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

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