Reviewing the Acura NSX: The Looks, Drive, Name and Irony

It packs quite the punch, so how come only 128 people bought one?

Automotive
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It’s a situation very few of us ever encounter: you have $160,000 USD to blow on a car. You want something exciting, eye catching, fast, and drivable. You’d prefer it to have racing history, and for a curveball you’d want reliability. Most of all though, you want it to be special.

So you go and buy a Porsche.

But wait, you’d be missing out on a lot of competition, and some of them are more of the above than just another 911 or Cayman S. There are Corvettes that are much cheaper, Jaguar F-Types that are far prettier, and hell, even Lotus makes a comfortable, drivable, long distance GT car that retains the Colin Chapman heritage. But there’s one contender that, since its inception in 2016, has been slept on and under-appreciated by the masses: the Acura NSX NC1.

And after driving it for a long weekend, we’re here to say – your presumptions about the car have been wrong. Very wrong.

The Honda/Acura NSX was highly anticipated when enthusiasts heard rumors of the heralded name returning. Even before it arrived in physical form, a concept was already hyped up by Tony Stark himself, who swapped his R8s for the NSX at the end of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012. Its stats made the automotive geeks happy: mid-engined, all-wheel drive, carbon fiber construction, 573 hp, 476 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in three seconds.

Yet with all of its incredible feats and abilities, it’s reported that Acura sold a total of 128 units in the US – and only eight in Europe – in all of 2020. For comparison, Porsche sold 2,400 911s, and Audi sold 583 units of its comparable R8.

Even with all this data backing it up, the NSX is highly, ridiculously underrated. To understand things better, let’s break it down by what we experienced with it and state that 128 people last year were 100% right to buy one.

The Looks

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and we understand even the “ugliest” cars have charm and charisma. The NSX has all of that, and some. We love the chiseled angles that start from the lip of the hood and splitters on the lower front bumper, to the sharp side intakes and lip spoiler at the rear. Proportion-wise, the car feels wider than it is longer, primarily because of the midship two-seater configuration. The roofline is angled smoothly across the engine bay in a fairly undramatic fashion, but remains low and raked appropriately to not clash with the rest of the body. We also liked the aggressive wing mirrors and flying buttresses that flare out to give the car a very 3D approach to its width, almost like it wanted to grow wings outward.

Is it boring? Not at all. We’re curious if our opinion of the looks would be different, had it arrived to us in silver or black. Nevertheless, we’re thankful our model was in the Indy Yellow Pearl paint because it is such a theatrical shade and perfect for the NSX in our opinion. Its contrast with both the black plastic vents and the carbon fiber additions gave it a sense of sportiness, but maintained an excitement factor when parked or creeping up to a venue. We may have opted away from dark anthracite wheels as they tend to shy away from rim details, but for the yellow it certainly works – and simultaneously hides the rather large wheel gaps from the suspension.

At the end of the day, we couldn’t count how many eyes it stole, heads it turned, seconds of conversation it started, and comparisons to a “Ferrari?” it gathered. The NSX is THAT striking.

The Drive

What’s a sports car if it can’t drive well? The original NSX was famously co-developed by Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna and was proclaimed as one of the greatest handling cars ever made, so the NC1 admittedly had a lot to live up to.

Balance was key to the game the NSX plays. The car rotates nimbly and sharply, like the road cambered to your movements on command. We felt the front left carve in at high speeds, giving us confidence to enter on-ramps just a tad quicker each time. Acceleration-wise, the throttle response was instantaneous, and the car braked like it was being pulled from behind. And all of this front, back, left and right movement never unsettled either the driver or passenger, as the seats wrapped us up like a cocoon.

Being mid-engined, if the car is upset by anything, it’s ultra-sharp corners, chicanes, elevated ramps and more, but it really is a matter of skill on the driver to overcome these on the track. “Invest in the driver, not the car.” With that, we loved the way the NSX nimbly navigated NYC, Long Island, NJ, and PA roads, rewarding us with a lovely drive in the dry and the wet.

The “reliable everyday super car” meant affordability that didn’t compromise against excitement. But it’s arguable that the new NSX is no longer what it was meant to be.

The Name

And this is perhaps the biggest thing against the NC1 NSX. The “New Sportscar eXperimental” moniker is renowned: it means something. It’s similar to other car brands’ legacies that have also been “improved” but strayed from its original recipe – Ferrari and GTO, Fiat and Abarth, even Porsche and Turbo. Reviews of the current generation NSX all remark on its departure from the original, and how it doesn’t live up to its name.

Back in the 90s the NSX paved the way for sports cars that rivaled Italian supercars for fractions of its cost. The “reliable everyday super car” meant affordability that didn’t compromise on excitement. But it’s arguable that the new NSX is no longer what it was meant to be – at $160,000 USD, it’s not “cheap” and with plenty of similarly priced competition (Corvette C8s are under $100,000 USD) the NSX’s trump card no longer holds power.

But is it fair to use the legacy against it? Perhaps it’s not right to move forward with a name, yet have so many hindrances against it, holding it back, out of its control. The engine for example: stricter emissions standards have turned the high-revving, naturally-aspirated spirit of the original NA1/NA2 NSX into a 3.5 L twin-turbocharged V6 engine with electric motors. Governing laws have also required new safety measures to be installed, thus raising not only the weight, but also the height of the car. Road safety has required computers inside to dictate speeds and angles, essentially holding the car back from its original raw nature.

If people are stating the NSX has lost its way, would it be defensive to say it’s partially due to the changing times?

The Irony

After all of the above, we’re here to actually say this: the Acura NSX NC1 is not only a better car than its predecessor, it’s a trailblazer for future sports cars. Let’s examine.

We’ve already gone over that the car looks highly dramatic, especially in Yellow, and its silhouette, angles, edges and overhangs all command a presence. Is it as sleek as its original? No, but it’s apparent that the NC1 NSX shape is highly unique to anything else on the road, and stands out in a crowd against its rivals from Germany and America. And the drive is fantastic, with nimble handling, sharp acceleration, comfort over bumps and even a fairly small chassis to fit anywhere.

So what about rarity: the car can seem desirable based on what it can do, but do people want to buy one and can they? Well, according to CarSalesBase, only 128 Americans took delivery of one. The preceding years also saw under-target sales figures, and Honda/Acura report that roughly 2000 examples exist.

Theoretically, the car is rare. Its low demand by the masses has made it covetable to the enthusiasts. In a strange twist, people not wanting one may actually encourage people in the future to want one.

So if the NC1 has the proper abilities for driving, looks that snap necks, and a built-in rarity to it, can we forgive the new NSX for not being as important as its father? Can it become what the original is now, 10 years from now?

If we were honest and able, we’d buy one tomorrow. In Indy Yellow Pearl.

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