’re counting front-engine machines).
A $160K Acura? It starts to make sense.
You won’t emerge from the NSX through McLaren-like scissor doors, but it’s a handsome piece of art. For all its technical skills, Gen One was flawed with a rhino-sized booty. Gen Two is perfectly proportioned with the rear wheels pushed to the corners, arched greenhouse, and a short front porch for good visibility. Add 12 “Jewel Eye” headlamps and it’s a future classic.
Credit a compact, low-center-of-gravity driveline packaging a 75-degree V-6 with twin turbos, three electric motors (two-forward, one aft), and a 1 kWh battery laid like a slice of cheese between meaty engine and firewall.
Its buff proportions set, designer Michelle Christensen cut openings to feed the furnace within. Ten heat exchangers cool everything from electric motors to turbo intercoolers — so NSX gets massive side air scoops, hood fender vents and front chin intakes. At full thrust this rocket needs downforce lest it take flight — so more holes are punched in back to extract air and vacuum NSX to the pavement.
After a few laps with Rahal, I climbed in a sister NSX to follow his lead.
Nail the accelerator and the supercar takes off like a locomotive. Hybrid it may be, but NSX is no tree hugger (let me show you the BMW i8 on our menu, sir). That lithium-ion battery is committed to raw speed alone. With electric-assisted turbos, NSX delivers its 406 pound-feet-of-torque. Right. Now. The nine-speed, dual-clutch tranny barks off milli-second upshifts like a drill sergeant. Short of a Tesla P90D, it’s the most instant acceleration you’ll find. Well, shy of a $900,000 Porsche 918, anyway.
Starting to sound like a bargain?
Throw the NSX into Thermal’s 180-degree Turn One, and ... well. You don’t throw the all-wheel-drive, 3,803-pound supercar into sharp corners. It’ll push like an ox cart. If you want to fling your supercar round a tight track, buy the rear-wheel-drive, carbon-tub McLaren. The NSX rewards big sweepers — or even better, open roads — where its AWD grips like ivy and the wail of the V-6 engulfs the cabin via two portholes in the firewall.
It’s an interior as efficient as the NSX’s exterior.
This isn’t a 911 with 500 button functions. The Acura’s four drive modes — QUIET, SPORT, SPORT PLUS, TRACK — are accessed through a single knob at the top of Acura’s familiar, button-shift sleeve. Launch control is a cinch: 1) TRACK mode 2) floor brake and accelerator pedal simultaneously 3) release brake. OMG.
A digital instrument display gives the pilot everything he needs behind the steering wheel. And what a wheel. Sculpted for your hands so they don’t need leave the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, it’s squared off on bottom and top (for better visibility).
“One of the signatures of this car,” grins Rahal.
Only the NSX’s slider-controlled infotainment system — from the Honda Civic parts bin — is out of place. But for you, my sensible Midwest supercar buyer, it’s a reminder that the NSX — unlike others in its upscale zip code — is manufactured in-house by an auto company synonymous with reliability. Where the thrill of supercars often comes with the agony of long hours at the shop, the NSX will deliver Honda reliability.
Which is important to you, because you’re driving the NSX to work. Marysville started taking orders Feb. 25. What are you waiting for?
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at email@example.com.
2017 Acura NSX
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, all-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car
Price: $157,800 base (about $180,000 pre-production prototype as tested)
Powerplant: 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 with three electric-motor hybrid assist
Power: 573 combined horsepower (500 V-6, 73 from 1 kWh battery), 476 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Nine-speed dual-clutch
Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (Car & Driver est.); top speed, 191 mph (manufacturer)
Weight: 3,803 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg city / 22 mpg highway / 21 combined
Highs: Instant, twin turbo-electric acceleration; cabin fits like a glove
Lows: Lofty sticker; Honda Civic infotainment screen in a supercar