2017 Acura NSX: More Cerebral Than Visceral

Strong points
  • A technical masterpiece
  • Unquestionable efficiency
  • Not intimidating for an exotic car
  • Guaranteed to be exclusive
Weak points
  • More conventional looks
  • Relatively low on the excitement scale
  • More cerebral than visceral
  • Heavy
Full report

It’s a gorgeous fall day at Honda’s research and development centre in Tochigi, Japan, and I’ve got an appointment with the new sports car designed to show off Honda’s technical capabilities and bring the glory back to the Acura brand. In fact, the new NSX is Acura’s new flagship car and a tribute to the iconic first-generation NSX, which shook up the established order in the exotic car world when it launched in 1990.

Two white pre-series models bearing the numbers 0000 shimmer under the cool morning sun. The first is left-side drive and features the Acura badge, while the other is right-side drive with the Honda emblem. Our program involves two sprints around the oval, for what promises to be a brief but intense encounter.

More R8 than Huracán

With lines designed for maximum aerodynamics, the NSX looks like a modern-day supercar—but it doesn’t quite evoke the same emotion as a Lamborghini or Ferrari. Because of its more conventional design, it looks more like an Audi R8 than a front-running exotic car. But the NSX has always been true to the “everyday supercar” concept, as explains Ted Klaus, chief engineer for new NSX. The same goes for the vehicle’s interior, where function prevails over form. As a result, I didn’t feel overly intimidated at the prospect of driving one of the most highly anticipated vehicles of the decade.

573 ponies

Technically speaking, the NSX is true showpiece. Its hybrid drivetrain includes a brand-spanking new 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 developed specifically for this model and three electric motors. The first sits between the combustion engine and the nine-speed dual-clutch transmission, while the other two are connected to the front wheels. This lets the NSX operate with front-wheel drive when coming out of corners and also allows torque vectoring (where the outside front wheel turns before the inside one to enhance agility and prevent understeer). This drivetrain produces 572 horsepower and 476 lb.-ft. of torque at the crankshaft. It weighs 1,725 kilos, which is a lot, but Ted Klaus assured us that the NSX’s centre of gravity is lower than its rivals’.

Shhh, we’re about to start!

Since the NSX is a hybrid, it can launch in Quiet mode, which means it uses only electric power get moving. The effect is eerily quiet. When we accelerated right out of the pits, the twin-turbo V6 jumped to life, but discreetly. Even as our surroundings started flying by, we didn’t get that visceral reaction because the NSX doesn’t emit the same growl as exotic cars with naturally aspirated mills. There’s a strong and sustained push forward, but no real personality or emotion.

Four driving modes

The dual-clutch transmission comes with nine speeds. The first is “launch gear” and the ninth is “cruise gear,” with the seven others sitting in between. The forward push is smooth, with no interruptions from changing gears. When you downshift, engine revs automatically increase, but even then you barely feel it in the cabin. After starting in Quiet mode, the NSX automatically reverts to Sport mode. Selecting Sport Plus will give you more bite, but the stability control system stays active, ready to intervene to keep you on the right trajectory. As a result, the NSX is less playful than other exotic cars. When coming out of corners, it constantly seeks to optimize the engine function and ride, even when it’s in the more aggressive Track mode. This detracts from the joy of drifting. Even though countersteering when coming out of corners isn’t great for your performance, it’s fun to do—but the NSX won’t let you. The brakes are linear and modulating pressure on the brake pedal is easy, even though it’s a brake-by-wire type and controls the electrohydraulic brakes remotely using a brake operation simulator on the pedal.

Logical, but not passionate

In short, the connection between the driver and the NSX is a cerebral one, not a visceral one. And that makes sense these days, as efficiency trumps all. There’s no question that the NSX is fast, even fierce, but I’m still waiting for that spark to kindle my passion.

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