NSX is fast, forgiving and fun
First Drive: 2019 Acura NSX
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In 1990, Honda released its revolutionary Acura NSX, the two-seat, midengine sports car that stunned the world. Back then, cars that looked this hot — and didn’t require a lottery win or full-time mechanic — were an inspiration to so many of us gearheads still in high school, even if we knew we might never afford one.
Today, those early NSX cars are climbing in value as collectors recognize the significance of this pioneering wedge of aluminum, even though the car had only a 3.0-litre V6 capable of 270 horsepower and toylike 15-inch wheels. Low-mile examples routinely sell for more than $78,000, about the same price as they cost brand new. Compared to a Ferrari 348 that might have cost about $195,000 in 1990 dollars, the NSX, with almost equal performance, stood out as relative bargain.
There’s a silkiness, a resonance and a sound that makes driving a 1990 NSX a joy. There are no turbochargers, no superchargers, only honest-to-goodness VTEC. Power is good but not staggering, and it pours sound from the engine behind the driver’s seat. Shifts are easy. Handling is firm and braking strong. Too much gas will light the skinny rear tires. Far from flamboyant, the NSX is an exotic Honda: reliable and driveable. These characteristics sustained the car’s popularity and design for 15 years, until 2005 when the last NSX rolled off the line.
The NSX remains a sensible supercar, though its price has climbed into Porsche 911 GT3 territory. The 2019 model year brings a number of changes to the NSX, starting with a stunning new “Thermal Orange Pearl” paint. Optional carbon-ceramic brakes can now be fitted with orange calipers, and the standard iron brakes can be fitted with red calipers. The front end gets a body-colour front grille garnish, and high-gloss treatments for the front-grille surround and air mesh in front and rear.
Seat options have changed; there’s a blue semi-aniline-leather and-Alcantara option that looks better than it sounds, and four-way power-adjustable and heated seats are now standard. Navigation, ELS Studio Audio and proximity sensors are also standard now.
Chassis enhancements include larger front and rear stabilizer bars, increasing stiffness by 26 per cent up front and 19 per cent out back. Software tuning and Continental tires, developed exclusively for the NSX, add 15 per cent more grip. The new car is said to be marginally quicker than the 2018 model.
In the lobby of Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center near Columbus, Ohio, where the current NSX is built by hand and machine, there sits a rare Zanardiedition NSX from 1999. Enter sliding glass doors etched with “kanji” for “dream,” and a spotlessly clean factory devoid of massive, mechanical assembly lines appears more like a large operating room for cars, many of them the new orange. The “surgeons” in here were all specially selected, since so much of the new NSX requires a delicate touch. For example, the engine — assembled at Honda’s Anna plant in a special room — is hand torqued into the aluminum frame.
The paintwork, requiring three to four days to cure, is applied by robots, but it’s as perfect as glass. It takes a couple of days to assemble one complete NSX, but with about 100 staff, about eight to 10 cars a day leave the orderly shop, where they are moved to a covered warehouse. After, they are shipped in enclosed transports to dealerships who keep them inside, so the first time these cars might see weather is when they land in the customer’s hands for a cool $189,900 to start.
“There goes the paintwork,” says my driving coach as small rocks fly up from an orange 2019 NSX in front of us. We are driving a “Curva Red” 2019 NSX and I am closing in on 190 km/h at the Transportation Research Center test track in Ohio, where the NSX was developed, when the car in front begins to brake hard. The sound of tiny rocks bouncing off the hood of our pristine NSX cannot be contemplated because the corner is sharp and we’re carrying a ton of speed coming off a straight.
Nevertheless, the NSX brakes with such fierce tenacity I am pushed forward and restrained by the seat belt. Shifts are left to the car to decide since it can snap through its nine-speed dual-clutch transmission faster than I, and does so almost imperceptibly. Into the apex the four wheels are carrying a total output of 406 poundfeet of torque from the twin-turbo, 3.5-litre V6, aided by three electric motors, bringing total horsepower to 573.
While it sounds like a big number, the power is civil and easy to control. If you are paying attention, the NSX is not a car that will bite. It’s not raw and intimidating. It’s as friendly as it is fast, as forgiving as it is fun, a model of instant track gratification and true high performance. It’s a supercar with everyday driveability, just like the first ones.
2019 Acura NSX
2019 Acura NSX (left) and 1990 Acura NSX (right)
2019 Acura NSX
2019 Acura NSX