I can’t lie: I have been waiting a long time for the arrival of the Acura NSX supercar. It seems that no vehicle in recent history has spurred as much hype and anticipation. Seven years after Honda’s luxury division put its Jerry Seinfeld-endorsed halo car to rest, talk of a revival simmered with a concept reveal at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. Since then, it’s been a long four years for Acura and automotive reporters alike, as a potential new production model became the subject of countless rumors, redesigns and reboots. Meanwhile, the debate among industry watchers and driving enthusiasts intensified: could an NSX successor be worthy of supercar status?
Now, it’s finally here.
Last week, I sat behind the wheel of a gleaming red pre-production model. The rendezvous took place at a location befitting the buildup: the ultra-exclusive Thermal Club, a two-year-old members-only racetrack outside of Palm Springs, Calif. Anyone who has read one of my car reviews before knows I’m no pro driver. That I lasted about a dozen laps on Thermal’s 1.8-mile circuit – a mix of corners and straightaways – and felt more joy than fear is a strong testament to the car’s capabilities. Just as its starting price of $156,000 straddles the gap between the high-end sports car and ultra-high end supercar segments, its driving dynamics help it bridge the worlds of amateur and expert drivers. From its authoritative hybrid powertrain to its supreme braking capabilities, the NSX is undoubtedly engineered for universal appeal. But I also discovered, during my post-Thermal drive through Palm Springs’ winding canyon roads, that others features fall short of the supercar segment.
To understand the car’s birthright, it’s worth noting that the NSX, which ranks among the world’s most affordable supercars, is also the most expensive car – not to mention the only supercar – built in the U.S. Acura invested time, money and resources in its new Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio, to build a second-generation NSX (which stands for “New Sports Experience) with the hopes that a redux will permeate the staid brand with more excitement, infusing it with the one quality lately atop every carmaker’s wish list: emotion.
Acura calls the car’s price tag “aspirational,” and so are the brand’s ambitions. It intends for the NSX to compete with the Ferrari 458, Porsche 911 and Audi R8. Its design and engineering chops certainly suggest it has a shot. With a powerful braking system that can inspire cornering confidence in even myself, excellent windshield visibility due to thin A-pillars, and an environmentally-friendly 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine assisted by three electric motors, the NSX can make anyone feel like an accomplished driver. But as much fun as it is to drive and as safe as it feels on the track, it’s difficult to feel emotion for a car that strives to be everything to all drivers, especially it that car were standing next to a sleek 458 or curvaceous 911.
As if to underscore its unique position on the supercar spectrum, the NSX comes with four drive modes: quiet, sport, sport +, and track. Acura says that quiet mode (which did not actually sound much quieter than the other modes when I tested it on surface streets) is meant for stealth getaways, whether in the supermarket parking lot or a quiet gated community on a Sunday morning. The goal is that no one thinks, “Wow, look at that jerk making all that noise,” said Jason Widmer, lead engineer for vehicle dynamics. But it remains to be seen whether that fly-under-the-radar quality will appeal to supercar aficionados.
Still, the first two years of orders have already been spoken for, with the first deliveries to take place later this spring. So, at long last, you will be able to see the NSX for yourself when it comes to a neighborhood near you.